So much of our racing success is shaped long before we ever start training. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure to go farther and faster. It seems that everyone is gunning for a marathon, or a sub-30 minute personal record.
No matter what your goals are, a lot of what determines how successful you are in reaching them is determined by the thought you put into choosing your race goals, and planning your races, and when you sign up. Here are the factors that you should consider in order to set yourself up running success on the road ahead.
Whatever distance you intend to race, be sure you have the time to train for it. If you’re training for a long distance, you’ll need one to four hours at least once a week for an endurance-building long, slow, distance run. And with most standard training plans, you’ll need to run at least five days a week, plus make time for recovery, sleep, and strength-training. If your schedule already feels jam packed, you might consider targeting a different goal. If the training begins to interfere too much with sleep, work, or time with your family, then there’s a good chance that you’re going to burn out or give up before you reach the starting line.Talk to your spouse, partner, kids, and boss, to discuss the goals that you’re considering. If your first choice for a goal isn’t going to work, target a different distance. You can build your fitness by racing at any distance. Racing 5-Ks will help you build speed so you can kick to the finish; targeting 10-Ks and half-marathons will help you learn how to sustain a faster pace for a longer distance. All of those skills will help you no matter what your goals are.
Fixing your eyes on a new personal record, like breaking 25 minutes in a 5-K, or qualifying for the Boston Marathon are wonderful goals. But for most people, reaching goals like those happen over time and after meeting a series of other short-term targets that help them build the fitness you need to meet those goals. To figure out a realistic time target, plug a finishing time of a recent race into an online training calculator. Because work, injuries, and family commitments can all impact how well prepared you are, re-test your fitness two to four weeks before your goal event so that you can determine if your original goal is still realistic. If it is not, modify your goals and target a different event in the future.
Even if your training goes perfectly, anything can happen on race day. Many factors that are beyond your control, like the weather, can have a huge impact on whether you meet your race goals. If your satisfaction with your event is entirely contingent on the time on the finish-line clock, then you’re setting yourself up for upset. It’s important to have three goals at the starting line: a goal for the ideal day, a goal you’d be happy with, a goal just to finish, and a process goal. Process goals don’t have anything to do with the outcome of the race. They have to do with the things that you’ll do during the race, to help increase your chances of reaching your goal time. You might aim to execute your fueling strategy perfectly, not walk up the hills, or even run a negative split (do the second half of the race faster than the first half).
When you’re training for an event, the preparation gets so intense and takes so long that it’s easy to get consumed by the result, and to feel a little lost after it’s all over. That’s natural. Schedule a race of a shorter distance, or a vacation or a big event in the weeks following your big racing event. That way, no matter what the race result, you’ll have something to look forward to after you finish!
There is a huge difference between the general muscle soreness that goes along with pushing your body farther than it has gone before, and the the sharp, shooting pains that go along with injury. Each individual has his or her own unique orthopedic threshold—that is, how many miles, and how much intensity he or she can handle before the body breaks down. Trying to train through pain will only turn short-term aches and pains into long-term problems that will sideline you for long periods of time. Consider what types of workouts and distances you can do without pain. Does cross-training and strength training help? Pick a distance and a goal, which allows you to train within your pain-free sweet spot. Above all, consider what you enjoy. If you loathe the long slogs of 20-mile runs, don’t sign up for a marathon, no matter how much it seems like all your friends and colleagues have done it. Four months—the duration of a typical marathon-training program—is a long time to endure those workouts.