Runners Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Why do you think runners are signing up for these races all the time? It’s because races make great S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Constrained. Let’s dive right in and spell out exactly what these words mean to runners.


Specific: Specificity of a goal pertains to something that is clear and precise, not something vague like “run faster” or “lose weight.” Finding the perfect race to work towards makes your goal specific. For example, completing the Emerald Isle Marathon or finishing the Yo Ho Ho 5k in under 27 minutes.

Measurable: The goal must be something you can measure so you know when you have achieved it. Run distance (for example, half marathon) and race finish time (under two hours, for another example) each make for a measurable goal.  

Attainable: Can you realistically reach this goal in the amount of time you have allotted yourself to train without risking injury? If you have set a specific pace as a goal, do you have the genetic potential to reach it? 

Relevant: Does this race fit into your long-term goals? If your ultimate goal is to run a faster 5K, running a marathon is not relevant to completing that goal. Now, if your ultimate goal is to run a 100-mile race, a marathon would be a relevant stepping stone to accomplish that. 

Time-Constrained: The race gives you a specific date in which to plan backwards: the race date itself. Be sure to give yourself the appropriate amount of time to train for the event.

Whether your goal is to run a longer distance, a new terrain, or achieve a faster finish time, there is a race out there ready to be the goal you set and achieve. When shopping around for a new race, do some research to make sure it’s right for you. Online registration is your best bet to find a race, so check the web.

Make sure the distance is attainable to train for at your current fitness level and look at the elevation chart. If there are a lot of climbs, prepare yourself by writing hill training into your plan. 

It is possible for us flat-landers to train for hills right where we are. The dunes side of the Fort Macon trail, high-rise bridges, and treadmills with increased incline can all be part of your training plan to substitute for the hills that we lack on the Crystal Coast. I personally enjoy running the Emerald Isle Woods loop when training for trail races.

If you are planning to run a mountain trail race, you’re going to want to make a few weekend drives inland, at least as far as the Piedmont region. The Falls Lake or Umstead area is a great place to train and it’s only a few hours drive from Carteret County. Both of these locations also host great trail races. 

If you find yourself having trouble setting and sticking to goals, I highly recommend seeking out guidance from a coach or trainer. A running coach can help you set specific and realistic goals, they can also help you shop around for races that fit your goals, and can help create a customized training plan based on your experience and fitness level.

Running coaches also offer a shoulder to lean on while you are training. My top advice to athletes working with a coach is to be open about your struggles whether they are mental, like with motivation, or physical, like aches and pains. There may be some advice or motivation that only they can provide. They can also edit your plan should it seem necessary.

Jessica Diaz is an ultra runner, loving wife & mother, owner of a Siberian Husky, RRCA Running Coach & Race Director, as well as Digital Manager at The GYM Cape Carteret Aquatic & Wellness and CEO of Diaz Media Marketing.