Running Through The Finish Line: Goals for Ongoing Motivation

Running Through The Finish LineHaving goals is a key component of motivation. My default setting is to think of goals as something new and harder than anything I’ve done before. I should always be trying get better, right? But is that really true? Do goals always have to be about improvement? What happens when goals are about maintenance instead? How can you create goals for yourself that keep you involved in an activity?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately as I perceive myself in a crossroads with running. I’ve probably run the longest distance I ever will; not only do I not see myself surpassing the marathon distance, I’m fairly certain I won’t try the marathon again either. In the past, running longer was one type of goal I set many times. The other type of goal I’ve frequently set is running faster, but there too I am starting to see less progress. Frankly, I also don’t really enjoy deliberately trying to run faster, either; I can lose myself in a long run, but spend sprints cursing the world.

And frankly, at some point the effort required to get faster begins to outweigh the benefit (psychological or otherwise) conferred, at least for someone like me who will never win a race unless the other entrants are severely impaired. So, the question I’m asking myself is, is it enough to have the goal of running consistently and happily?

Previously my running goals have had what Gretchen Rubin calls “finish lines” (in my case, literally as well as metaphorically). They’ve been goals with a clear end point, to finish a race of a certain distance at a certain pace. Rubin notes, “Aside from the energy required to start over once we’ve crossed the finish line, the very fact that we’ve achieved a finish line creates its own problem. ONce we decide that we’ve achieved success, we tend to stop moving forward.”

This was shortly before crossing a literal finish line, which is the time when I am most likely to be seriously thinking about quitting running. It stormed on me during this race.
This was shortly before crossing a literal finish line, which is the time when I am most likely to be seriously thinking about quitting running. It stormed on me during this race.

Maybe this is why I, like so many other runners I know, keep signing up for races. Without the pressure of the next finish line, the temptation of the couch becomes too much.

But now I am at this crossroads, where yes, I can keep registering for shorter races and crossing finish lines, but I’m not likely to find another big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) for my running. Or maybe I will, but not in the very immediate future. So for now, what do I do?

What I’ve settled on is this:

  • I want to maintain my physical fitness so I can register for a half marathon at any time with no more than a month’s notice (as if I weren’t so type A that I register six or more months in advance!)
  • I want to be physically active six days per week or more, and
  • I want to get more than 10,000 Fitbit steps every day.

Those three goals focus me on very immediate performance in a way that I hope will keep me from letting the lack of a marathon finish line slow me down.

Those of you who’ve reached your (presumed) peak running distance, what goals do you set for yourself to stay motivated?