“Achievable, controllable goals are vitally important for runners,” says Andi Ripley, an Olympic Trials marathoner. These goals can be broken into process goals which are regular habits that set us up for success with achieving the big goal–like running a PR or a marathon. Read on to learn about the best goals for runners, according to elites like Ripley and Neely Gracey.
Ahh, it’s almost the new year. This means so many of us are setting fitness new year’s resolutions. But what many of us are missing are the little goals that get us to the big goal aka the resolution. These little goals are called process goals and if you talk to any elite runner, they’ll tell you they are crucial.
I really focused on process goals this last marathon cycle and they were the key to keeping me healthy and becoming the fittest I’ve been in my entire life—which is pretty amazing since I only returned to running about a half a year ago.
In fact, I listed the process goals I focused on to stop being an injury-prone runner here.
For this article, I talked to elite runners (who are also running coaches) to find out what process goals for running have helped them personally as well as their athletes.
What you are about to read is a list of the process goals that can help you with your fitness new year’s resolutions and then some.
Table of contents
- What is a process goal definition?
- What are the different types of goals?
- How are process goals different than new year’s resolutions?
- How do you set goals and achieve them?
- What are the consequences of setting unrealistic expectations?
- What is a process goal in exercise example?
- 9 Process Goals Every Runner Should Do, according to Elite Runners
So, let’s get started!
Related: How to Set Running Goals
What is a process goal definition?
Process goals are regular habits we form to help us achieve our big goal, aka our outcome goal. For a runner wanting to complete a marathon, a process goal may be strength training twice a week or fueling on their long run.
“Achievable, controllable goals are vitally important for runners,” says Andi Ripley, an Olympic Trials marathoner. “Many variables can stand in the way of time goals, qualification goals, or other competitive goals. Things may not go our way, even when our preparation is excellent. When we set process goals, not only are we going to see improvement but also attain greater satisfaction.”
Related: How to Make Running a Habit
Neely Gracey, a three-time Olympic Trials qualifier and former pro runner says her process goals help her track her progress and keep her focused on her outcome goal.
“I typically track my process goals in a bullet journal each night so I can see the consistency build,” she shares.
What are the different types of goals?
There are three different types of goals.
- Outcome Goals are the big goals someone is working towards like a Boston Qualifying marathon time.
- Process Goals are the daily behaviors needed to reach the big goal (outcome goal).
- Performance Goals are the standards needed along the way to reach the outcome goals—for example, be able to nail certain marathon-pace workouts and long runs.
How are process goals different than new year’s resolutions?
A process goal can be a new year’s resolution but often the fitness resolution is an outcome goal (e.g. to lose 10 pounds or complete a marathon). The process goals are the stepping stones to accomplishing the fitness new year’s resolutions.
How do you set goals and achieve them?
Your outcome goal should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant to you, and time-bound. This means how you set goals should be about something that you care about and can realistically work towards within a timeframe.
If your running goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, for example, you need to ensure you give yourself a realistic timeframe to work within and identify the process goals and performance goals needed for this to happen.
These process goals for running would include specific habits to keep you strong and healthy like mobility work and strides. Include the frequency of these process goals for running.
Performance goals would be specific workouts and race times that put on you pace for a Boston qualifying marathon time.
You also need to be flexible with your goals and timeframe as things such as illness, injury, work stress, or travel can interfere with your running goals.
Related: Can You Run with a Cold?
What are the consequences of setting unrealistic expectations?
If you set unrealistic expectations for your goals for running, you set yourself up for self-sabotage. You can end up getting injured, sick, or burnt out on running and not achieving your fitness new year’s resolutions. You can also leave yourself disappointed and feeling self-defeated. This feeling is hard to overcome to become a runner again.
I have had many potential athletes come to me with big goals that excite them that involve running certain times or races in short time frames that required them to train from a fitness level they weren’t at. I’ve had to have many hard conversations with these runners about what is realistic.
I hate dampening someone’s enthusiasm, but these hard conversations save them from getting injured or turning their backs on running forever.
