For runners, virtual races have lost their luster. Running a 5K time trial around your neighborhood may have been fun in April; now, in November, you are not as motivated by another solo race. Without races and with little appeal in another virtual race, many runners feel afloat. You can pursue goals beyond virtual races! These are some goals for runners beyond racing, whether or not it’s a time of pandemic.
Many runners thrive on a structured, goal-oriented process. Having a race can satisfy that desire to set and achieve a goal. However, you do not need a race on the calendar to accomplish meaningful running goals.
Rather than focusing on a particular distance, focus on a particular skill. Too much specificity can hinder long-term growth, so if you constantly train just for half marathons, you will only become good at running half marathons. Even your potential at that distance will be limited, due to underdeveloped aspects of fitness.
So instead, pick a skill: hill running, top-end speed, or fatigue resistance. Devote 6-8 weeks to the focus. For a hill segment, you would include weekly hill repeats and drills such as power hill sprints. For a speed segment, you would include very short repeats and strides, in addition to plyometric drills. You can use benchmark workouts at the start and end of each cycle to assess your progress.
With any segment, you want to change the focus every eight weeks or so. Even if you alternate between two (hills and speed), you will maximize adaptations and prevent burnout.
Muscular strength is an under-developed aspect of fitness for a majority of runners. If your motivation to log high mileage or high intensity is low, this is the ideal time to shift a focus to strength training.
If you are completely new to strength training, strive for two sessions per week to begin. If you already strength train, increase to three sessions or start lifting heavier weights.
If you are new to strength training or significantly increasing your load, maintain an easy effort for a majority or all of your runs (plus strides). Strength training accounts for a significant increase in volume and intensity, which means running should be adjusted accordingly as you adapt to the new load. Once you are comfortable with strength training, then you can reintroduce intensity into training.
Foster Mind-Body Wellness
The past year (2020) has been incredibly stressful. Chronic stress can take a tremendous toll on running. You may notice a plateau in performance, a sense of burnout, or an increased incidence of injury. When stress is chronically high, you are best served by letting your training chill out and focusing on mind-body wellness.
Running is a fantastic exercise for mind-body wellness. By no means would focusing on mind-body wellness mean not running. Instead, it means running in a way conducive to mental health. Take the stress off of running and do not monitor your pace. Run mostly easy and maintain a manageable weekly mileage. Let how you feel, not a plan, dictate your distance each day.
In addition to relaxed running, integrate a mind-body practice such as yoga or meditation. Yoga and meditation are proven to decrease stress and anxiety. In the long term, mindfulness practices can improve running performance.
Set a goal for how often to practice yoga or meditation. It could be a daily meditation or yoga four times per week. Aim to stick to it for at least four weeks. Even if it means running slightly fewer miles each week, you will be mentally and physically healthier for making time for regular yoga.
If there’s a time for the trial of the miles, it is a time when there are no races on the calendar. Running higher mileage offers numerous benefits: increased aerobic capacity, improved endurance, and a sense of accomplishment. Numerous virtual challenges offer runners the opportunity to run specific distances (around a state, etc) in a set amount of time. On your own, you could set a monthly mileage goal that pushes you to run 15-25% more than your normal mileage.
If you are doing a mileage challenge, minimize the intensity load and stick to mostly easy miles plus strides. Structure the challenge so that you gradually increase your mileage and include cutback weeks every 4-6 weeks.
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