Setting small goals along the way will help you achieve much larger goals. We all hear about the people that set out to lose 75 lbs - have never run a day in their lives - and sign up for a marathon that's six months away. I don't consider that the norm. I think it's absolutely incredible that these people can achieve these goals. For me, that seems unrealistic considering my wife and I both work full time.
When I first started running, I started adding mileage too soon. I started out the first week running one mile, then two the next, and three the next. I ran my first 5k three weeks after I had started running. I started to experience Achilles pain. I'd have to ice my legs down after runs. Then I set a goal of running a half marathon with the next couple months. As I pushed my mileage up, I started feeling different pains in my body. My knees were what were hurting me the most. Even buying new shoes didn't work. The day after I had my first 10 mile run, I could barely walk. Every time I would go up the stairs, it felt as if my knees were going to buckle. I had a piercing, needle-like feeling through my knees. I realized I was pushing myself too far too fast.
I backed out of running that half marathon. I took a week or two off from running to give my body time to heal. When I got back in it, I ran three miles. That's it. The next day I felt great. I took the next three months and never ran more than three miles at a time, three or four times a week. That gave me a solid base to build on. When fall rolled around, I was ready to start training for my first half marathon. The training plan I used had me adding a mile to my long run every week. I finished my first half-marathon 1 minute and a half under my initial goal.
My long term goal is to run an Ironman. I hope to achieve this within the next two years. I have several smaller goals that I have set for myself to accomplish in the mean time. Racing in a half Ironman this fall is one of them. I also plan on running the Cooper River Bridge Run in the early spring next year. I ran that same race this year but had issue with the way runners were sorted into their starting corrals. When I signed up I put myself in the category of runners that would do the race in under an hour. The problem was that there were people signed up for the same category but a mile into the race, they were already walking.
While I enjoyed running the race, I told myself that I would try to qualify to get seeded the next time I ran the race. For next year, I need to provide proof that I can run a 10k in under 50 minutes. I am almost there. I can pump out four to five miles at a pace of 8 min to 8:15 min per mile. There's a 10k in October that I plan on running in hopes of coming in under 50 minutes.
Setting short term goals helps with the long term goals. Set a long term goal and short term goals that will help achieve it. I have to remind myself that I should not compare myself to those that went from couch potato to running ultra marathons in six months. It doesn't do me any good. Everyone's situation is unique and I'm doing the very best I can to achieve my dreams.