A year has 365 glorious days.
Why take them on with just one so-big-it-fails resolution? Better to break down your goals into 12 easy-to-implement steps, like the ones we've outlined here. Take them month-by-month or choose a few that appeal to you, and run with them. Either way, you'll end up with a stronger, healthier, faster you all year long.
Plan Your Race Year
Putting a race on your calendar now is one of the best ways to get and stay motivated. You commit to a goal. But staring down a year of race options, you may feel excited or daunted—or both—especially if you've never raced before. Should you tackle a first 5K? A mud run? The annual mega-10K all your coworkers sign up for? Aim for a PR in a half marathon? Here are some guidelines to help you figure out what event—or even better, events—to sign up for in 2013.
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Set two primary goals. If you've never run a race before, set your sights on your first 5K. Veterans can take it up a notch—within reason. "Maybe it's a faster 5K in the spring and your first marathon in the fall," says Carl Leivers, an Atlanta-based running coach. "Having two goals lets you train hard, have a little downtime, then focus again. It's a nice mental balance." (For some inspiration, see the 10 Most Popular Running Resolutions.)
More: Tips to Plan Your Race Calendar
Make them appropriate. A PR in a race distance you've already run is a great call, as is covering a new or longer-distance race. In an ideal world, wannabe marathoners work their way up from a 5K to a 10K to a half-marathon to a full marathon. In the real world, the marathon becomes so tantalizing that it's tempting to leap to that distance too quickly, before you are ready. "If you gradually build up to 26.2 miles, you—and your body—will enjoy it much more," says Leivers, also a coach of the Emory University cross-country team. "And you significantly reduce your chances of getting injured while training." (Learn how to tailor your goals and make them appropriate for your own personal progress.)
More: Are You Ready to Run a Marathon?
Pen it in. Writing down your goals makes you accountable for the entire year. October may seem far off, but if you register for a fall half marathon now, the race will feel non-negotiable when midsummer comes around. Similarly, if you're a newer runner and are taking on your first half or full marathon, aim for a 5K a few weeks after the longer race. "The longer you take off running, the harder it is to get back into it," says Beth Baker, founder and chief running officer of Running Evolution in Seattle. "Sign up for the shorter race before you race in the longer one."
More: Defining Your Goal
Race regularly. Setting two annual goals doesn't mean you should race only twice a year. "Racing regularly is a valuable tool," says Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified running coach in Silver Spring, Maryland. "You can gauge where your fitness is, it helps you hone your race-day routine, and it's a great workout. You always push harder in a race than you would on your own." Race at the beginning of a training schedule to get an idea of paces and about halfway through your plan to gauge your fitness. Aim for a race that is about half the distance of your goal race.
More: 5 Phases to Speed Up Recovery
Recover well. In order to make sure you get to the next starting line fresh and healthy, give yourself adequate recovery time (and follow these post-race recovery steps) after any race by planning an easy day for every mile you raced (three easy days for a 5K; 13 for a half marathon). "Go for a relaxed run, take a short spin on a bike, or spend some time in the pool," says Fitzgerald. "There's one caveat: The day after a marathon, get in about 20 minutes of easy exercise, then feel free to take the rest of the week off."
More: 5 Golden Rules of Marathon Recovery
Sign up for your next race.