The start of the New Year is a good time to set goals for your running, and to provide targets that will keep you motivated, especially during the year’s early months, when the days remain cold and the nights are still long and dark. Setting goals that are aspirational but still achievable is an important and helpful way of staying enthusiastic, and helps you to put on your training shoes and get running.
Find the Unknown
One of the simplest and most common New Year goals is to find a race or distance that you have not run before, and set a training plan that will prepare you for the event. For some, this could be an “entry level” 5k, whilst others with more experience may find completion of their first marathon or “ultra” more of an aspirational challenge. Over recent years, many runners who are seeking a fresh challenge have taken part in multi-event races such as duathlons and triathlons, many of which are over reasonably short distances, making them attainable for “novices” who just want to try something different.
Another simple New Year motivational target is to try to run for a “block” of consecutive days – for example aim to run for 10 days without a break, which will become a self-motivating way of running regularly. Of course you should not run if injured or feeling unwell, and it is sensible to alternate hard days with easier days. Once a block of 10 has been achieved, after a break of at least a week, where you run regularly but not on consecutive dates, think about setting a higher target – say 14 days – for another block.
Set a Racing Plan
I always find it helpful to set out a “racing plan” at the start of the year by identifying the key races that I want to run and be fit for, throughout the year. Some of these are old favourites that I have run before, whilst others are new ones which I am keen to experience for the first time. I find this useful because it helps to ensure that I remain fit, and motivated to train, throughout the year. On a more practical level, it also helps to ensure that I enter my planned races in good time, instead of leaving it too late and getting the dreaded “race full” message!
Enter Unusual - Distances Races
All runners like to see their times improving, but sadly the physiological laws of life mean that this can only be possible for a modest period of time. The impact of aging on all of us means that whilst we can still produce great times when we are older, they will seldom be as good as those of our youth, or even those of 10 years ago. So setting a New Year goal based on personal best times can often be de-motivating, as PB’s become harder and harder to achieve. It is of course fantastic when a PB does occur, but more often than not - and inevitably - times will get slower as we age, not faster. To avoid frustration and disappointment, consider entering races of unusual distances, or on terrain such as trails where PB’s are unlikely. In this way you can focus on running either for enjoyment or competitively without worrying too much about your final time.
So as the New Year dawns, consider setting targets to help you to stay motivated for the rest of the year. Whether running alone, with friends, or as part of a club, setting realistic and attainable targets for your next running year will help to ensure that you stay fit, and enjoy your running.
Author: Prof. John Brewer
See also "Welcome to the science of running"