In essence, the ultimate outcome goal for all runners is to be a lifelong healthy and happy runner, right?
What is a process goal in exercise example?
Process goals in exercise can be to run a certain number of days a week or strength train a certain number of days a week.These process goals set us up for success in achieving those fitness new year’s resolutions like running more consistently or nabbing a personal best.
Gracey, who used to run for Adidas, shares some of her process goals:
- Get to bed by 9 p.m. each night.
- Swim twice a week.
- Limit alcohol to two drinks per week.
- Lift twice per week.
- Listen to my body.
- Be flexible with scheduling.
9 Process Goals Every Runner Should Do, according to Elite Runners
Strength train twice a week
I bet you know this would be a process goal for runners. Time and again, runners are told to strength train and time and again, we choose running miles over strength training. But, research indicates strength training can not only help you prevent running injuries, but it can improve your running performance.
I experienced this firsthand as I began lifting after getting injured. Now that I am running again, my legs feel like they have more power with each stride and take longer to fatigue.
Aim to lift heavy weights two times a week for 30 minutes on harder running days (after your runs). Stick to simple moves like squats, lunges, and RDLs for your legs. You can also use the Peloton App which has awesome strength sessions for runners (I love Matt Wilpers and Becs Gentry!), or download free strength training routines on my site.
I promise you won’t regret including weighting training for running into your routine!
Do mobility work twice a week
So, take the time to do simple moves to enhance your mobility so you can achieve those fitness new year’s resolutions.
Ideally, you would do a mobility routine before every run, especially speedwork. If this is too lofty of a goal, aim to do it twice per week.
Related: Mobility Routine for Runners
Warm up and cool down for every run.
Carve out 5 minutes before and after every run to properly warm up and cool down. Your body will thank you. When I came back from 2+ years of injury, I committed to taking the time to warm up my body before going out, even for easy runs. I believe this small investment of time has kept me injury-free since.
I also try to take even just a couple of minutes to cool down after my runs, especially long runs and speedwork. This cool down involves some light stretching like this yoga routine for runners and foam rolling.(You can also include a bit of core work to ensure your strong there—key for a runner’s health!).
It is a night and day difference in how my body feels and recovers since I have made this a process goal.
Related: 10-minute Yoga Routine for Runners
Do strides and drills twice a week
Strides (or striders) are game-changers for runners and should be on any runner’s process goal or fitness new year’s resolutions list. Studies show strides teach your body how to run faster using less energy. And they only take a couple of minutes a week to make a huge difference in your running! Specifically, strides improve your cadence, turnover, hip extension, and stride length.
To run strides: you simply run increasingly faster over the course of a flat 100 meters so that you are running at top speed in the middle for just a few seconds. Rest. Recover. Repeat 3 more times.
Related: How to Strides Make You Faster
Claire Bartholic, a 2:58 marathoner, running coach, and podcast host of the popular running podcast, The Planted Runner, advises her athletes to do strides after every easy run. I agree! When you try strides, you will literally feel your body figuring out how to run more efficiently.
I also recommend runners aim to do drills two times a week. Drills also work to increase your mind/body connection, so you don’t waste any movements in your stride. Running drills can also improve your cadence.
Aim to do this routine of 8 running drills before any speed workout or before two runs a week.
Related: Running Drills to Make You Faster
Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
Gracey shared that she goes to bed by 9 p.m. every night. I wish I could get to bed that early but what I do commit to is going to sleep as soon as my kids are tucked in (they go to bed pretty late…). No scrolling. No doing chores. If I have an early morning, I don’t even look at my phone before getting under the covers because I know it will draw me in.
Research shows that sleep is paramount for recovery as a runner—so you need to aim to get 7-8 hours a night, at least. I often feel out of control of my sleep. But I have made it a process goal to get as much as possible so that I can feel and run my best.
Related: Can Sleep Prevent Injuries?
Commit to listening to your body.
While we runners are great at tuning into our bodies, we are also really good at ignoring it if it disrupts our training.
But being flexible and learning to listen to your body may help you stay healthy, injury-free, AND become a better runner. Therefore, it’s an important process goal for achieving those fitness new year’s resolutions.
