Goal Setting and Staying on Track


Setting a goal as big as running a marathon, just like any other major goal in life, is a gradual process.  The accomplishment thereof is the result of small daily actions, habits and choices, to be made step by step, quite literally in my case. The bigger the goal, the longer it takes to come into fruition. And this is where it can get frustrating and start to feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel, getting absolutely nowhere.

I have definitely questioned myself multiple times as to how I am ever going to run 42k and that perhaps I just got carried away by a very desirable but sadly unrealistic goal.
It is at this stage that I’ve come to appreciate the importance of having a clearly defined goal, identifying the motivations behind your goal and breaking this goal into a series of stepping stones leading toward your final desired outcome. This means celebrating my small successes, such completing each planned run and/or training session as well as any progress made, to help me stay motivated and on track.

As one of my favourite motivational speakers, Earl Nightingale, put it ‘Success is the progressive realisation of a worthy goal or ideal’.

Taking The First Step

journey begins

So how am I meant to go about this progressive realisation of my worthy ideal of completing a marathon ?
Well, according to leading researchers in goal setting, Locke and Latham, I’m currently going through a 6 step process.



Figure 1. General model of goal-setting theory


As outlined in the above model, my values are actually what start the entire goal setting process. These are the things that I deem to be important based upon my mindset, attitude and overall outlook on life. It is therefore important that my values are in line with my desired goal, as they ultimately guide my behaviour and determine whether I’ll block or facilitate the process of accomplishing my goal.

As I work my way through this process, I will (and have) experience(d) either of two emotions that will affect my level of motivation; satisfaction or frustration. The determining factor as to which of the two emotions I experience, in other words, how successful I will be in achieving my goal, really just comes down to five principles:

  1. Clarity
  2. Challenge
  3. Commitment
  4. Feedback
  5. Task Complexity

Firstly I’ve had to clarify my goal, which I briefly touched on in my previous blog post, in regards to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Specific) goal-setting.

Knowing what I am working towards, really does help keep me on track by guiding my decision making process. Whenever I feel tempted to skip a run or training session or maybe make poor eating choices, I ask myself whether it will help me on my way towards my goal, or just get in the way.

I personally believe having a measurable, attainable and realistic goal, is particularly important in terms of commitment to a long term goal, when there is little to no instant gratification. If my sense of accomplishment depends solely on the achievement of my long term goal of running the marathon, I would feel no satisfaction from any progress made until that progress is that I have run 42k. That in itself is an unrealistic way to go about my goal, as I would have no drive to keep me going.

I therefore take it week by week, and follow my training schedule, so that I can track my progress on a weekly basis. I evaluate my performance, and the extent to which I adhere to the programme. This feedback allows me to make necessary changes to my training schedule, such as adding a new workout to my routine or improve my application of the learned theory into my training. My current schedule includes 3 runs a week and two cross training sessions for strength training and conditioning, and can be found in the link below:

However, by the same token, having too small a goal can similarly result in a lack of drive. If my goal was to run 100 meters by the month of the marathon (May), at no specified pace, I’d have no drive and nothing to really work towards, because of the lack of challenge. If a goal doesn’t challenge you, it won’t motivate you to change; you wouldn’t need to.

Staying Motivated

While I have made a fair amount of progress with my longest distance to date being 14.8 km, I cannot help but to feel that it is near impossible for me to run any further, not to mention a full marathon. And while I have to admit that I am guilty of indulging in the occasional pity party, of how difficult it is to physcially exert yourself to that extent, I was truly put to shame when I recently came across the inspiring story of Terry Fox.

It was by pure chance that I saw a post in honour and memory of the 22 year old Terry Fox and his dedication, resilience and determination. Following a diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer) in his right leg at the age of 18, he had a leg amputation. In the face of adversity, Terry Fox used his passion for athletics to run a marathon of hope, for cancer awareness in Canada. Inspiring the entire nation, Terry became the youngest citizen to recieve the highest civillian honour award as he was appointed companion of the Order of Canada in 1980.

Terry ran across Canada, covering a total of six provinces with a total distance of 5,373 km over the span of  143 days. He ran an average of 42 km a day, which is the equivalent of running a marathon a day consecutively for a duration of approximately 20 weeks !

As I started researching and reading accounts of Terry’s life, I finally managed to find an old footage of him sharing his own incredible story of hope:


Coming across this really put things into perspective.
Moreso he was a phenomenal living example and the embodiment of the five princples of goal-setting and more.
Terry’s story has taught me about the poweful drive that purpose has on what you do, how far you’re willing to go and how hard you’re willing to work, to fullfil your dreams; however big they may be.








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