Want to become a better runner in the new year? Of course you do—and we could all use a refresh after a tough 2021.
January 1 inspires most of us to dream big. We’ll run regularly, earn that finisher’s medal, or nab a PR. It’s good to set goals: After all, people who make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t, says John C. Norcross, Ph.D., a University of Scranton professor of psychology who has studied the follow-through of Resolutionaries. As the saying goes, you can’t hit a target if you don’t have one.
But dreaming isn’t enough, and procrastination will make the new year look a lot like last year. So we’ve laid out steps you can take right this minute (and later today, and later this week) to set you up for success for 2021 with some of the most popular New Year’s goals runners have.
Just want to start running? Plug four or five 15- to 20-minute runs (or walks, if you’re not currently exercising) into your schedule for the week—that’s enough to build fitness and establish a routine without overtaxing your body. “Write them down before the week begins, and make them non-negotiable,” says Gus Arias, a sales engineer who in four years transformed from a sedentary 285-pounder to an ultramarathoner and Team in Training coach.
Later today: Complete your first session. If you’ve been doing some walking or running, run for one minute and walk for three—repeat for 20 minutes total. New to exercise? Go for a 15-minute walk. “Most people try to do too much, too soon,” says Arias, adding that it took him eight weeks before he could run for five minutes without stopping.
Later this week: Create a progress chart and reward structure to fuel your motivation after your initial enthusiasm has ebbed. Once you’ve logged your first week’s workouts, get a pair of new running shoes, schedule a pedicure, or sign up for a fun event.
Time to dust off one of your own cookbooks. “Bookmark a recipe on your smartphone or put the book in your car so you can reference the ingredients list when you’re at the grocery store,” says sports dietitian Suzanne Girard Eberle, author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. Study the recipe to ensure you own the cooking gear you’ll need to make it.
Later today: Choose an ingredient you always have on hand and collect three recipes that use it. “They don’t have to be complicated main dishes,” says Eberle. “Simple sides, soups, or salads also count toward your goal.” After you’ve worked through those, pick another ingredient and collect recipes for it.
Later this week: Start a monthly online recipe exchange with friends and family who cook (or aspire to). Ask each participant to email or text a recipe they’ve tried—with success—and encourage everyone to attach photos of their creations. Check out Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. for tasty, healthy dishes you (and your fellow chefs) will love.
Do 12 pushups—or as many as you can before your form crumples. “Upper-body strength is essential for boosting your speed,” says Jeff Horowitz, author of Quick Strength for Runners. “Driving forward with your arms helps you tap into the power required to conquer a long sprint, which is what a 5K is.” Add one or two pushups to your routine every week until you plateau.
Later today: Register for a race or plan for a time trial that plays to your strengths. Flat, straight courses appeal to most runners. Make sure favorable weather conditions are likely, given your chosen location and date.
Later this week: Add six to 10 strides to your prespeedwork warmup to improve your turnover and get acclimated to running fast. (You are doing speedwork, right?) Run hard but in control for 50 yards, rest for 30 seconds, then do another. Aim for four to eight repeats total. And remember: Strides are a great way to warm up for your race, too.
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Identify your bugaboo: Cold weather? Dark mornings? Not having a race on the horizon? Figuring out what triggers your off times puts you in a better position to engineer the fix, says Rachel Dehner, a Denver coach with Revolution Running.
Later today: Pick a goal that will get you out the door. You don’t have to train for a race, although that’s one popular objective. You might run so you can treat yourself to new running gear, or so you can get faster.
Later this week: Climb back on the wagon, but make moderation your mantra. “Most runners are so worried about the fitness they’ve lost that they overdo it when they start running again,” says Dehner. She recommends walk/running to start (if it’s been months since you last ran) and limiting your workouts to every other day.
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Check out our explainer so you know what’s necessary to qualify for your age group. Not all marathons are Boston-certified; a barely-made-it qualifying time may not be good enough to get you in most years; and some of the best qualifying marathons take place after Boston’s September registration. Choose a race that suits your schedule, your course-profile and weather preferences, and Boston’s requirements.
Later today: Push yourself out of your running comfort zone. “A lot of runners do every workout at the same moderate intensity day after day, so they see their speed hit a plateau,” says coach Dehner. After warming up with a few low-effort miles, pick up the pace gradually until you’re working hard and running at a speed that feels challenging but sustainable.
Later this week: Do the last two miles of your long run at your BQ race pace. In the coming weeks and months, you can gradually increase that race-pace period until you’re completing all your long runs (even the final 20-miler) near your BQ goal speed.
Check out these great yoga poses to get yourself started. Or, find awesome ways to warm up before or cool down after a run from Rebecca Pacheco, yoga instructor, runner, and creator of the Runner’s World Yoga for Runners DVD.
Later today: Find a streaming workout or a yoga studio that’s following COVID protocols. Search for a beginner focus, so you can learn proper alignment, but let the teacher help you decide what style can help you achieve your goals—whether that’s to increase flexibility, to build strength, or to calm your mind.
Later this week: Complete four short yoga sessions at home. With yoga, frequency is more important than duration, says Sage Rountree, author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga, adding that shorter sessions also reduce the likelihood of overdoing the effort.
Search for a local trail-running groups and clubs and make plans to join the next meet-up. You’ll get pointers—and suggestions on where to race—from veterans, says Denver-based coach Dehner.
Later today: Start building hip strength and flexibility with a strength routine found here. “Trails’ uneven surfaces force your legs to move in various planes, not just forward and back,” Dehner says.
Later this week: Log your first trail run. Sign up with strava.com to find the best beginner loops in your area. Pick a short route—trails’ obstacles can make a distance that seems easy on the roads more fatiguing—and don’t worry about speed. Road shoes are fine for most trails (our favorite trail shoes are right here), but choose cushioned socks with a high cuff to keep out rocks, twigs, and other debris.
Consider what population you’d like to serve, then get online and research opportunities to work with them, suggests Dorothy Beal, a running coach and blogger at mile-posts.com. You might prefer to help wounded vets, needy families overseas, food banks, or even ultrarunners who need pacers for their epic efforts.
Later today: Reach out to your target organization and commit to a certain activity or block of time. Not sure how you can help? Ask what their needs are, and fill in as requested.
Later this week: Follow through on your offer, if your organization can use you right away. If not, just pick up and throw away a few pieces of trash on your next run. Act generously: The more you do it, the easier it becomes—just like running.