By listening to your body, I mean taking a rest day if you feel an injury cropping up or feel exhausted or sick.
I also mean that you listen to it while you’re running so you learn to run in certain zones, by certain effort, and how to pace yourself.
A big difference between amateur runners and elite runners is that elites know how to pace themselves. They know how to run by effort, so they expend just the right amount of energy for the distance.
Learning to do this takes time and courage—the courage to ditch your GPS watch every now and again (or not look at it) and pay attention to how you truly feel.
Related: What is RPE in Running?
“In a run, if we can get the effort right even when the time, conditions, or our health is not optimal, we are still achieving the goal of the run,” shares Ripley. She and her husband (also an Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier) discuss further how to run by effort on their episode 136 of their podcast A to Z Running.
Remember this motto: Run easy. Be flexible. Take rest days as needed.
Fuel before, during, and after your runs.
Food and fuel are a runner’s friend. You eat to run, not run to eat. Remember this as you set your fitness new year’s resolutions (since so many people aim to lose weight this time of year).
Bartholic (and I!) work with our athletes to ensure they are giving their bodies the energy sources they need to go the distance.
If you don’t fuel before your runs (longer than 60 minutes or of any intensity), during long or intense runs, and after any run—you will not perform at your best, your body won’t learn how to process fuel while working, and you won’t recover well. This will leave you feeling tired and unproductive after your run (which is a terrible state for moms!) and not fresh for your next run or workout.
So, please (!) freaking eat. If you are one to run on an empty stomach, wait to fuel on long runs, or don’t refuel within a half hour of your runs, make this one of your primary process goals for the new year.
- Eat 200 calories of simple carbs about an hour before your run.
- Take in 30g of carb every half hour during your longer runs.
- Refuel with a meal of carbs and protein within 30 minutes of longer or harder runs.
If you’re running on empty, you will most likely get injured and feel terrible during and after your runs. So, eat. Case closed. (If you need help, I collaborate with nutritionist Kristy Baumann to help fuel runners.)
Related: Marathon Fueling 101
Get Your Blood Checked Every 6 Months
This one is personal for me and something I get on my high horse about—getting your labs drawn (including hormone levels!) every six months. I believe this is foundational to most new year’s resolutions–running-related or not.
As moms whose bodies have undergone huge changes to birth humans and runners who put a lot of stress on our bodies, it’s important to make sure your levels are within range. This will help you feel better and run better—and ward off any future health issues or injuries.
I became a stickler for regular blood draws after having my second child. My running was atrocious, and I was having scary thoughts. My coach finally convinced me to get my levels checked and everything was out of whack (including super low iron and super high estrogen which can lead to low energy and angry or sad moods).
It took a while to get them in line, but I did! And for the first time ever this year—ALL my levels (even in the peak of marathon training) are within a healthy range. This has a lot to do with healthy habits such as eating and sleeping better and running a healthy amount—and taking Previnex supplements.
Previnex is the highest quality supplement you can take and one you can trust in an industry that is loosely regulated and highly predatory.
Save 15 percent with code TMR15. Also, get a money-back guarantee. (Feel free to email me with questions about them, too!)
Celebrate the wins daily.
A 2023 fitness new year’s resolution of mine is to be more positive about my running. So, I have set the process goal of journaling daily to celebrate the small wins—even if that is hitting my process goals (double-whammy!). I want to highlight the “bright spots” of my training—not just focus on the outcome or performance goals.
I believe that journaling for just 5 minutes a day about your running—the joy it brings or the small victories like getting up early when you rather stay in your warm bed—will help you truly recognize the gravity of your achievements. It will also insulate you from putting too much weight or pressure on the outcome goals.
Related: How to Overcome Race Anxiety
To further enhance your self-confidence, consider curating your social media feeds—and your running “friends.” Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself—not insecure. This may mean unfollowing people on Instagram or Strava, or choosing to not run with other people.
This is your “me time.” This is the time you don’t owe anything to anybody!! Let’s make running something that fills your cup in 2023!
If you want guidance with your running goals including process goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan