Running is a perfect environment to experiment with motivational tools. When your running purpose—the reasons why you run—align with your running goals, you'll find that you don't make many excuses for not completing that workout, race or even easy run. But, conflict can arise when your running purpose and goals don't match.
First, it's probably beneficial to distinguish between goals and purpose. The latter is the reason you exist, or pursue a given hobby. In fact, it's often the desire to exist for a long time—when we start running, our purpose is often to stay or become healthy. Or maybe it's to enhance the way we exist by discovering more about ourselves, and using running to build our character.
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Running Goals vs. Running Purpose
Goals are the more concrete objectives—both long- and short-term—that you set for yourself. This may be quantitative like breaking three hours in the marathon, or losing 20 pounds in a year. Or it may be more qualitative, like continuously improving as a runner.
Ideally, your goals should align with your purpose. In other words, your goal for this season builds into your goal for next season, and so on, and this ultimately feeds into your overall purpose for running.
And everyone knows that you need to set a goal before you start your training season, right? Well, maybe. Or maybe there's a different way.
One issue many runners face is that their goals don't, in fact, align with their purpose. This can create dissonance and stress, which can lead to burnout, injury, and, at worst, ultimately leaving the sport. For example, if your purpose is to gain good health to improve your odds of living a long and fruitful life, does this jive with pushing yourself to the brink of injury (or beyond) in pursuit of your next personal best? Do the inevitable obstacles that arise in your training create stress, which is anything but healthy? Does frustration with missed goals leave you dissatisfied with your running?
More: 5 Signs of Overtraining
How to Rethink Your Running Goals
Thus, it is fair to consider whether we actually need goals as runners, and how specific and aggressive those goals should be. Sure, a goal can be a necessary tool to motivate you to train and take on some of your tougher workouts. Without a sufficiently challenging goal, it might be too easy to slack off on your mileage, strength work or quality runs.