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Racing Goals: How to Define, Follow Through, and Expand Your Experience Beyond the Clock

Whether we run on roads, trails or track, short, long, or anything in-between, one thing is clear – if we sign up for races, some kind of goals are always on our mind. Goals are something that drives us to excel, to do something beyond plodding along the serpentine path wherever it takes us.

We runners are a driven bunch. It is almost  mandatory that we set goals, talk about them, dwell on failing at them – and do it all over again. At the same time, the range of goals, the outline, the formulation of them differs greatly. And each of our goals has to come from within, from what is important to us as individuals, and not what others view necessary to achieve the end result.


Time Goals

Let’s first talk about a simple set of goals. That finite end result for which we strive and what we mention when talk about a race afterwards in our first sentence. Time.

Each race has a timing device so it is not surprising that finishing time is a clear definition of a goal (unless, of course, it is a timed event, and then we speak of total miles, but let’s not deviate there just in this article). Ever since my days with well known NYC Road Runners head coach Bob Glover, I was told I always have to have three times in my mind when setting a goal but even this idea has gotten adjusted just a little as I moved into the ultramarathon and trail running world.

First and foremost the goal should always be to finish in the allocated time the race offers. That means, when you’re toeing the starting line, you already have in your head and probably on the paper (given to your crew/pacer) reasons for which you may not finish the race. Of course, each of us is different and have individual pain thresholds and ideas what racing is about, but in general terms, because of the time, effort, and money we spend training for and getting to a long event, a DNF (Did Not Finish) might be considered in cases of physical harm (acute injury with potential long term complications, signs of renal failure, significant breathing problems, severe gastrointestinal ailments leading to life-threatening dehydration, etc.).


Your second time goal has to be determined based on your current training,  previous times at the same distance, and/or times of shorter distances on similar courses, and weather conditions on the day of the race. If you’re satisfied with your training, taper, are not injured, and the temperatures are promised to be relatively mild – this is your average goal.

Say you ran Cactus Rose 100 last year in 27:45 and now your average weekly mileage increased by 15% during training, you added legitimate hill training, didn’t miss chunks of time due to various recoveries, and the day is going to be 10F cooler – shoot for a 26 hours finish time (all numbers are pure speculation only, used only as an example). If you took time off because your wife had a baby, you dealt with plantar fasciitis for three months, and your long run never reached 30 miles – go after 28:30 (and hope the experience will carry you on).

Bottom line – time goal #2 has to be realistic, not shooting for the stars.


And now we come to goal #1 – a Pie in the Sky.

You trained your behind off using all the tricks your coach/books/internet/experience lent you. You were smart in cycling and taking recovery times, yet never had a need to take a long break due to injury or life. Your weight is at the best possible number. You dialed up hydration, nutrition and electrolyte intake. You know the course like the back of your hand. The weather gods are nice and give you a cool 60F all day with a drop to 40’s at night, cloud cover, no rain. The trails are dry, and the RD picked all the rocks off the course. The competition is awesome – you have friends who run your pace for the first half, and then you have a great crew and pacer to push you beyond your limits. This is an ultimate experience. Go after it! And if we still use the example from the previous Cactus Rose 100 – wrap your head around sub-24 and give it your best shot!


Why set such high expectations?

Because without those, we will never improve and simply settle in on what we know we can safely get. This attitude translates in life as well, and as a society of driven individuals, why not spice up life and reach a little further?

Goals separate present and the future.

There are always big goals, and then there are smaller ones that you set to not get overwhelmed. If you have a final time goal in mind, make sure there are intermediate times, whether it’s for each section, for the first and second half, for a pace you’d like to maintain when climbing or running a flat section. Something small and manageable and something you can celebrate much sooner than at the end of 27 hours (the finish line). This way if the final goal is not met, there are plenty of other goals to be happy about (“I ran with a settled stomach and never puked”, “I passed a bunch of people and nobody passed me when I climbed”, “My closing miles were the fastest of all females”).

Work backwards on your goals.

  • State a goal
  • Create smaller milestones
  • Create actionable steps


  • Implement those steps
  • Celebrate each of them
  • When one step does not happen – brainstorm and change the approach, come up with a new small milestone and adjust the final goal

Creating goals and achieving them can be a lot of fun.

But there is a downside to goals.

As Scott Adams writes in one of his books, “Goals are for losers. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach it feeling as if you’re short of your goal…in a state of nearly continuous failure. That feeling wears on you.”

But fear not – this is why we have THREE time goals.

Goals Beyond the Clock

And if that’s not enough, we have more goals to discuss which don’t kill the time goals but support, magnify, and enhance every person in regular life and in a race!

Enjoy the trails.

How often do we get to run on trails where we don’t need to look for the next intersection to make sure we know where we’re going. Where the water (and often food) is served to us. Where every so often we get to be cheered on by a lot of people, from those we know and love to complete strangers!


Enjoy the motion of simple movement.

How many people out there would give all their possessions to be able to run freely. To move with reckless abandonment. To jump over the rocks and logs. To have their hair wild and to wear next to nothing? Run for them.


Enjoy friendships.

Whether you run with a friend who is also in a race, are lucky enough to be joined by a pacer, meet a new person with your same pace, hug volunteers and organizers – cherish the human connections the most.



Enjoy the wildlife.

Trees, cacti, and yes, snakes, porcupines, and even mountain lions and bears – if you know how to behave when you see them they can add so much to your experiences and to the stories you later tell everyone who will listen.


Enjoy your health, your strength, your determination.

Enjoy your child-like giggles and tears.

Even technology. If you’re one of the geeks, enjoy the gadgets and that you are able to use them and they are helpful to you on your quest.


Enjoy the views that open up to you.

Whether you’re in Texas Hill Country or San Juan mountains – enjoy, because in our daily lives we certainly are treated to different ones!


Most of all – enjoy life, each step of it, and make a goal to live a long one!


– Olga King

About the author

Olga King Olga King (Varlamova) has picked up a second wind of running at the beginning of her fourth decade. With the success of being a self-proclaimed “freight train that never stops”, she has finished over 100 races at distances from the marathon and beyond. For more information on Olga, check out the About page where you can see some of her health and coaching related projects.

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