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How To Set And Achieve Big Hairy Audacious Running Goals

Do you set running goals? Which ones? Maybe you decided you want to be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping, or you have your eyes set on finishing your first marathon.

Now think about how you felt about those goals when you set them. Did they seem realistic to you – or, as common wisdom of goal-setting suggests, “achievable”?

Or did you shoot for the moon?

Like most people, you likely set goals that are way too easy to achieve. And while there is nothing wrong with realistic goal setting and having what I like to call “everyday goals,” I challenge you to aim bigger.

I challenge you to set a big hairy audacious running goal. I want you to set a goal so big that it inspires you to work relentlessly on it for long periods if you’re going to have any chance of achieving it.

Developing these goals can be challenging and scary, but going after them can catapult your running to new heights.

You will find out that you are capable of more than you previously thought, and you will find strength and confidence in the process.

Ready to set your big hairy audacious running goals? Then let’s get started.

What Are Big Hairy Audacious Running Goals?

The term big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) originates in the business world. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras first coined it in their book “Built to Last. Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.”

A big hairy audacious goal is meant to inspire employees to challenge themselves and achieve things they previously thought impossible. In contrast to “every day” goals you might set for every week, month or year, a BHAG is usually a long-term goal. Think 10 years or more.

Besides, it must be so bold that you don’t think you can achieve it with 100% certainty. In fact, you should have only a 50%-70% chance of achieving your goal. Achieving it will require you to stay committed to it over long periods and drastically improve and expand your comfort zone.

Examples of these goals are John F. Kennedy’s goal to land a man on the moon. Sally Mc Rae’s win at the 135 mile Badwater Ultra-Marathon is a more running-related example.

As you can see, setting big hairy audacious goals can help you get out of thinking too small.

To achieve them, you will need to make sacrifices, expand your comfort zone and enjoy the journey. Practicing patience is what counts, the development of mental strength and endurance required to achieve great goals.

Your goal should be so big that it creates a sense of urgency. You know you’d better get going and work on it continuously and with focused passion if you want to achieve it. 

Here are a few of my big hairy audacious running goals for your inspiration:

  • Win the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra in Tennessee
  • A top 3 finish at the UTMB
  • A top 3 finish at Sparthathlon
  • Run across Europe

Of course, it is not enough to dream big and set lofty goals for yourself. You need to have processes in place to ensure you stay the course, even when the odds are against you.

Below I will give you tips and inspiration on setting bold goals and strategies you can implement to ensure that you stay the course towards achieving your dreams.

How Do You Set Big Hairy Audacious Running Goals?

While everyone has their preferred goal-setting methodology, here is what I found helpful:

1. Envision your perfect day.

When defining goals that are truly my own, I find it helpful to first write out what I want my ideal day to look like. In what aspects is it different from the life I am living right now? What factors should stay the same? If I have a bigger picture of my ideal future life, I know the role running should play.

As I am writing this, running is my biggest passion, and it plays a significant role in my life. When I think about my perfect day, I want to spend a considerable time of it outside, running, hiking, and immersing myself in nature.

2. Imagine the end of your running career.

Even though we often push that thought aside or forget it – we will not live forever. Our time on this beautiful planet is limited. I like to contemplate often the end of my running career.

In a perfect world, the end of my running would coincide with the end of my life, as I intend to run until I die of old age.

You can do the same for setting your big hairy audacious running goals.

You can ask yourself questions: what do you want to have achieved when you look back at your running career? What races and adventures will you be proud of? What stories do you want to be able to tell?

Let your imagination run wild and if you discover a goal that scares you and makes you giggle at the same time: go for it. Set it as your big hairy audacious running goal.

How Do You Achieve Big Hairy Audacious Running Goals?

Of course, goal setting alone won’t help you achieve your bold dreams. You need a plan for execution and strategies to keep you on track when obstacles threaten to derail your progress.

You have to put in the work, day after day, month after month, if you want to have any chance of achieving your goal.

There is no time for delays or procrastination. You don’t have time “to start tomorrow.”

The following strategies are what I use to keep myself accountable and on track. Use them as desired, refine them to suit your needs, or discover entirely different ones.

What counts is that you find a system that works for you to stay the course and keep moving towards your dreams.

1. Post your goal in prominent places or create a vision board.

Write your goal on a sheet of paper and put it on your desk, where you will see it throughout your workday.

If you have a shared office and feel too self-conscious, find other places to position your goal so that you see it often. Put it in the case of your smartphone, write it on your bathroom mirror, pin it to the wall next to your bed.

Find a solution that works for you – just make sure to keep your goal where you can see it every day.

If you are familiar with vision boards, have fun creating one that includes your big hairy audacious running goals. Don’t know what I am talking about? Well, a vision board is a picture you design representing a version of your ideal life.

You can draw it, cut out pictures and assemble a collage, or do a mix of both. I have my vision board as desktop wallpaper on my laptop – so I see the vision of my perfect life and the goals I want to achieve every day when I start work and when I finish the day.

2. Brainstorm strategies and set milestones.

Once you have your goals neatly defined, it is time to create an action plan. Take some time and brainstorm strategies on how to work on achieving your goal. And remember to also include milestones.

For example, for my goal to win the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra in Tennessee, I brainstormed the following strategies and action steps:

  • increase running mileage
  • increase hiking mileage
  • train gut to be able to eat on the run
  • experiment with different foods
  • do a few overnight runs to experience running through the night

I also identified the following milestones

  • participate in Backyard Ultras in my home country (Germany)
  • win at Backyard Ultra’s in my home country to qualify for Tennessee
  • increase mileage to 150 – 200 km leading up to races

These strategies and milestones are what I identified for myself as being the most important steps for me. 

Likewise, the strategies and milestones for your big hairy audacious running goals will be specifically tailored to you. Your running experience, susceptibility to injury, and lifestyle will differ from everybody else’s.

You can draw from your own experience and from the experience of others, ask for advice, and experiment with different strategies.

It is important to not overthink things and get started.

Often we procrastinate on going after our goals because we think we need to have the details figured out. But it is only necessary to get going and take one step after the other. Once on the road to goal achievement, you can always stop and re-fill the tank, adjust your speed and take u-turns if necessary. 

3. Track your progress.

How do you hold yourself accountable, and how do you know if you are making meaningful progress towards your goals?

Tracking your progress is one of the easiest ways to stay on course and adjust your strategies, if necessary. So what should you track? The most straightforward metric for running goals is probably the total mileage run each day.

Some people tend to favor time over distance, and you can also track that. If you don’t keep a running journal yet, the best time to start one is now. In my running journal, I include mileage, RPE, and foods I tested. I also include races and make notes on how they went.

4. Share your goal with others.

A common belief is that sharing your goal with others is a way to keep you accountable. However, the real benefit of declaring your dreams to the world is that they become more real.

As Michael Neil writes in his book “Creating The Impossible”: “[…] each time we speak about what we want, even if we think it’s ‘impossible,’ we are speaking it into being. Because each time we speak about it, it becomes just a little bit more real to us, a little bit more solid.”

If you feel too self-conscious to share your bold goal with others, do it anyway. Observe how you feel when you do it. Repeat as often as needed and observe how much easier the process becomes.

Set Your Big Hairy Audacious Running Goal Today

Setting bold goals and going after them is what will catapult your running to new heights. You will be able to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

When you look back at your former running self in 10 or 20 years, you will be proud of what you have accomplished and how far you have come.

Think big, and don’t shy away from goals that seem too bold. You might just wake up one day and realize that you have achieved the very dream you once thought impossible.

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