Setting Goals to Improve Your Running

Think about the running goals you want to set so you can achieve your personal best.


By Tom Denniss


Some runners are happy to jog at a comfortable pace, reach a reasonable level of fitness, and simply enjoy their time on the road. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Others, however - myself included - like to push the boundaries to see what we’re capable of achieving in terms of our running. And the easiest way to improve is by focusing on specific goals.

Everyone is motivated in slightly different ways. For many runners, the obvious goal is to improve one’s personal best (PB) for given distances. The goal of a faster 5 km, 10 km, half marathon, or marathon is a typical aim for many runners. If you’re a new runner, these are the obvious goals to set.

There are few things as satisfying to a runner as finishing a race with a new PB. This is particularly true when the PB is for one of those universal distances, like the 5 km, which allows runners the world over to easily compare their performances. The reaching of such goals serves more purpose than just the ensuing feeling of satisfaction – it intrinsically results in a higher level of fitness, better health and, in most cases, a happier person.

But what if you’re not in a position to focus on improving your 5 km or marathon PB? Perhaps the days of PBs are well behind you, or maybe your lifestyle precludes the level of training required to make such improvements? Don’t worry, as there are other goals on which to focus.

Some of the options include choosing a new and unusual race or distance. Try going down in distance and running some track races. Or, why not go up in distance, perhaps trying an ultra marathon? Off road races are another possibility. Or maybe you’d like to see how far you’re able to run in a given time – a 24 hour or 6 day race would then fit the bill.

All these options, and many more, are possible goals that create new enthusiasm for a runner.

Here are some examples from my own experience: in 2008 I felt I was past setting any new PBs for the usual distances, so I decided to test myself by trying to run 100 km. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was capable, so it was a very appropriate goal at the time. I achieved that goal, so the next year I upped the ante to 1,000 km. And this bout of extreme goal setting culminated a few years later in me running around the world.

So, where did I go from there? In recent times I’ve focused on a more obtuse goal - the very hilly 14 km City to Surf race in Sydney, the largest road race in the world. But I know I can’t run a PB anymore, so instead my aim was to “run my age”. That means completing the race in the same number of minutes (or less) than one’s age in years. “Running one’s age” in the City to Surf is a goal few runners ever achieve. And each year one gets an extra minute in which to reach that target. I’m pleased to say that, after a lot of focus and intensity in my training, I finally did indeed achieve that goal this year.

The attaining of one goal naturally results in the need for another – something that keeps you enthused for running and your fitness level high. I’m now thinking seriously of focusing on the 400 meters over the coming Australian summer. At my age, a sub-60 second lap of the track is challenging but achievable – perfect as a running goal.

Whether it be how far, how fast, an exotic race, placing in your age group, or something more unusual like a “beat your age” challenge, there are so many ways to set goals that will keep you enthused for running. And when you do have a goal, you have more motivation to put on your shoes and get out on the road.

Tom Denniss is an Australian athlete, scientist, and entrepreneur. He has a PhD in Mathematics and Oceanography, has invented a technology to convert the energy in ocean waves into electricity, founded a company to commercialise that technology, has played professional rugby league, and was a finalist in the 2014 Australian of the Year Award. In 2013 he set a new world record for the Fastest Circumnavigation of the Earth on Foot. Tom lives in Sydney, Australia. A former professional musician, he has played to audiences in eight countries. He has written various articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as a book about his run around the world, titled The World At My Feet. You can read more of Tom's work here.

Main Photo Credit & Third Photo Credit: YanLev/; Second Photo Credit: Kjetil Kolbjornsrud/; Fourth Photo Credit: Guas/