By Henry Howard
Each year the most popular New Year’s resolutions revolve around health and fitness: Eat more healthfully, lose weight, work out regularly, start running, etc. Vows proclaimed before the new year dawns often don’t outlast winter.
In fact, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February.
While runners have integrated training into their lifestyles, they can also fall short of their goals due to family obligations, work commitments, lack of motivation or other issues.
Whether runners are revealing resolutions, creating race calendars, plotting epic challenges, or outlining their goals for 2018, the coaches at Marathon Training Academy (MTA) offer some sound advice on how to be successful.
The most important part of goal-setting for lead MTA coach Angie Spencer is to be realistic in assessing your current fitness level. From there, runners can set realistic goals and stay healthy throughout the new year — and beyond.
“Setting challenging goals is exciting but we also need to take the right steps to get there,” Spencer said. “Most runners could accomplish so much more if they strengthened their weak areas. This may take the form of getting more sleep, dialing in nutrition, and increasing core strength (which often seems way less exciting than running more miles or scheduling more races).”
MTA coach Chris Galaty agrees, saying it’s true for athletes chasing big goals as well as those who are new to the sport.
“It is great to have a big goal but also keep in mind that the goal must be appropriate for the runner,” Galaty says. “Also, a runner needs to understand that a big goal may, and usually does, require a lot of time. It may take months, even years to achieve. For example, I started slowly planning and preparing for my first Ironman over a year before the actual event.”
He also recommends using incremental goals to build toward the A, or primary, goal. “Although I set a big goal, I also set smaller, realistic goals,” he said. “So, my big goal is goal A but I might also reflect on goals B or C and remind myself that achieving any of these is a success. When I did my Ironman, my main goal was just to finish, then my bigger goals were to finish within a certain time. Keeping my goals into perspective helped me remember that just finishing was most important.”
Tackling big goals
Galaty says having a big goal “helped me focus my energy and gave me drive to push myself and get better. In fact, it is only when I actually register for the event that the goal seems real. I find that I have to know that I am registered before I really focus on that goal.”
Still, runners also have to balance work, family and other life commitments while training. Galaty recommends putting together “a plan with intermediate goals that will keep things in check.” He also suggests:
1. Be flexible.
These goals will require some commitment and dedication and this means being aware of the impact it will have on your body and mind along with the impact to those around you. So, be flexible with your training and be efficient with your time so that you can manage work, family, friends and life along with your running. There have been many times when, as I pursued a big goal, I had to adjust my training so that it fit with everything that life brought. However, running a sub 3:00 hour marathon or qualifying for Boston will take some hard work and you must be ready.
2. Be consistent.
This doesn’t mean that you need to follow a training plan perfectly or that every run must be done exactly as you planned. It means that the weeks and months will require a constant, and steady, dedication to your goal. Missing a day or a workout is OK as long as your focus is on the main goal.
3. Be a learner.
Use your big goal as an opportunity to learn more about running. This might mean hiring a coach to help you and, if you do this, ask that coach as many questions as possible. As a coach, I appreciate the questions that runners ask and value their willingness to learn. Read articles that you find about running. Learn what you can when you can.
4. Find sources of motivation.
For me this means watching videos and listening to music that help to motivate me and keep me moving toward my goal. You can also spend some time visualizing your race and visualizing how the finish will be and how it will feel. I downloaded a lot of motivational videos about running and would watch them before, during and after my workouts. I also visualized what the finish line of the Ironman would feel like and what each parts of the event would bring. It helped keep me motivated.
5. Strength train.
Try to include some strength training into your weekly routine. It can be hard to maintain but regular strength training will help your overall fitness and really benefit your overall goal. As we get older, strength training becomes even more important and will help us reach higher.
6. Rest and recover.
Along with good nutrition, these are important parts of training. In order to reach those really big goals, then all parts of training should be considered. This includes proper nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery. Adding those into the current training plan will really help one push themselves and achieve more. These will also help reduce the chances of injury and allow one to improve even more.
A smart approach to the 50-states goal
Another big challenge, which is longer-term than an individual goal like completing an Ironman, is running a marathon in every state. MTA coach Lynn Grieger is among those who have completed the 50 marathons in 50 states challenge.
“People set a goal to run a marathon in every state for a variety of reasons – they like the challenge, they enjoy traveling to different places, they want to be a part of a fun group like the 50 Staters,” Grieger explains. “I encourage people to think about why completing a marathon in every state is important to them, and that will help them figure out the best way to achieve their goal. Some people want to finish the 50 states quickly, within a certain timeframe, and others are more interested in the journey and don’t mind how long it takes.”
For those putting the 50-state quest on their bucket lists, Grieger offers some tips:
- Understand recovery. How quickly do you recover from a marathon? If it takes you a few weeks to recover mentally and physically, it makes more sense to schedule two to four marathons per year, each three to six months apart to avoid injury or burnout. If you recover quickly, you can schedule marathons closer together. My sweet spot personally is a marathon every three weeks — that gives me one week to recover with very little running and two weeks to ease back into regular running before the next marathon. Some people run a marathon every week or two, and do no running between the races; instead they focus on easy cross-training, stretching and strength training.
- Stretch, strength train. Be sure to incorporate stretching and strength training into your routine to avoid injury and keep your body strong for the marathon distance.
- Don’t worry about pace. It’s better to set goals for marathons that aren’t based on time or pace when you’re running several in a year. If your primary goal is to PR or BQ, you need to give yourself time to train to meet these goals and should wait at least four to six months between marathons.
- Use run-walk method. Consider using the Jeff Galloway run-walk interval method to reduce the stress on your body, especially if you’re planning to race marathons close together.
Keep active even during winter
While some runners set big goals for the new year, the long, cold and dark days of winter prove to be a challenge. MTA coach Dominique Hamel advises clients to keep active and use those months to build toward big goals.
“During the cold and dark months of winter, I will recommend athletes set new goals,” Hamel says, noting that it’s a good time to sign up for 5Ks and 10Ks. “These races are easy to fit in and can be lots of fun.”
She also says this is a good time to experiment with cross-training: try swimming, biking or hiking. At the same time, she says, keep your running to a nice aerobic base for several weeks before training for a goal.
To keep yourself motivated during winter, Hamel suggests athletes join a running group, hire a coach, or stay motivated with running podcasts and/or reading material. “Don’t ever discriminate against the weather,” she says. “There is never bad weather — just bad gear. Dress for the occasion. And remember, you are one of the selected few and are privileged; count your blessings and be thankful for this gift.”
Still, Hamel recognizes the desire of many runners to chase big goals.
“There is nothing wrong about wanting big goals,” she says. “We work toward them and we assess how, and when we can achieve them in six months, a year, two years or more. Take your time and set goals that are not just time-orienting. Set goals that are other than PR’s and results. Set goals such as finishing strong and upright, or run for a charitable cause or even run for donuts.
“Every goal is realistic because it is your goal; you just need to find out how bad you want it.”