How to Achieve Your Running Goals in 2021
2020 was a strange year. For runners the lack of organised physical races made it difficult to make progress. So how to make sure 2021 brings that long-awaited 5K PB, or your first attempt at a half, or full marathon once races are open again?
One way to ensure that the new year is your most successful running year ever, is to have a set of goals. Without these – which bring structure to your training – your dreams may drift away before the first daffodils of spring have pushed their sleepy heads through the winter soil.
Whatever race, distance or challenge you would like to set yourself, writing down a list of goals will help you make that start-line or achieve that PB once races are open again. Goals enhance our performance as they focus our attention and improve motivation.
Whatever your goal, there will be several steps that can help you achieve it. Goals are much more than one big race in three, six or nine months’ time. Your training should be broken down into months, weeks… even every session should have a plan. This doesn’t have to always be about speed or pace; it may be a recovery run where you maintain a fast cadence, despite a relaxed pace. Knowing exactly what your aim is during each session, what runs you need to complete each week, and which week each month should be a slower, recovery week, will pay dividends on race day.
Looking at your layers
You need to establish three layers of goals. The first is your long-term goal, or ‘A’ goal, such as your first 10K, half marathon or marathon. Secondly, you will need shorter races, such as a five- or 10-mile race, to test your fitness as your training improves. These are your ‘B’ goals. To continue to improve you will need short-term goals, such as three or four runs a week. These can be broken down even further into specific goals for each session, such as focusing on your posture, technique, breathing or leg strength.
Write it down
Sound complicated? Write down what your A and B goals are, what days of the week you plan to train, and which type of run you can achieve on each of these days. Each week aim for one long run, one tempo (think of your 10K pace) or hill session, one threshold (such as a 5K) then one easier/recovery run.
Also, think of your weaknesses, and see if you can tackle some of these during your weekly sessions. For example, if you struggle with breathing, focus on relaxed, calm breathing on your recovery/easy run every week. Or, if you know your posture collapses during the end of races, focus on high hips and shoulders during a small segment of a harder, speed/threshold session.
Re-focus for success
Goals are crucial to maintaining training. When your running week or month isn’t going to plan, re-focusing on your goals can be a powerful tool. Many runners find the training cycle, or journey towards their goals, gives much more benefit than the race itself. Slogging through early morning long runs during January, February and March, when it would be easier to stay in bed, can give you a huge sense of achievement as well as satisfaction.
Even if you’re in a rush and need to do a super quick session, try and make sure your run has a focus. Spend just two minutes before you leave the house thinking about what the session is and what you’d like to achieve from it. Junk miles, and repeating steady runs every week, won’t get you that PB or help you cross that finish line if it’s 26.2 miles away!
Planning your sessions carefully, a month ahead will help you stay focused for every run. Remember – it’s not just about speed. Hill sessions, run at a steady pace, will increase your leg strength. Drills will improve both your technique and running efficiency, again making you faster. Make a plan for each week; being organised and including a variety of runs and sessions, should start showing results within a few weeks.
Remember, avoid pushing your body during every session. As a general rule, a hard run should be followed by a rest day or easier run. Try following the 80/20 rule, where 80 percent of training is completed at a comfortable pace, and 20 percent at a harder pace. Pushing your body on every session will only increase your risk of injury and illness.
Rest days are crucial to running, and one week in four should be an easier week, allowing your body to adapt and recover, ready for the next cycle. Get organised, and focused, and soon you’ll be achieving all those goals you dreamt you would in 2021.
Tina Chantrey is contributing editor at Women’s Running magazine and author of: The Divorce Survival Guide: How running turned my life around
This blog has been edited and updated since its original publication.