Like many others, I was registered for a 2020 marathon, the London Marathon originally scheduled for this past April. Before the stay-at-home orders went into place, I was tackling double-digit miles on Saturday mornings and booking flights, excited to cross off my ninth 26.2-mile race. But then, everything changed.
When the race got postponed, I too felt my motivation go out the window. For runners everywhere (myself included), a finish line in the near future is essential to motivate you to train regularly. The good news? There are plenty of other goals you can set to incentivize yourself.
“Just because in-real-life racing may be off the table for now, that doesn’t mean you can’t be excited about running,” says Sam Tooley, endurance coach based in New Jersey and owner of Alpha Fit Club. “Just getting out the door for a run is a big win, but getting out that door is easier when you have multiple motivating factors to keep you accountable.”
Goals aren’t just motivating and fun to have, but research shows that they also help stave off burnout and anxiety. Plus, if you share a goal with a friend, research from Ohio State University shows that doing so could increase your commitment and overall performance.
Here, experts weigh in on different running goals that can bring more joy into your regular runs, all of which are safe to tackle on your own or with the help of a virtual community.
In the middle of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to ensure you execute all of these goals safely by maintaining a distance of at least six feet or more from others, washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your face, and wearing a mask in public settings or if you can’t maintain distance from others. This is a rapidly developing situation, so for the most up-to-date information, check in with your local health officials and resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly.
New Goal: Run Without Tech
Many of us run with running watches to keep track of essential stats such as pace, distance, and heart rate. But running “naked,” or without tech, is an entirely different, freeing experience, one that may feel a little odd at first, but that you’ll be grateful for once the miles are complete.
“Every once in a while, it’s good to give yourself a tech detox,” says Roberto Mandje, Senior Manager of Training and Education for New York Road Runners. “You’ll find you’re less tempted to chase a certain pace and instead are more likely to run by listening to your body’s many cues.”
While you may wonder how fast or far you’re running, Mandje highlights that this is an opportunity to become better in tune with your body, zone out a bit, and truly disconnect.
Best-practice tip: Run by minutes rather than mileage. Instead of obsessing over a run that’s 3.7 miles instead of a neat 4, Mandje recommends trying out a run based on time. “Go out for 30 minutes and don’t worry about the pace,” he says. “As long as you’re running by feel and at a comfortable rate of perceived exertion, you’ll become more in tune with relative efforts as you’ll have to rely on your body’s constant feedback versus the time and distance you typically gauge from your GPS watch or app.”
New Goal: Pick Up Your Mile Pace
Distance runners may scoff at the idea of racing a single mile, but if you’re willing to put in the work and pick up the pace, racing a mile can prove to be a challenging objective.
There are good reasons for doing it, too. Getting into tip-top shape for a fast mile will improve your overall running economy, which can pay off at every distance from 5K to marathon times, says Emilio Flores, endurance coach and founder of Even, an online coaching platform for endurance athletes in Mexico and Latin America.
Plus, picking up the pace can help you improve your running form, he adds. “A lot of runners tend to change their technique to a more refined one in order to go fast,” says Flores. “If you can translate some of these parameters like (vertical oscillation, cadence, and ground contact time) from your mile pace to your marathon pace, even a small increase in cadence will make you more efficient.”
Best-practice tip: You’ll want to know exactly where you’re starting out so that you can set a smart goal for where you want to be, says Flores. That means you have to run a mile as fast as you can to find your baseline (just be sure to warm up before and pick a stretch of road you can repeat the effort on).
Depending on the athlete, Flores says that it’s possible to cut down 30 to 40 seconds over two months of training, but there are some other things to keep in mind: “A mile may feel quick, but oftentimes, individuals go out too fast in the first half-mile, which means that the execution is flawed. Your training is the key component, where you’ll really learn to master both sides of the mile, building speed and endurance.”
He recommends three days of regular running and two days of speed workouts. Before each, make sure to warm up and cool down properly.
New Goal: Top Your Longest Long Run
Long is relative, so before you decide to go “long,” you must be aware of what sort of training you’ve done beforehand and what base fitness and foundation you have. This will help you avoid injuries by ramping up your training too aggressively both in distance and pace, says Mandje.
The rule of thumb is not to increase your overall time on the road more than 10 to 15 percent from one week to the next. So, in practice, if you’re running for a total of 2 hours (120 minutes), you could safely add 12 to 16 minutes of running week over week. The same goes for mileage. If you’re used to crushing 10 to 12 miles in your long run, adding an extra 1 to 1.5 miles the following week would be safe.
Best-practice tip: Build up and down (or high and low) weeks into your training plan. As you gradually build up to your chosen distance, you’ll need to have high- and low-mileage weeks in order to allow your body to properly recover and absorb the many stresses of training, says Mandje. And above all, run the long run at an easy effort; this goal is about distance, not a new time-based PR.
New Goal: Run in New Places
Again, you want to be sure you can do this safely right now (for example, some states are issuing travel advisories and enforcing 14-day quarantines for anyone returning from travel to states with a significant degree of community-wide spread of COVID-19.).
Still, getting out to new areas within your own city and state and diversifying your route could be the secret to injecting more joy into your workouts. Aim to try one new place a week, suggests Tooley, adding that depending on where you live, driving a short way to enjoy a different run or route is worthwhile.
Best-practice tip: If you’re going to be farther away from home than usual, make sure you’re familiar with the specifics of your route. This way, you’ll feel more comfortable, and can focus more on enjoying your run than worrying about making a wrong turn. You may also want to pack some extra food and water to have when you finish in case it takes you a while to get home.
New Goal: Run More Frequently
If you only manage to get out once or twice a week, now’s the time to boost the habit. Set a specific goal for how many times you’d like to run each week, and then put it in your schedule, suggests Tooley.
Just like with adding more time or distance to your run, upping your volume means you need to be smart about just how much mileage you’re building. The key is to increase your frequency but slowly build on total time and mileage. “You want to run more frequently because it brings you joy, which means you need to play the long game,” he adds. “There’s nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines because you did too much too soon.”
Best-practice tip: If you’re aiming to run four days per week for 30 minutes each, for example, make sure to allocate more than 30 minutes into your schedule for the activity, suggests Tooley. “Think about the time you need to prepare for this run, warm-up, cool-down, and regroup before getting into your next activity,” he says. “Sometimes, I’ll plug in 60 or 90 minutes for a run, even though the run itself may only be 30 minutes. This way, I don’t feel rushed or guilty about the other things on your to-do list. When you feel rushed, that’s when you start to make excuses.”