Small Targets Help You Hit Big Goals

To reach your ultimate goal, commit to the little things along the way that will help you achieve it.

coach jess running goals
Bryan Banducci

For years, I yo-yoed between 3:36 and 3:56 in the marathon but couldn’t seem to reach the next level. Now, with education, experience, and an understanding of how to improve my running, I know why I hit a personal plateau.

Over time I’ve learned that the first step to becoming a better runner is to take a moment to identify what’s stopping the progress. Where does the bottleneck lie? After identifying it, set small, measurable goals to address that roadblock in performance and move around it.

For me, I’ve found I need to improve mechanics, create better fueling strategies, and develop my mindset so that I fully believe in myself and my speed. The things holding you back might look slightly different, but I can tell you that the sooner you set and achieve smaller goals like these, the sooner you will reach the bigger ones.

While a solid training plan will lead you to your ultimate goal, small targets outside of checking the boxes on a plan will also bring big successes on and off the road. Here are a few to tackle.

Focus on weekly mileage

Executing a training plan from start to finish takes discipline, hard work, and sacrifice, but what about during the offseason, when you don’t have to prep for a race? Getting into a consistent rhythm all year round will not only improve your performance, but also lead to better overall habits, more mental focus, and a stronger running economy. Your volume will increase during training cycles—you don’t always need to be in peak racing condition, but it’ll feel great to start a new training block already in shape.

To accomplish this goal, set a target number of miles for the week that makes sense for your current fitness. (Remember, you still need rest days—or at least periods of low intensity if you’re doing a run streak.) Then write that number down, put it on the fridge, set a target goal on Strava, and ask your running buddy to help hold you accountable.

Chase a strength gain

There is nothing more satisfying than newbie gains in the gym, whether you’re mastering a chin-up or a nailing a kettlebell snatch.

Get Expert Advice strength training. I’m not saying you need to do a 500-pound deadlift if your goal is to run a sub-five-minute mile (although both have been done!). You can start with bodyweight exercises and progress to using a barbell. But if learning new skills in the gym isn’t your thing, getting stronger and staying injury-free should still be your top fitness priorities. Also, if one of your bottlenecks to reaching the next level is battling injuries constantly, it’s time to start strength training.

I went from having zero strength-training skills to back-squatting one and a half times my body weight, doing 10 unassisted pull-ups, and properly deadlifting. From my experience, there’s no better time than the off-season to become more capable in the gym so you can translate that power, strength, and resilience into your running.

Run faster, but shorter

The best way to get faster is to practice running fast. But how do you do that? To enhance your speed, work on your mechanics and regularly implement drills, strides, and mobility in your training. Do drills like skips, leg swings, and butt kicks two or three times a week after easy runs. Then do a set of four to six strides (short bursts of fast efforts) to home in on the running mechanics that make fast happen.

Now, here’s the mini goal I want you to conquer to get faster overall: Run a much shorter distance. Are you a marathon runner? Set a goal to PR a 5K. Do you love the 5K or 10K? Chase a PR in the mile. This shorter distance will challenge you mentally and physically and also get you strong and fast to assist with the bigger goal. Plus, it’s just fun.

The thing about a big goal is that there is always a bigger, scarier goal behind it. My dream of breaking 3:30 has morphed into breaking 3:00. But the small goals I must hit in order to execute that are what need my full attention right now—and that’s what will get me to that new PR later.

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