Three types of running goals (and why they matter)

Plus 6 scenic, rugged trail half marathons in Colorado + a stunning bucket list race in Denmark

This week, I’m excited to turn the reins over to Hollie Sick, a longtime friend of The Half Marathoner who has some really worthwhile thoughts on the goals we set, what they mean to us, and how to think about them. — Terrell

Ask most people if they created a New Years’ resolution, and they’ll tell you they have a goal they want to achieve. Some people might have a plan to achieve their goal, others are overwhelmed and don’t know.

What many don't realize is there are a few different types of goals — and they aren’t created equal.

Process goals, performance goals and outcome goals  

Why does it matter which goals you set? In short, without setting and achieving process goals, it's very hard to achieve both performance and outcome goals.

If you don't love the process (i.e., the training), then it becomes hard to truly love it when you achieve performance and outcome goals like PR’ing or running the Boston Marathon. 

What is a process goal?

We can argue that process goals are the most important goals to running. The bulk of your runs are training runs — especially if your goal is to run races, racing is the outcome of all your training but only makes up a small percentage of the runs you actually do. So, runners need to love the process.

A process goal is a goal you can completely control. It is based on an outcome from specific actions and tasks that you complete. A few running-based process goals include strength training twice a week, cross-training once a week, doing a track workout every month, or running 30 minutes every day.

All are process goals that you can control and have the ability to achieve. 

What is a performance goal?

Like they sound, performance goals are focused on your own performance. It means goals such as running under 5 hours in the marathon, running a half marathon PR, or running under an hour in the 10K. 

It includes hitting the Boston Marathon standard but does not include running the Boston Marathon (which we’ll learn below with outcome goals). 

Performance goals are the goals that “sound so cool.” They are the ones that scare you, that you can't dream big enough. They are the long-term goals that don’t happen overnight and usually don't happen without a few smaller process goals. 

What is an outcome goal?

An outcome goal is a goal you cannot control. Winning a race is an outcome goal because you have no idea who will show up to the race. Qualifying for Boston is an outcome goal because you might run the BQ time, but the cut off might change based on what others have done. 

Why even make an outcome goal? The truth is not everyone needs to make an outcome goal. Winning feels good but it's hard to control. You never know who will show up to a race.

You might have achieved every single one of your process goals and even ran the best time of your life at a race, but someone ran better and won. You can't control that. While outcome goals are awesome and they often “feel the best,” it's good to also set personal goals that rely on the work you've done. 

How do these relate?

It would make sense that process goals are essential to performance goals. You must follow a process to hit your performance goals. Setting process goals also increases your own motivation to do something. When you start to see how you've created a habit or routine, you are more likely to continue.

Performance goals allow us to focus on the details of the performance. Did we run X time because we took the race out at our race plan? Outcome goals help us focus on the big picture, like running the Boston Marathon. 

Setting process goals is the best bet to achieve both performance and outcome goals. So essentially all three are good in their own way. 

Sharing your goals

There is plentiful research that writing and sharing your goals can help make you more likely to achieve them. Essentially, sharing goals keeps you accountable but also makes you more motivated. When you share your goals with someone, you care what that person thinks of you.

Why should you set goals?

By setting goals you are growing as both an athlete and a person. This is true with anything! The biggest way to improve with running is consistency, which takes time and constant practice. Creating a process goal to do one thing better than before (like running 3 times a week, or strength train X times per week, or consistently running X mileage) will help you get better.

Performance and outcome goals are those big, scary goals that seem overwhelming right now. By creating and achieving your process goals, they won’t be as scary as you once thought. 

— Hollie

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Races you might love running

Westminster Trail Half Marathon

Westminster, Colo. | Saturday, April 24, 2021

The first in a six-race series of events that take place in smaller Colorado towns and parks, within about an hour or two of downtown Denver, this race unfolds along the trails that circle Standley Lake, inside the 3,000-acre park that shares the same name. You’ll run along a combination of packed dirt, single track and bike path trails, and get to take in views of Colorado’s Front Range mountains from all around — and you’ll start in waves of 25 runners each, between 7:00 and 7:25 a.m.

$80 and up | Sign up here

Barr Lake Half Marathon

Brighton, Colo. | Sunday, May 23, 2021

With both a 13.1-mile and a 15K distance option, this fast, flat race — which features only about 100 feet of elevation change — takes runners along the 8.8 miles of trails that circle the lake inside Barr Lake State Park, about a half-hour from Denver. You’ll have four hours to complete the half marathon, and get to take in a gorgeous route through tree-shaded meadows (and perhaps some of the 350 or so species of birds that live here).

$80 and up | Sign up here

Mountain Ridge Half Marathon

Highlands Ranch, Colo. | Saturday, June 19, 2021

Limited to 250 runners, this race features a 13.1-mile and 10K that take you into the hills and mountains of the Highlands Ranch area just south of Denver, where you’ll get to see “some of the best views in the front range,” organizers say. You’ll probably want trail running shoes for the dirt trails you’ll run here, they add, describing the elevation gain along the route as “manageable.”

$80 and up | Sign up here

Black Hawk Half Marathon

Golden, Colo. | Sunday, July 18, 2021

Filled with views of the surrounding mountains, pine trees, and 35 miles of trails, Golden Gate Canyon State Park plays host to this very hilly half marathon that organizers say “is not for the faint of heart.” Both the 13.1-mile and 10K routes offer “tons of climbing and lots of technical landscape. If you are a runner looking to challenge yourself, then you have come to the right place.” 

$80 and up | Sign up here

Louisville Half Marathon

Louisville, Colo. | Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021

The final mile of this race at Louisville Community Park, which lies just a short drive from nearby Boulder, offers up an “epic vista” of the Front Range mountains off in the distance, as well as the sloping, reddish sandstone formations known as the Boulder Flatirons. Mostly dirt trails with short stretches of bike path, the course also is mostly flat (except for the challenging hill in the last mile of the race).

$75 and up | Sign up here

Snow Mountain Ranch Trail Running Festival

Granby, Colo. | Saturday, Sept. 18 - Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021

With five races — a 10K, 50K, two 5Ks and a half marathon — held over two days at the start of fall, this event offers up beautiful scenery in the area known as Snow Mountain Ranch, an 8,000-acre mountain resort. Thanks to the time of year, runners can expect “changing colors, rolling hills and picturesque views,” organizers say.

$50 and up | Sign up here

Marathon on the Rocks

Bornholm, Denmark | Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021

A stunningly beautiful (and challenging) coastal trail run along the cliffs of Bornholm, an island in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Denmark. With both a half and a full marathon, the race follows mostly along the biking paths, forest trails and rescue paths along the island’s coastline, between the towns of Gudhjem (at the start) and the finish line in Skovly. Along the way, you’ll take in views of Medieval castle ruins, beaches, inland lakes, town streets, and the rock formation known as the Lion’s Heads, out in the ocean where the waves crash along the shore.

$575 and up | Sign up here

A song to run to today

Highway 61 Revisited” from the album Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

Words to run by

“The distance is nothing when one has a motive.”

— Jane Austen