In the early ‘60s, researchers at Harvard University found setting goals helps boost success — one big reason why is that eyeing a desired outcome can boost motivation. A goal is simply something you can work toward, and score.
Here are five common running goals and the key strategies to achieve them:
Achieve it: “You’ll hear this from every top running coach: If you want to run faster, train faster,” says Tom Holland, an Ironman triathlete, coach and exercise physiologist. “But the easiest way to do that is through Fartleks, or ‘speed play.’ You don’t have to suffer, and your body will adapt to the higher speeds.” Holland suggests adding short sprints to runs.“You can also speed toward outdoor obstacles, like trees or telephone poles,” he says.
Achieve it: Include one long run in your training each week, and allow yourself to walk part of the time. “Sometimes the 10% rule (adding 10% more mileage to your runs each week) isn’t right for the individual. It’s often not aggressive enough,” Holland says. “Instead, increase your mileage at your own rate, but throw in short walk breaks to help yourself last longer over a greater distance. If you’re extremely fit, you could walk for 10 seconds each mile, and if you’re just starting out, walk for a minute or more. Over time, you’ll be able to cover more miles.”
Holland himself won his first marathon while including short walks. “It can actually help you run faster,” he says.
READ MORE > 5 TIPS TO WALK YOUR WAY TO BETTER RUNS
Achieve it: Holland advises shortening your stride and taking more steps — as a key way to improve your overall form. “It helps you run more efficiently and decreases your chances for injury,” he says. “Other common improvements include running with soft hands and swinging your arms from front to back (to keep your torso from rotating),” Holland adds, noting that focusing on your form can also help make you a better runner in terms of distance and speed. You’ll run more efficiently, and “you won’t be focused on how hard you’re breathing,” allowing you to last longer.
Achieve it: “A shorter stride and slight forward lean can help make hills easier,” Holland says, “but one of the best ways to reduce the extra effort is to address the mental mountain. Don’t start running hills before you get to them,” he says. Instead, Holland suggests using self-talk to get yourself up the hill, telling yourself you can do it. “You can also envision a runner ahead of you, pulling you up the hill,” he says.
Achieve it: Music. “Research shows listening to music can help you enjoy your runs, as can getting outside,” Holland says. In a classic study out of the University of Virginia, music was shown to drastically reduce the perceived rate of exertion (RPE) during exercise. Other studies have shown that even a 15-minute walk outside can boost mood. “For newer runners, music and nice scenery can be about disassociation — taking your mind off your run if it’s tough,” Holland adds.
Eventually, you’ll likely come to enjoy your runs for how they make you feel, music or not. But enjoying the sights and smells of nature and striding to a good groove can make any mileage more fun.