Setting and Achieving Running Goals

How’s everyone doing on those 2016 running goals?

In case you’ve hit a plateau or are looking for a little extra motivation to stick with your plan, we have Coach Matt Thull with ThunderDome Running with us today to provide a few tips on setting appropriate goals and then laying out a plan to achieve them.

Whether you hope to PR, tackle a new distance or just make it through the year without getting sidelined with an injury, Coach Thull has tips to make this year your most successful yet!


How do you recommend runners go about setting goals for the upcoming year?
The nice part about goals are that they are INDIVIDUAL. That individuality is awesome because of the flexibility of setting several different kinds of challenging goals for a training/racing year. The goal can be completing your first race of a certain distance or simply running a new PR at a different race distance. All lead to having more fun, running faster and moving toward your BIG down the road running goals. The right mix of attainable short-term goals versus time goals is way more fun than saying running a certain time or bust is the entire goal of a full year of training.

Why is it important for runners to set goals?
The short- and long-term goals get you out of bed and out the door each day. The progress you see on a daily, weekly and monthly basis is hopefully the motivation and positive momentum that keeps fueling the ambition to put in the work. In my training, I have daily goals and keep track of them in a running log, and when my ambition or confidence are low, I look back at the SMALL goals I have knocked out and know all of the small daily goals are contributing to the big goal months down the road. If all you look at is the big goal way in the future, there are too many opportunities for excuses and missed training. If a goal is 8 months down the road, you feel like you might be “allowed” to take more days off. With the small/short-term goals you have direction and motivation every single day to not be complacent.

Let’s address some of the most common goals. What steps do you recommend runners take if they want to set a new PR in 2016?
Having a plan is huge because a carefully laid out plan/schedule leads to consistency/injury-free training and stacking weeks of training, whether it is training for a 5k or a marathon, is the key to success. That positive training progression leads to more motivation and fun and that all leads to faster training and racing. In 2016, runners might have an overall mileage goal, to run their first 5k or marathon or to run PR’s … but all of those goals have pockets of important planning leading up to them, and when you have those short- and long-term goals on paper and planned out, the goal has a better chance of happening.


Plan out the number of days you can dedicate to your goal based on your life schedule. Training should not be stressful so put in the work but do all you can to balance everything you do each day. I like to look at things in my running planning as I “NEED” 1 day per week that I can set aside that all important time, focus, and energy to do a hard workout or long run, no matter what, and from there I work things around that key training day.

What about successfully racing a new distance – how can runners achieve this goal?
Tier your goals into categories of feeling good, finishing and finally a good, better and best case scenario time goal. It is more fulfilling and less pressure packed if you can have 2-3 race goals and those goals are NOT 100% finish time based. So many times runners racing a new distance (many times the half marathon or marathon) base the sole measure of success on the finish time. There are so many weekly goals to accomplish and just getting to the race starting line is a victory and pretty cool. The list of progressing goals is way more fun than having everything hinge on a finish time. Part of goal setting is being realistic but still pushing yourself. It’s a tricky balance and may include having fun training, running a certain amount of miles/weeks leading up to a race, getting to the start line healthy, and finally the BONUS goal is running a solid time in the race.


Some runners plan on increasing their mileage this year. What’s the best way to do this without risking injury?
What works really well before increasing running DISTANCE or adding an extra day of running per week is to use that extra day/time you will eventually run by adding in a cross training activity/day. Swim, bike, elliptical, yoga … something that is low impact to get your body/legs used to that extra day of activity/volume. After a month of that extra day and extra time cross training, add in an extra day of running. On the extra day of running measure things by completed minutes at first instead of MILES so you don’t have to worry about running a certain pace or become tempted to run too fast.

Runners that spent 2015 on the injured list may want to just focus on running healthy. What tips do you have for staying healthy and injury free?
Running is way more than just putting on your shoes and going for a run. Nutrition, sleep, stress management, taking days off, cross training and yoga are sometimes forgotten pieces of training. What leads to success earlier in running does not guarantee injury-free running in the future. Every single training block is different from the previous one so runners should constantly be looking to add or remove pieces of their training – this leads to continued fast running and preventing injuries. In my training, I never ever had the SAME training block leading up to a peak race – even if that peak race was a PR. The next training block had a different bit of strength/cross training work or different focus on recovery in it.

Are there any basics that all runners should do to help them run their best this year?
As everyone gets a bit more seasoned each year, it is that much more important to include cross training and weights/core to your routine, even if that means “giving away” some running miles or time dedicated to running. Consistent, injury-free running leads to more fun and faster times compared to having all the visits to the doc or PT to fix nagging pains. Gain your confidence and momentum from the things you do well in training and racing, but it is also OK to focus on things you need to shore up. Workouts and races are meant at times to be learning tools and more beneficial to overall training than the finish time you run. If you are lining up at every single race to “race it” for a time and that is all, then you are missing out on valuable learning opportunities to give you the best chance to run your best time down the road.

How can working with a running coach help runners have a better chance at achieving their goals?
When you are training hard, you are so emotionally involved and driven that you might not be doing the right things at the proper times of training. I can look back at some of my running logs when I coached myself, when I was in really good shape, and wonder why I did some wild workouts. What makes runners great is their drive and ambition along with stubbornness – but so many times those qualities are what lead to overtraining or injury. If you have a running schedule with guidelines, short-term goals or themes for a training week, there is no question what you “should” be doing. Every single day has a purpose, and runners can see that down on paper and know what to do and why. Coaches typically run themselves, have coached a wide range of runners and have studied the sport/training – that’s a pretty awesome array of experience.

Any other comments/tips?
Good luck to everyone in 2016. Get those goals written down on paper and keep a running log/journal. That journal is one of the biggest motivators out there. If you do something great in your training/racing it is right there on paper to see, but if you are skipping runs or workouts that is down on paper, too. The accountability factor of a running log or having a coach are huge.

Thanks for chatting with us, Coach Thull! To learn more about ThunderDome Running, or to inquire about coaching services, visit

Up next, find out how a love of running helped a few local runners find love. Read it here on Friday! Until then …

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s