The New Year is such an exciting time of year, as we all embark on new or improved fitness and health regimes. Our intentions might be impressive and motivation is high – we know for a fact that this is the peak time for the Women’s Running team to sign up to races.
Once the good will of New Year begins to fade, however, keeping our resolutions, and making those start lines, can start to feel like more of a challenge. But using the strategy of goal-setting can keep us training throughout spring, until we can get our hands on that medal.
Goal setting is a successful strategy employed by elite athletes to enhance their performance. You can use it, too. It’s successful as it focuses your attention and improves motivation. Without it your steady run will stay steady, you may lose your mojo, or even drift away from running altogether.
Most runners have long-term goals, or A goals, such as a marathon in spring. This is your outcome goal. Running a half marathon, or 10-mile race, during training is your B goal. Just as important are short-term goals (C goals), such as completing two, three or four runs per week, and even focusing on specific strategies for each of these sessions.
Achieving your short-term goals will improve your confidence in your ability to accomplish your A goal. Write down your goals: your A race can be at the top of a pyramid. The B races are half-way down – these are the steps you will take to reach the top. At the bottom are your weekly, and daily, C goals.
When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to run out of the house without really thinking about what you are trying to achieve during your session.
Any good coach should advise you that you should never leave the house without a focus for your session. “Too many people clock up ‘junk miles’ by not having a focus before each run,” says experienced coach, ultra-runner and Salomon athlete Matt Buck. “Just going for a run is obviously better than nothing, but you can only improve so much by doing this.”
To improve as a runner, it’s important that each session serves a purpose, or works towards a goal. Plan your sessions carefully, so that you know what you are trying to achieve from each run.
Make sure you train smartly every session. “Don’t go out too quickly,” advises Phil Hobby, an ultra-runner and qualified running coach. “Measure your effort throughout so that it’s consistent. Build slowly and don’t be tempted to try and do everything all at once.”
Even though it’s good to have a focus for every session, this doesn’t have to be solely about speed or pace. Think about improving your overall running by working on your technique, posture and breathing. “Invest in a video analysis session as it will help you identify areas to improve,” says Hobby. “Improving your efficiency will pay dividends as you receive maximum return from the effort that you put in.”
Break down your training plan into bite size chunks, including each individual session. “If you know why you are training and how it will help to improve your running, then there is more motivation to complete,” says Hobby.
Steady runs are great for building up your miles, but there are other beneficial sessions you can integrate into your training week to ensure you achieve your A and B goals. “To hit your PB you’ll need to mix up steady runs with harder threshold and tempo sessions,” says running coach Laura Burke.
Tempo and threshold sessions teach the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently, ultimately helping you maintain a faster pace for a longer period.
The warm up and cool down adds mileage to the sessions whilst the tempo block allows you to increase your lactic threshold, or ability to go faster for longer before your leg muscles get too heavy/tired. “As you advance you can make your tempo pace section slightly longer and faster,” says Laura, “which will advance your ability to tolerate lactic levels.”
Threshold pace is even harder – think of your 5K or parkrun PB pace. You can do these sessions in smaller blocks of effort. “Start with intervals which are between two and five minute runs at threshold pace, followed by up to two minutes of easy running as recovery in between,” advises Laura.
The most important thing is to be organised. Sit down at the beginning of the week and schedule when you can run, and what you will be working on in each session. “You need to include a variety of sessions including speed sessions, hill sessions and longer runs,” says Buck.
Now you’ve created a plan, it’s important to not get carried away. Working hard, and discovering new, unknown speed, can be addictive! There is a time and place within training for hard efforts; every session shouldn’t be eyeballs out, however big your goal is.
“As a rule, around 80 per cent of your training should be done at a comfortable level, so that you are fresh for the 20 per cent of speed sessions within your plan,” Hobby states.
A successful training plan should follow an easy/medium/hard/recovery week process so that rest is built in.
Don’t just mix up your sessions to keep them challenging. “Also, mix up your routes,” adds Buck. “How many times have you run that loop near your house? It’s time to look at a map, find some new places to go and explore,” he says. “It will make your runs so much more enjoyable.
When you hit your goal, there’s only two things left for you to do: firstly, tell us – we want to hear about your successes. And secondly, set another goal!