3 core running goals you need to achieve this year — and how to get there

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Every runner has their reason for lacing up their running shoes and heading out the front door. Whether you’re hoping to cross the finish line of your first race, reach a certain health goal, or get faster this year, setting a goal can help you stay motivated, and get you moving on days when you might not feel like running. 

Read on for more information on how to set an achievable running goal this year, and more importantly, the steps you can take to help you get there. Setting a goal can help you break a daunting challenge down into more manageable steps, which in turn makes you less likely to feel overwhelmed and give up. What are you waiting for? Grab a pen and paper, and get ready to goal-set! 

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Cross the finish line of your first, or next, race

runners at the 2021 New York City Marathon

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Whether you’ve signed up for a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or marathon, having a date in the diary and the goal of a finish line to cross can help get you moving. Making your goal about a specific race makes it easier to narrow down the steps needed to get you to the start line, and focus on the small steps you need to take week by week. 

One of the best ways to do this is to find a training plan that’ll help you work up to completing the distance in question and avoid overtraining injuries. Training plans can easily be found online, or by using one of the best running apps. Alternatively, with selected Garmin smartwatches, you can download one of the Garmin Coach training plans, which seamlessly sync to your watch.

Another benefit of using one of the best running watches is that it allows you to track your training. Progress can feel slow as you work towards your goal, but seeing yourself run further, faster, or just feeling stronger week by week can be extremely motivating. 

Whether it’s a fun run in your local park or a large city race, there’s nothing like the motivation of that shiny medal at the finish line! Let the excitement of race day drive you — invite family and friends to come and watch, and plan where you might want to celebrate afterward.

Achieve a certain time

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Perhaps your 2024 running goal is to run a certain time over a particular distance — whether it is a sub-four-hour marathon, or a 5K in less than 30 minutes, achieving a new personal best can be a huge drive for many runners. 

But how can you get stronger and faster this year? As well as eating well and getting enough rest, one of the best ways to work on your speed is to add strength training and a mix of running sessions to your routine. Strength training has been shown to improve running performance by strengthening the muscles and joints needed to run faster. If you’re a complete beginner, start with bodyweight workouts. If you’re more advanced, reach for a set of the best adjustable dumbbells and add weight training to your routine. 

You’ll also need to add sprint sessions to your routine — one study found that athletes who did just six sprint sessions improved their running performance. Again, it’s a good idea to work with a running coach or follow a training plan that’ll give you a good mix of sprint sessions, tempo runs, endurance runs, and easy miles. 

Remember that whatever your running goal, taking rest days is important. These give your body time to recover and help your muscles to repair and grow. A rest day doesn’t have to mean sitting on the sofa with your feet up — swimming, yoga, Pilates, and walking are all forms of active recovery you could incorporate into your routine. 

Reach a health goal

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You don’t have to race to be a runner! If your goal is to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or just look after your mental health, running can help. One way to keep yourself accountable without having the drive of a race is to join a running club or arrange to run with a friend. This simple commitment can keep you on track. If you prefer to run alone, planning your workouts and adding them to your calendar as you would a meeting at work can help you ensure you’re carving out time for your new hobby. 

Again, it can be helpful to track your progress towards your goal to stay motivated. If you’re running to lose weight, this might be keeping a weight-loss diary. If it’s to manage stress, you might want to note how you feel at the end of each run. 

Whatever your goal is, remember that it’s important to reward yourself along the way! Remember goals don’t have to be huge to be worth celebrating — like anything, running is a skill you need to master, and hitting small milestones is something to be proud of.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.