How Runner’s Can Use a Bucket List to Stay Motivated

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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How Runner’s Can Use a Bucket List to Stay Motivated

Most runners have a bucket list of races they’d love to do someday. It’s sort of like those New Year’s resolutions we make and then forget about until the next year comes around: lofty and generally unachievable. Sure, we’d all love to get into the Boston Marathon, but if we’ve never run or even trained for a marathon, that’s next to impossible. Or maybe there’s a trail in New Zealand you’ve been wanting to run, but you don’t even have a passport. Of course, a runner has to dream, but there’s a way to make those dreams a reality — and it requires setting achievable goals.

We’ve put together four different buckets to help you organize your goals. Each of these categories helps make up the criteria for a solid wishlist based on your individual hopes, dreams and accomplishments. Within each section, aim to have at least one goal that seems realistic for where you are in life right now. Your list shouldn’t be packed with only goals that are so lofty that you’ll never be able to achieve them. There should be some achievable, actionable ones on there to get you started.

Once you’ve made your lists of a few goals in each section, start thinking critically about how to achieve at least one each year (or your desired time period). Some require more planning and training than others, but there will be some you can begin working toward today — and that’s the point of having a bucket list.

There are thousands of amazing spots around the world perfect for exploring on foot, which can also double as a fun family/friends vacation spot so you’re not leaving your crew behind. Rather than planning a full year around a single race day, why not set a goal around a city you’ve always wanted to visit. Or a park you’re dying to explore. You can even expand this item to something even broader, like wanting to run a certain number of miles on every continent or in every state.

Your goal here might be a half-marathon on a perfectly flat course, or it might be a 100-miler on technical trails. Here, you’re listing the types of runs you’d love to do at some point in your life. The best part is it can be done in a race format, you can build your own route and tackle the challenge yourself or with a group of friends. This is also where you’d put a run streak down. Say you wanted to run every day in September, even if it’s just a mile a day. As runners, it often feels like if we didn’t toe the line at a race, a run doesn’t really count as a goal that’s been achieved. But really, logging the miles can be its own reward.

The most common runner bucket list consists of a handful of races, ranging from the fun-loving Disney marathon to the tough-to-qualify-for Boston Marathon to the brutally challenging Western States 100-miler. If you’re going to put a race on this list that requires a certain qualifier, be sure to also add the qualifying race you’d like to do. For example, if Boston is on your bucket list, take a look at the qualifiers (Chicago, London and Berlin Marathons, for example) and see if any of them sound intriguing to you. If you don’t add these qualifying races to your bucket list as the necessary steps to get into your goal race, you’re likely never going to make it to that dream start line.

If work or family life has you too busy to plan a trip anytime soon, you might be better served tackling a run personal record (PR) bucket list item. This is more time/distance-focused, like setting a goal of running a sub-20 minute 5K or a 5-minute mile. For a busy runner, these shorter, faster goals are achievable even if your training involves 30-minute sessions running laps around your neighborhood. You can make these goals lengthier if you’re more endurance-based, like a goal of a sub-3:30 marathon, but for the time-crunched runner setting a shorter bucket list item you can work toward is much more motivating.


The best part about this list of goals is it’s realistic and it doesn’t rely on money or travel or time off of work to make steps toward it, so it may be a better fit for a busy life right now. And it will only help make the other experiences even more satisfying: A bucket list race is much more fun if you’re confident in your ability to run your goal pace.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.


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