Alternative Race Day Goals

We’ve all been there – we go into a new training cycle with a concrete goal, a detailed training plan to get there, and a commitment to stick to our training. Then life happens. Injury, illness, family activities, general lack of motivation, whatever; our training gets derailed and, as race day approaches, we realize that things haven’t gone quite as planned. That awesome goal we were hoping to achieve is not realistically within reach. So what’s a runner to do? If you’re injured, then opting to volunteer at the race or show up to cheer on other runners may be a better option than further aggravating an injury by trying to run. For a healthy runner, skipping the race is always an option, but races cost money. If I’m dropping $50+ on a race and am healthy enough to run it, I’m probably going to show up at the startling line.


Evaluating goals and determining if adjustments need to be made based on training, race day weather, or other factors is something I believe every runner should do before a race. If you’ve mostly stuck to your training and are healthy, this may just be a matter of dropping down a time goal to be a little slower. However, every runner reaches a point in racing where a goal PR is no longer a huge chunk of time that’s easily scraped off and rather a matter of just a minute or two. If your training has really gone awry due to life factors, even a PR that should’ve been easy may no longer be in reach. Not all is lost, though. There are other goals a runner can set for a race besides a time goal to keep themselves motivated and help them enjoy the race.

Run a Progressive Race
Start slow and speed up every mile or few miles. “But isn’t that how a race should be run anyway?” Not necessarily. Depending on training and the course, even splits may be the best option if a runner is trying to hit a certain time. Keep in mind though, these goals aren’t about hitting a time goal because those time goals have gone out the window. Choose an easy pace to start and progress by feel during the race. The goal is to run a progressive race, not to PR. I took this approach when running the Emerald City Half Marathon in 2015. While I was in shape from my current marathon training at the time, this was not a goal race and I didn’t want to go all out since I was using it as part of my long run for the day. My result was not a PR and not even my second best half marathon time, but I had a blast and it felt good to go out and use some speed without pushing myself to my max.

Run with a Pace Group to Motivate Other Runners
The Capital City Half Marathon is a fantastic race here in Columbus (and the site of the 2016 & 2017 US Half Marathon National Championship). It was my first half marathon ever and I ran it again a few years later just for fun. There is a lot of hoopla, celebration, and a huge (actually kind of gaudy) medal. Since there is no full marathon for this race, it makes the half marathon feel extra special. That being said, if you’ve run it once or twice, then you’re probably moving on to another race for a goal race whether it be another half or a spring full. The pacers for this race are made up of pace coaches from my running club and one year one of the coaches I had run with in training was pacing the 2:00 pace group. Your probably see where this is going – he was pacing a group full of runners trying to break that 2:00 mark. A bunch of my friends registered for the race to run with the 2:00 pace group and keep them motivated and excited throughout the race. This was a huge step down in finish time for most of those runners, but that’s not what running that race was about for them. They all reported having a blast by being there to experience other runners reach their huge goal. Pace groups are usually packed full of runners going for a PR, so even if that goal time is not anywhere near your PR, get with the group and spend the race motivating and cheering on those runners that are going for a PR. After all, running is a team sport.

Run without Walking
At face value this may seem really silly, but think about it – after those first few initial “just running to finish” races, most of us pushing for a big PR in a longer-distance race stop at some point during the race. It may be to refill a water bottle, get a good drink at a water station, or just to catch our breath for a moment and regroup. If training hasn’t gone as planned, just running from start to finish may be a huge accomplishment. So set a goal to run a steady pace and run every step of the race. Sometimes I think back to my first half marathon and realize how hard my pace felt for that race compared to how that pace feels now, but I know I ran every step of that race which was a huge accomplishment for me. Maybe you didn’t have the training to give you the speed for your upcoming race, but if you have enough endurance built then focus on that!

Run by Feel
I mean really, run by feel. Just go out and enjoy the race. Run a comfortably-hard pace that feels right and check in with yourself every mile to determined how you feel. Glance at your watch every mile split if you want, but don’t stay glued to your watch. Even better – just run without your watch. Go in with no expectation and just have fun. If your race is a half marathon or shorter, you may end up surprising yourself!

Have you ever had to use an alternative goal when training didn’t go as planned?

4 thoughts on “Alternative Race Day Goals

  1. Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor

    I think the progression one is the best goal there is. Even if you don’t get the time you want, it almost always feels good to finish a race faster and stronger than you started it, and it’s a deceptively difficult thing to do.

    I’ve never been good with alternative goals, honestly. If I know I’m not going to meet a time goal or have a good day, I sort of just mentally give up and shift to “just get it over with” mode. I wonder how many of those races I felt so “blah” after could have been salvaged by finding some secondary focus beyond “just get to the finish line so I can stop running and get on with my self-indulgent pity party already”.

    Then again, sometimes maybe it is better to just forget about goals, and just run. If you’re out there and you feel good, maybe that’s the most important thing. Sometimes I think if I hear the word “goal” one more time I’m gonna scream.


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