Set Your Spring Running Goals Now

Daffodils! If there is a surer sign that winter will eventually regress back into the dark corner of our collective memory, I haven’t found it yet. Daffodils shoot up through the soil early and then are hardy enough to weather the inevitable late freezes and small snow storms that follow those early periods of warmth.

In this respect, the daffodil serves as an excellent model for runners all across the country. Sure, there are going to be some rough weather patches yet to come, but the end is in sight. If you’ve made consistent training a reality for the first two months of 2019, you’re in position to start reaping some of those fitness rewards as spring begins to bloom.

As an athlete and coach for 22 years, I’ve come to realize that a running routine with consistent, easy mileage will get you about 90 percent of the way to your full running potential. If you want to push the limits of what’s possible — that is, to see how great of a runner you can truly be, irrespective of your natural talents — then you need to find a way to actualize that last 10 percent. Doing so requires a motivating goal, structured training and a competitive environment to bring out the best. But what if you’re new to competitive running or just now considering what it would be like to race for the first time? Consider this your primer.

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How to Set Running Goals

With all due deference to other motivating factors, nothing outweighs a goal. See, a goal is the carrot to your proverbial horse. It keeps you moving forward and allows you to monitor progress. Progress towards a goal is motivating in and of itself, thus starting a virtuous cycle where every little accomplishment further inspires you.

Before you pick a goal for 2019, how do you know what constitutes a good one? A good goal should be:

Realistic and meaningful

Wanting to climb Mt. Everest may be meaningful if you love the mountains, but the cost, risk and time commitment may make it unrealistic (OK, very unrealistic). Climbing to the top of Mt. Whitney, on the other hand, may be possible with lots of training and planning. And nothing says big goal like scaling the tallest peak in the continental U.S. The same theory holds true for running-specific goals.

You may want to race the Western States 100-miler, but if you’ve never even run five miles at a time, that’s not a realistic goal at this moment. Finishing a marathon in under five hours by the end of the year is, and completing that goal may someday serve as a stepping stone for the 100-mile dream.

Concrete and measurable

Goals also need to be measurable. Researchers found that many people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions because their goals are too vague. So, as a runner, your goals need to be specific and measurable. Saying you want to race a 10K in 50 minutes allows for lots of concrete feedback; saying you want to run more offers less opportunities for feedback.

Challenging and motivating

Ultimately, for a goal to really work it needs to be challenging and motivating. If you ran 20 minutes for a 5K in December, breaking 23 minutes in March isn’t very hard or exciting. Better to either seek mastery over the 5K (“Let’s break 19 minutes this year!”) or move on to other challenges that provide more motivation (“Next up – sub-1:30 in the half marathon!”).

How to Pick a Race or Challenge Based on Goals

The thought of racing for the first time — or for the first time in a long while — can be an odd mix of exhilaration and trepidation. If pushing your limits is something you’re still getting comfortable with, how do you know what those limits are? The fear of failure or embarrassment has stalled many running careers before they began.

To help ascertain whether a challenge or race distance is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I cover the distance? With a few weeks of training, almost anyone can complete a 5K (3.1 miles). Races like the 10K (6.2 miles), half marathon (13.1 miles), or full marathon (26.2) require more training. If the race takes place on hilly terrain or in a forest, additional training may be required.
  • Am I willing to put in the work necessary to chase my goal? It’s one thing to say you want to complete a 10K; it’s an entirely different thing to race it aggressively. While you could run easily a few times each week and comfortably complete a race of that length, seeing how fast you can race it requires more frequent and longer training. Make sure you have the time and resources available before embarking on such a quest.
  • How much risk am I willing to assume? Like when you’re investing money, greater risks usually carry greater rewards. So it is that completing a local 10-mile trail race might be thrilling, but tackling the Rim-to-Rim Challenge at the Grand Canyon might be life-altering. The latter is more epic, but it also carries the risk of dehydration, getting injured or lost in the wilderness, and possibly limping your way out of one of the biggest gorges in the world. But if that’s a bucket list item, who am I to stop you?
A runner crosses the finish line at a race

Finding Training that Suits the Running Goal

Once you establish a running goal, you need to find the right training plan.

The tables below offer a comparison of the type of commitment a beginner or intermediate runner might need over the four most common racing distances. The top table is for runners who wish to comfortably complete their goal race; the bottom table is for those looking to race competitively.

Runner Wishing to Complete Distance Comfortably

Race Distance

Miles/week

Days/Week Running

Long Run Mileage

5K

15-20

3

5-6

10K

20-25

4

6-8

Half Marathon

30-40

4

8-12

Marathon

35-50

4-5

14-20

 

Runner Wishing to Race Distance Competitively

Race Distance

Miles/week to race

Days/Week Running

Long Run Mileage

5K

25-40

4+

6-9

10K

30-50

5+

7-12

Half Marathon

35-55

5+

10-15

Marathon

40-60

5+

16-22

 

Endless easy miles won’t get the job done for those looking to race. They’ll need to blend shorter, faster bouts of running (intervals) with sustained moderate efforts (tempos) and long, easy miles to achieve their goals.

Whatever your goal is in 2019, keep it close to your heart. Evaluate it. Ponder it. Dream it. And then, like a daffodil on the perfect early spring day, commit all the way.

 

By Philip Latter. Latter is a former senior writer at Running Times and co-author of Running Flow and Faster Road Racing. His work has also appeared in Runner's Worldrunnersworld.com, and ESPN.com. He currently coaches athletes at The Running Syndicate, in addition to his day job coaching high school runners at Brevard High School (NC).

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