In order to fully benefit from goal-setting, athletes should plan and embrace various action steps leading up to their ultimate goal. In my many years of experience as a running coach, I have found that the SMART goal framework is a great way to work through such action steps.

SMART Goals are:

  • Specific – Specific goals identify exactly what an athlete wants to achieve.
  • Measurable – An athlete should have a clear measurement criteria for their goal (pace, distance, etc.).
  • Attainable – The goal must be one that an athlete has a realistic chance of achieving.
  • Relevant – The goal has to align with an athlete’s desire and dedication.
  • Time Bound – The goal is written with a specific endpoint in mind.

marathon runners in a pack

Goals, both big and small, are important, because they enable runners to gain confidence. Naturally, it feels good to see a higher level of effort pay off on paper, but setting goals entails much more than simply working hard toward a particular achievement. 


In addition to the SMART goal framework, I have also found it useful to encourage athletes to set three types of goals: one that is attainable, one that is challenging, and one that would be a dream goal. An athlete’s “dream goal” should serve as an umbrella for all of their other goals, and their action plan should ultimately lead to this final achievement. The plan should consist of incorporating recovery methods, proper sleep habits, strength training, and successful workouts, all of which are geared toward their ultimate objective.  

Finally, it is important to set both short-term and long-term goals. Runners who are able to celebrate successes on the way to their dream goal tend to build a lot more momentum than those who do not. This goes to show that enjoying the daily process of your training leads to success. An athlete should not become so fixated on the end goal that they fail to make a detailed action plan that will help them arrive there. In the end, celebrating all of the mini-goals leading up to your dream goal is the key to success.  

Coach Josh Maxwell

Coach Maxwell trains runners to become well-rounded athletes by focusing on aerobic conditioning, strength training, and injury prevention in his training programs. He trains athletes in various distances and is a USA Track and Field Level I certified coach.

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