Another year gone by. They sure go by fast. I made that statement last year at this time, and nothing has occurred during the past 365 days to change that outlook.
So, what's your plan for the new year? Is this the year you are finally going to pursue that long sought-after running goal? Do you have it in you? Is it realistic to think you can improve if you are more dedicated? That's the lure of running. You train harder, you run longer, stronger and faster. It's nice to have a plan, to dream of a goal that you hope to achieve.
The problem is that reality, which is often ugly and messy, often unfolds quite differently from our clean, efficient plans, laid out so neatly on January 1. When dreaming or planning, we don't often factor in days when we are tired, ill, injured, sore, or just plain not-into-training. We don't foresee days on end when our legs are dead. Life intervenes in other ways as well: work and family often put running on the back burner, as they should. Some days when you are raring to go, bad weather or an unscheduled emergency puts a damper on your run.
Sometimes our goals are simply too ambitious, although they may not seem that way, especially when we hear about the incredible feats of others. But we can't base our goals on the accomplishments of others. We may manage 20 or 30 or 40 miles per week of running without too much strain, but in attempt to run 50 or 60 we break down, or become too tired or too harried to accrue any real benefits from the extra mileage.
As the years go by, I realize that there is just not much time to squeeze in a lot of mileage, even if it is available for running. Maybe I am just getting slower, but years ago, I covered 70 miles per week without too much difficulty. Now, even reaching 30 is often a challenge. Nowadays that seems like a lot! I also need more recovery days, recovery weeks, and recovery months. Necessary as they may be, they create a lot of empty space in the training log.
There are many things we can do to improve our running:
- Set concrete goals
- Run more mileage
- Run more speed
- Add strength training
- Add cross training
- Improve our diet
- Keep a detailed training log
- Get more rest
- Do more stretching
- Take a yoga class
These are all worthy pursuits, but tough to add to an already full running and life schedule. I'd like to see the individual who can manage many of these things inside of a workday lunch hour.
Should you make your running a high priority? Will it affect your or anyone else's life in a positive way? That's a subject for another column, but suffice to say that if you do have aspirations to reach as yet unachieved running goals, you will have to make a concerted effort to do so. Will it require a sacrifice of other priorities? That all depends upon how you look at it. One man's (or woman's) sacrifice is another's pleasure.
Whether or not we are actually able to achieve them, setting goals to improve our running is a worthwhile pursuit. It defines our effort, which usually results in improved performance. Aimlessly going from day to day can result in stagnation, even if you are only in the sport for participation.
Whatever your goals, you should bring integrity and validity to them. It does not matter if that goal is to break the world record in the marathon or complete a three-mile run around your neighborhood. It's your achievement; thus, the feeling of accomplishment and the journey to get there are what it's all about.
A new year is simply a demarcation on the calendar, but I have always found it a good time to assess and reflect upon my own running. My motivation level may not make it all the way through the year, but I know this is the time I have set to commence achieving specific goals.
In the end, dreams do matter. They are the starting point for fulfillment in running. I wish all of you the best in realizing your own running dreams and goals this year. There is no time like the present—before you know it, it will be gone!
Don Allison, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, is the former publisher of UltraRunning Magazine and a founder of Cool Running. He has completed 55 marathons, with a personal best of 2:35. In addition, Don has completed several ultramarathons, Ironman triathlons and cycled across the U.S.A. in 2006.