"It is good to dream big, but you also need to have middle and short term goals to fuel the fire." - Renato Canova
Whether you run just to stay fit, beat a personal record for a 5K, or tackle the longer distances of the half-marathon and beyond, you need to set goals. As simple as it sounds, goals are the key to success, and these goals need to be incorporated into each and every run in order to achieve said success. Unfortunately, without goals we flounder and plateau. We hit a wall where we are stuck, often leaving us looking for answers. This happens with everything we do—running, typing, driving, etc.
It is for this very reason that we start each track and cross country practice with a discussion on goals. Take today for example, in recovery from a hard track workout (800-400x4 at mile race pace), the kids were told to keep it easy. Today was about going fast, but staying in control, staying within your bounds, and remembering that we have a meet on Thursday. We ran a short workout, a number strike fartlek, where athletes had the option of going to 60, 65, or 70 strides by five and then back down, around three miles of work overall, capped with core and upper body work. They were told to keep the prize in mind: April races, while staying fresh for Thursday. The result—a strong, motivated workout, but one with a mitigated effort level to ensure that both short term and long term goals are achieved.
So how does the above story apply to you? Set goals, create a plan. If you want to drop a few pounds set a time and distance and consistently get the work done. For those training to race, create and follow a training program. If you have experience, you can draw from memory or use a fixed program as a loose guide, if not consider finding a few on the internet and conflating them or consulting with an experienced coach. For the individual runner, this program is key, and while you will break from it from time-to-time (injuries or life get in the way), it will help you stay focused and committed. If you want to break the year old 5K PR, focus on speed, especially tempo, threshold, and long interval training. Yet, follow these runs up with recovery runs that rear back and shake the soreness out while building endurance. Understand that long runs are needed to build strength—thus a seven to ten mile effort per week will be as essential to dropping those thirty seconds as yasso 800’s.
The moral of the story is do not ignore the goals. Set them daily, monthly, and per race cycle. Understand that the desire to run fast every day is great, but that it can be counterproductive over time. Recovery when needed, double up workouts when the time is right, and trust the taper, for loose, light legs on race day are far preferable to heavy ones. Know that a thirty minute shakeout run has a purpose, understand that a long run during marathon training should simulate race day, so run it in stages that simulate each and every section of a race in order to ensure you are ready when the day comes. Focus on the goals, both big and small, and find success.
Steven Stam lives in Jacksonville, Florida where he teaches English and coaches track and cross country. He recently completed a stretch of 3 marathons and two half marathons in 8 weeks including the Jacksonville Bank Marathon and the Goofy Challenge at Disney.