The New Year can be an exciting time, as we all embark on new or improved fitness and health regimes. Your intentions may be impressive, your motivation feverishly high. There may even be a flurry in your bank account as you purposefully enter a spring half, full marathon or a summer 10K.
Once the good will of the New Year begins to fade, however, keeping your resolutions and making those start lines can start to feel like more of a challenge. Using the strategy of goal-setting can keep you training throughout spring, until that medal is hung around your neck.
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 makes your training more specific. Without goals, your steady runs 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 the build-up is your B goal. C goals are short-term aims, 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.
Before settling on an A goal, there are a few considerations you should make to ensure it’s both clear and reachable. Using the SMART acronym can be a helpful guide; consider whether your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and has a specific time frame.
Writing down your A, B and C goals in a pyramid on a piece of paper will help you to work this out. Beside these goals, note down some dates, considering the time you will have to work towards and accomplish each of them. If your A goal is a marathon in April, look at some dates for half marathon races in February or March and consider whether, realistically, you’ll have time to train for a half marathon between now and then, taking into account your necessary C goals. If not, perhaps reconsider your A goal.
When you’re in a rush, with a limited time window, it’s easy to rush out of the house without really thinking about what you are trying to achieve during your session.
Any good coach would advise you that you should never leave the house without a focus for your run. “Too many people clock up junk miles by not having a focus before each run,” says experienced coach, ultrarunner 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. “You may want to concentrate on an aspect of technique, to improve strength by running up hills or to work on your speed by running intervals or tempo,” suggests Buck. “Try visualising what you will achieve in the lead up to the run, to get you in the right frame of mind to hit those goals.”
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,” advises Phil Hobby, an ultrarunner and qualified running coach, with 17 years’ experience.
“Improving your efficiency will pay dividends as you receive maximum return from the effort that you put in.”
Make sure you train smartly during every session, too. “Don’t go out too quickly,” advises Hobby. “Measure your effort throughout so it’s consistent. Build slowly and don’t be tempted to try and do everything all at once.”
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 Laura Burke, a running coach and member of the Reading Half Marathon event team.
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.
“A typical tempo run can include a warm-up of 10 minutes, 15 to 20 minutes at tempo pace (think of your 10K pace), and a 10-minute cooldown,” says Burke. “This is just an example; each runner will have their own tempo pace.”
The warm-up and cooldown adds mileage to the sessions, while the tempo block allows you to increase your lactic threshold, or ability to go faster for longer before your leg muscles get too heavy or tired. “As you advance, you can make your tempo pace section slightly longer and faster,” says Burke, “which will advance your ability to tolerate lactic levels.”
Heart Rate: During these sessions, your heart rate (HR) should be at 85 to 90 per cent of your maximum (if you have a HR monitor – use it!)
Talk Test: A question like, “Feeling OK?” should be possible, but a conversation will not be
Go by Feel: Tempo and threshold pace should feel ‘comfortably hard’