Do your summer races seem like months ago? Are you in a training hiatus? Or maybe you’ve just finished an autumn half or marathon, and have no idea what your next goal will be.
We’ve got five winning strategies to help you achieve your goals over the next few months, whatever they are.
SET REALISTIC GOALS
Setting realistic goals could mean success or failure as you head into winter. “Goal setting provides you with a vision for your future and a way of focusing on what you want to achieve over the winter,” says Dr Rhonda Cohen, a sport and exercise psychologist at Middlesex University (mdx.ac.uk).
We all need goals that are measurable, to know whether we have been successful or not. Research has shown that goals need to be realistic, though they can be challenging. Smaller steps (like ‘B’ or less important races) leading
up to a target ‘A’ race will ensure success. “Realistic goal setting takes the whole picture and breaks it up into small achievable increments,” says Dr Cohen.
“The more milestone goals that can be successfully achieved along the way, the better long-term motivation will be,” says Laura Bradshaw, a high performance consultant at Athlete Evolution (athlete-evolution.com). “Beginner runners need to start slowly, building mileage up incrementally, otherwise injury will likely occur
and this can set a runner back, ultimately leading to disappointment and lack of motivation.”
GET AN APP
Tracking your running, jogging or walking with apps such as Runtastic can help motivate you and structure your training as you monitor your progress. “It allows you to see how many activities you’ve done in a given week or month, review your runs in detail (e.g. pacing for each mile, calories burned), track how you felt post-activity and make other personal notes for future reference,” says Florian Gschwandtner, Runtastic CEO and co-founder. “Tracking all your runs and seeing how much progress you’ve made is a great way to stay focused – and above all else, it shows you can do it!”
WORKING BACK TOWARDS SUCCESS
It’s important when selecting a training plan to work back from race day to ensure the programme you have selected allows enough weeks to complete the training. “Some training programmes can be 16 weeks long and if you only have nine weeks until your event you won’t be ready,” says Laura.
The key to success is to be organised, yet flexible – you will need to be consistently inconsistent. “Add in strength training, swimming and yoga to improve running fitness,” she says. “Have a mixture of training sessions as this will have a positive impact on the mind and body; keeping the workouts fresh and the body guessing is a great way to stave off attrition.”
“I always plan a 12-week marathon schedule with my coach and work backwards from race day,” says elite marathon runner and mum Amy Whitehead. “When not in marathon training, I would still have a flexible monthly plan to stay focused. Also, keep a training diary to record how well you are doing.”
TALK THE TALK
A positive mental attitude can be the difference between getting out for a run and giving it a miss. “Make a list of your usual negative thoughts or what is distracting you, for example, if it’s too cold or too dark. Then flip this so that you get the sense of achievement and accomplishment that you are striving for. So you say, ‘It’s cold and dark, however if I stick to my plan then I will feel a sense of achievement, or I will accomplish, or I will be prepared for …’ You fill in the dots,” says Dr Cohen.
Use your time running for self-reflection. If you take a problem out on a run, you will often return with the solution. “Regular running, even for beginners, can quickly turn into a form of meditation,” says Laura. “Endorphins elevate your mood, defending against winter depression and can help to combat overeating during the cold months.” Give yourself a 10-minute preparation time to clear any negative mind chatter, take a few minutes to quieten the mind, choose some inspiring music to listen to before going out and focus on the gaps between thoughts to relax the mind.
Motivation is the driving force behind your running. “It’s important to find the ‘why’ behind why you are running and training,” says Dr Cohen. “If you feel competent
and in control of your running then you will be more intrinsically motivated.” Whether you’re running for yourself, or for a charity, if you break down your goals then reward yourself each time you achieve them, you will feel more in control. “You will feel that life doesn’t just happen to you. Life is you,” says Dr Cohen, “and what happens in your running is because of your effort.”
For Amy Whitehead, focusing on one special reason why she needs to get out the door and train motivates her through the winter. “This is to make my supportive family and especially my young daughter, Holly, proud when they come to see me on race day. I want to show her the rewards that hard work can bring,” she says.
As a running mum, being able to share experiences like the London Marathon and the Commonwealth Games with Holly has always been Amy’s greatest motivation. “I hope one day Holly’s memories of these events will inspire her to chase her goals in life in the way that watching my dad run the London Marathon inspired me.”
AMY WHITEHEAD’S TOP WINTER STRATEGIES
1. Target realistic new race PBs. If your legs are running less miles it’s the perfect time to go for a new 5K or 10K PB. This will help to ensure marathon pace feels slower and easier in the spring too.
2. Add more speed work to your training. Keep sessions shorter and sharper. Add 6x100m stride reps onto a five-mile run to build speed once or twice a week. On a track, try a 200m jog followed by 200m hard for 20mins, or 8x400m with 200m jog recovery. These sessions can be done on trails and grass.
3. Work on strength, conditioning and core. This will reduce injuries during your marathon programme. Target increasing the length of time you can hold a plank from 30secs to 1min, then 90secs to 2mins.
4. Invest in some new winter running gear. A lightweight waterproof, cap, lightweight running gloves, leggings and dry-fit tops will make you feel you are ready for anything.
5. Enjoy being a runner. Winter can provide some beautiful running routes. Parks tend to be more tranquil and running on a frosty morning makes you realise it’s a real privilege to be a runner.
“Help! I don’t have any goals over the winter…how am I going to keep up training?”
Don’t panic! Supplement wellbeing, rather than races, as your main goal, and run to achieve a clear mind, better sleep and elevated moods. “Also be conscious of your surroundings,” says Laura. “Nature is beautiful in all seasons.”
Maintain your motivation by keeping your running fresh; mix up your training schedule and set smaller targets over the winter. Introduce some interval training, work on increasing stamina or concentrate on working those hills!
“I recommend all runners, and especially beginners, read What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami,” says Laura. “It’s all about taking a seat in your mind and letting your running do its job.” Allowing yourself to enter this type of meditative ‘flow state’ can be incredibly powerful, quieting the mind and relaxing the body.
“Small goals also really help with winter training,” she says. “I’ve taken part in the Hyde Park 5K at 9am on New Year’s Day. Instead of starting the New Year tired and hung-over with unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions, I was able to start the year feeling healthy.” These small lifestyle changes make all the difference in keeping on track and having different types of goals to aim for.
Dr Cohen suggests visualising your winter running with a stacking, or building, exercise. “Take a stack of DVDs or CDs and get one to represent each run you would like to accomplish each week,” she says. Every time you do a run, take one off the stack. Come spring they will be gone. Alternatively, build a stack of behaviours, like a 5K run, and create a pile adding one DVD or CD case each time you achieve this distance.”