Need Help Setting Your Next Running Goal? Answer These 8 Questions

bigstock-Athlete-running-on-the-road-in-34709654Congratulations! You did it! You accomplished your running goal!

So … now what?

Whether you trained for a formal running goal (finishing a 5K race, for example), or set out to run 30 minutes without a walk break, the wave of elation that washes over you can make you feel invincible. In fact, you may feel so amazing that after eating your celebratory cookie, icing your knees and taking a looong shower, you’ll find yourself browsing race websites in search of your next challenge.

How do you decide what your next running goal will be? Answer these eight questions first …

How to Set Your Next Running Goal

1. How much do you like running? Let’s all be honest here—running isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people run a race to cross an item off their fitness bucket lists, then never run again. That’s perfectly okay. If you’re feeling like you should sign up for another race, yet you don’t really want to, then don’t sign up. Simple as that. Don’t try to force it. Instead, check out other fitness challenges—Masters swim groups, Pilates, mountain biking or yoga for example!

2. Do you prefer short and intense workouts, or measured, endurance runs? Some people thrive on short, intense bursts of speed. They love the endorphin rush and strength they feel after a set of wind sprints. If this is your kind of workout, you may not want to consider a new distance, but instead focus on setting a personal record in a 5K or 10K race.

Others would rather never feel their heartbeat in their eyeballs, preferring instead to scale back the intensity and see how long their legs can carry them. If you’re in this camp, consider bumping up to a longer distance race—a half marathon is a great introduction to endurance running.

3. How much time do you have? What about resources? The longer the distance, the more you’ll need—more time to train, more food to eat, more shoes to replace, more sleep to recover, more…well, you get the point. Ask your family what they think. The decision to train for a longer distance race affects them, too.

4. Have you been injured recently? If you’ve been injured in the past few months, choose your new goal cautiously. This is especially important if the injury required you to take extensive time off from training. Consult with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure you fully understand why your injury happened, and what they recommend as far as a timeline for your goals.

If an injury was a result of biomechanics, such as poor running form or weak muscles, spend some time correcting those issues to prevent the injury from recurring or worsening. Instead of setting a time or distance goal, instead focus on goals related to strength (being able to leg press a certain number of pounds or mastering the one-legged squat) and form (completing a ChiRunning class).

If it was the result of overtraining, then start with a shorter distance, such as a 5K or 10K, and find a plan with starting low, easy mileage. Follow a periodization schedule, which allows you to gradually increase your mileage and recover from the demands you’ve placed on your body during training.

Finally, consider triathlon instead of long-distance running. The cross-training benefits of swimming and cycling will make you a stronger runner without taking the toll on your body as increased running mileage might.

5. Are you a city slicker or a nature person? Many new runners don’t realize there is a whole subculture of running that takes place off the beaten path—literally! Trail races can be a lot of fun, especially for those who prefer a laid-back racing atmosphere. As an added bonus, trail running can make a return to road races seem very easy!

6. Do you want to support a cause? If you’re passionate about cancer prevention, autism awareness or another cause, your next running goal may be inspired by a race affiliated with a charity. Check out Run for Charity to search for events matching your passions, as well as fundraising tips. Some charity programs will even provide you with a coach and training groups to get you to your race-day goals!

7. Do you have children who want to run with you? If you wish to share the love of running with your family, consider participating in a kids’ running program with your child. Better yet, coach! You can also train for an event with Girls on the Run, an organization that trains girls to complete their first 5K. On race day, they run alongside their very own Running Buddy (you!).

8. And the million-dollar question: What do you want to do? Don’t let anyone tell you what the next step is for your fitness. Sure, doing a 10K seems logical to your best friend, but it might not seem logical to you. Maybe speedy 5Ks seem more logical. Or perhaps your logic says you’d rather train for the local marathon six months from now. Whatever distance you choose, do your homework, secure a good training plan and make sure you allow yourself enough time to properly adapt to the demands of training.

You’ve proven you can accomplish one running goal—the question is no longer “Can I do it?” but “What will I do next?” Deciding on the answer is the hardest part. Now, go get ‘em!

What questions are most important as you select your running goals? And what will your next running goal be? —Susan

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