Almost everyone sets some type of New Year’s resolution, some kind of goal they hold themselves accountable for as a means to chase some kind of personal achievement. Some people use January 1 as the starting line to get in leaner, fitter or faster in the new year. Some people want to eat better or start running, while others may want to run their first race or start training for a big race. As runners, we will benefit from making our goals more strategic.

The first step in setting goals for the new year is reviewing what you accomplished last year. Then you can look ahead to determine what’s next.

For runners, goal-setting is generally an ongoing process. You may have big-picture, long-term dreams about new race distances or goal times, while also looking to the weeks and months ahead to schedule consistent core work and respect your rest day.

No matter what your plans may be for the upcoming year, you’ll accomplish more if you take the time to integrate a variety of short and long-term goals.

Looking Back to Look Ahead

Before you can look to the year ahead, you need to take some time to analyze past training and accomplishments. While this doesn’t have to be a formal process, it helps to set aside some time to evaluate what you did this year. Review your training log, memorable workouts or runs and race results, and recall high points and low points to your year. In contemplating your running, ask yourself:

  • What did you accomplish?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Is there anywhere you fell short?
  • How might you have tackled it differently?

It will help to either write or type some notes as you think back over the year. You can even use a page in your training log.

After reviewing the year, take an honest evaluation of how you are doing. Consider: Where is my current fitness level?

  • Where would I like my fitness level to be 3, 6 and 9 months from now?
  • Do I need time off to rest and recover or cross-train and get stronger?
  • Do I have any pain or injuries that need to be addressed?
  • Am I rested, energized and ready to resume training?

If you just ran your goal marathon in the last week or two, chances are you may need some time off or a period of easier training. But if your goal race was early in the fall and you have been taking it easy for a couple months, you may be chomping at the bit to get started with serious training.

Above all else, be honest with yourself. You won’t benefit from jumping into training if your heart isn’t in it. We all need some down time in our schedule, so don’t be afraid to enjoy yours, guilt-free.

Goal Setting: Think Big!

Using what you gleaned from looking back at your year of running and how you are feeling, it’s time to set some goals. This is the fun stuff!

Start by thinking about your big picture goal:

  • What will be your “A” race(s) this year? In other words, what is your most important race or races of the entire year?
  • Are you trying to PR in the 5K?
  • Qualify for the Boston Marathon?
  • Attempt a trail ultra for the first time? Or are you hoping to tackle a new distance in the ultra world?

Your goal should be something that inspires you—and even scares you a bit. But it should also be realistic. For example, if your best marathon is 3:40, it might not make sense to shoot for a sub-3:00 this year. But you could pin a time in the 3:15-3:25 range to be a challenging and realistic goal. A healthy respect for your goal will help keep you on track during the months of training it will take to get there.

READ MORE: How to Make Your Next Half Marathon Better

After you have decided on your ultimate goal(s) for the year, consider the time it will take to reach it. A typical marathon buildup should take 14 to 18 weeks, depending on your experience, current level of fitness and race goals, while a half marathon buildup will likely take about 10-16 weeks. Know that some goals may take even longer than a year to tackle, so be honest about where you are starting and the time you need to prepare. Plan a smart season to give yourself the best chance for success.

Big goals become more manageable by breaking them down into smaller, short-term benchmarks. Because it can be challenging to train week after week when your dream goal seems so distant, having more tangible goals along the way will keep you motivated. These might include half marathons on the way to a full marathon, or an intermediate time goal as you try to get faster at your preferred distance.

As you plan your schedule, be sure to watch out for potentially conflicting goals. For example, trying to train for a 5K PR and a marathon at the same time will always be problematic since they require very different types of training. And trying to cram in too many races of any distance can easily lead to burnout and injury, as will trying to achieve an ambitious goal too quickly.

A coach can be a valuable tool to help you decide if your path toward your goal is appropriate. Also be realistic about how much time you have to commit to training, especially during the highest mileage weeks.

Keep this process in mind as you plan:

  1. Think about your exciting, big-picture goal first!
  2. Honestly evaluate your timeframe to get there.
  3. Find some intermediate goals to act as stepping-stones along the way.
  4. Be careful not to set conflicting goals.
  5. Plan out the daily and weekly effort your goals require, and decide how much you can realistically fit into your schedule.
  6. Consider hiring a coach to help you reach your goals and give constructive feedback on your game plan!

READ MORE: What You Should Know About Doing an Ironman

A Constantly Evolving Process

No matter how perfect your training plan may appear to be, know that there will almost always be setbacks. Be flexible and don’t stress if you need to adjust your training. As you work toward your intermediate goals, evaluate your progress and see if you need to make any changes to your planning.

An exciting goal prompts you to plan smart training, stay healthy, and put in the consistent work that’s a prerequisite for success. Plan well and make the commitment to your goals, and get ready for an awesome year of running in 2018!

READ MORE: Running to Get Leaner