Running a marathon is undoubtedly at the top of many a runner’s bucket list, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. Options are awesome. We’re living in a world in which we have the ability to personalize and customize pretty much everything, so why should our running goals be any different? Just because there are many that might believe you’re not a “real runner” unless you’ve gone 26.2 (and have an accompanying window sticker on your car) doesn’t mean you have to listen. Training correctly for a full marathon is a very time-consuming process. Be prepared to block off 18-24 weeks of training, with around 10-12 hours per week for that training (or more!).
Full disclosure: I’m a huge proponent of the all-in, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no” mindset. For many of us, making the commitment to appropriately prepare for a full marathon is simply an impossibility, and it’s not something that you want to half-ass. Doing so puts you at risk of injury. No one wants that. (If you’re looking for more reasons to not run a marathon, you can head here, here, or here.) That being said, let’s spin it positive. If a full marathon is off the table as a running goal for the time being*, what’s on? Here are eight potential running goals that you can carry into the New Year…
Set a “non-stop” goal. Maybe you were thinking of running a marathon because you wanted to see just how far you could actually run without stopping. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a race to accomplish that. All you need is some careful planning and discipline. Set a goal distance or time for running non-stop, and incrementally build up to that goal. This can be done with bouts of running and walking, with the walking portions slowly weaned out until you’re running the entire time.
Run a HALF-Marathon. This is my favorite race distance to run (and coach!), and it could very well be yours as well, for a number of reasons. There are so many options for half-marathons. You can find them with fields of runners in the ten thousands, to those in the hundreds. You can find them locally, or schedule a destination race. You can pay close to $200, or find some under fifty. Flat, hilly, rolling – you name it. Most have really cool finisher medals and swag bags. You can prepare for a half marathon by actually running the distance you will race (NOT recommended for a full marathon!), and can recover from the race much, much more quickly than a full marathon. You can safely run many of them throughout the year, which gives you the ability to focus on incremental goal setting. See what I mean? LOTS of reasons to love this distance!
Drop Your 5K time. You know those runners that you see lining up at the front of the field at a 5K? The ones with the racing flats, singlets, compression gear, etc.? I’m going to let you in on a little secret: You can train like they do. (Heck, if you asked just about any of those runners for training advice, they’d be more than happy to share it, regardless of your current ability level.) Seriously. All you need to do is a little bit of research (just Google “lower my 5K time”) on tempo runs, intervals, and speed work, find a track or pick up a GPS watch, and get to work with some structured training once or twice a week. If you’re not comfortable going it alone, you can always reach out to a local running club, or find someone that can coach you.
Go streaking! OK, so I’m not talking about that kind** of streaking. I’m talking about starting a streak of consecutive days in which you run. This can get tricky when it comes to injury or illness, so listen very carefully to your body. At no point should anything ever hurt while you’re running (feeling sore is different than hurt). As far as illness is concerned, a good general rule is that symptoms above the neck are OK to run through (stuffy nose, mild headache, etc.), but those below the neck (chest pain, chills, aches, etc.) should signal a day off. I’ll let you in on a little secret: The point of attempting to string together a streak of consecutive days running isn’t actually about the running. It’s about focusing on and taking care of the other elements of your life that will keep you running! When you’ve got a streak going, you’ll be more inclined to do the ancillary work (getting proper sleep, stretching, eating right, etc.) to stay healthy and keep it going.
Hit the trails. You don’t have to go 50-100 kilometers at a time to be a “trail runner.” In fact, qualifying as a trail runner is quite simple. Complete the following questionnaire…
- Do you run?
- On trails?
If you answered “Yes” to both questions, congratulations! You are a trail runner. You don’t need any fancy gear or special shoes to get started. What you have now will do just fine. Simply find a local park, mentally prepare for some steeper hills, and schedule a run! For safety purposes, I would recommend that you either run with a friend on the trails, or at least inform someone of where exactly you are running, and when you expect to be back. There are also a fair number of trail races out there, many of which fall between the 5-15K distance. Here in PA there is a race timing company that specializes in trail races. You can check out their trail race schedule HERE.
Enter a series. A great way to stay disciplined with your running over a longer period of time is to enter a race series. These come in all varieties. Some series allow you to pay a flat rate upfront that covers the entries to every race (you’ll be more inclined to stick with your training having made a monetary commitment from the start), while others have you pay per race. Just about all of them track results and your “points” against others in your age group. You can find them for road races and trail runs, put on by local running clubs (as seen HERE and HERE), or larger outfits like the USATF (HERE and HERE. These are links to the past year’s events. 2019 has not been posted yet.). If you can find a series in which all of the races are the same distance, it becomes a great way to set incremental goals and track your progress along the way!
Be Flexible. Want to improve your running by doing something other than running? Take some time to focus on improving (or creating!) your stretching routines. How is dynamic stretching different than static? When is each appropriate? What types of stretches can you find to hit the important muscle groups? Where might yoga fit into your training? What is the “rolling” stuff you keep hearing about? Take the time this year to answer these questions. Trust me, your body will thank you for it!!!
Get strong. Looking for another way to improve your running by doing something other than running? Focus on improving strength this year! This doesn’t mean that you need to find a gym and hit the weights. (It can, but be sure to do some research and consult a coach or trainer to ensure that you’re lifting with the correct form.) When beginning a strength training routine, I always recommend starting with your core. This can be done using nothing but your body weight. A focused situp routine is a good start, but a plank circuit is even better. Other simple body weight movements like push ups, squats, lunges, and burpees are also great ways to begin building strength with nothing more than a little time and some floor space.
No matter what running goal you choose for the new year, consistency is key. Improvements are made by training patiently and intelligently over time. It also helps to have someone helping along the way! I was lucky to have had many smart runners help me along my running journey, and now I’d like to pay it forward. If you have any questions about running, or would like some help reaching your running goals, let me know. I’d be happy to help!
Happy New Year!
*Still not sure if you’ve got the time to train for a full marathon? I’d be happy to talk to you about it, and help you make the best decision!
**If you were actually thinking about THAT kind of streaking, I know of one race held in a PA nudist resort in which you can run completely naked. LINK! for info. It’s last year’s race, but the details and weekend should be about the same for 2019!