How To Achieve Any Running Goal

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It’s a bold promise I make in the title of this post. Can you really achieve any running goal? Can you not only run your first marathon but win the Olympic race? Probably not! However I assure you that you can run further and faster than you might think. If you don’t suffer from a disability, running a marathon is just a matter of time, everyone can do it. I did and so can you!

Of course you can’t just go to bed one night wishing to be able to run a marathon and the next day you do. It needs quite a lot of work. In this post I don’t want to talk about training methodology and throw some motivational quotes at you. Here I try to outline the pillars of your running. If you focus on these foundations and put training on top of it, then the sky is the limit.

Some of these points might be obvious but some are surprising. So let’s dig right into it.

Passion

Yes, passion is for me one of the most important things! If you’re passionate about something, the work you have to do around it comes so easy. Last year I read a book by a well-known german journalist that has no education in writing whatsoever. As he wrote about his life and how he became a journalist, he stated that you can accomplish something with education and some external motivations but great things only happen with passion.

That strongly resonated with me! I have a lot of passion for running and know that this is the only thing that helps me go for a run at 5am or go running for some hours straight in bad weather. And it worked out well for me: I never needed to quit a race, ran marathons and ultra trail races and I kept improving year over year.

Now you can’t just go into a shop and buy a ton of passion. So how do you get it? Well that’s not an easy question to answer and it’s pretty individual as well. So I just give you some hints and tips you can use:

  • Run in nature or in any beautiful environment
  • Run around sunrise or sunset
  • Read books by runners and watch running documentaries
  • Relive your past running achievements
  • Appreciate how your body transforms
  • Cherish that runner’s high

Time

You won’t improve constantly over a period of years if you don’t make any tradeoffs. Running needs time and if you train for a specific running goal you need to free up some time by missing out on something else. As you can imagine having a fair amount of passion for running makes compromising much easier.

Well freeing up time for running and miss out on other things is one of the things that most beginning runners struggle with. There’s work, there’s family, there are other hobbies and obligations and everybody wants the benefits of regular endurance exercise without giving something in exchange.

But let me tell you that for most hobby runners it is quite easy to find some time for working out. Basically you need to know two things:

  1. 1. Running doesn’t need the amount of time most people think
  2. 2. You’re free when and where to run

For the first point let me share something from my own running routine. I’m a runner for almost a decade, I never quite a race I started in, I run 3.5 hour marathons and I also run ultra trail marathons which keep me on the run for up to 12 hours. How much do you think I train on average per week? 10 hour? 20 hours? No I only average around 5 hours of running each week! So if you train the right way for your specific (long term) goal, you don’t need that much time.

Anytime, Anywhere

The other thing is that running is a hobby you can do almost everywhere and anytime. So you should take the time to check how you can include running in your everyday life. For example you can run your way to or from work or just part of it. Or you can run errands on the run. Be creative here, anything is possible.

So the main point here is that you need time to achieve your running goals but not as much as you think. And if you’re clever you don’t need to miss out on anything else.

Planning

If you have any goal in life you better have a plan ready on how you want to achieve it. Otherwise your success only depends on pure luck or a bit of talent. This is exactly the same with running. Wanna run a marathon? Great, but you will only succeed AND have fun training for your goal if you spend some time planning your journey.

The first step of your planning should be to choose a realistic running goal that suits you. If you have no idea how to choose a good running goal, check out this post:

How to Set Your Next Running Goal

As a general rule try to be guided by your running dream and choose a goal that is realistic for you at this point in time but that will bring you one step closer to achieve your long-term goal.

I give you my example. My big dream is to finish the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a 170km mountain race in the Alps. And I wanna stay healthy and not wear my body down too much while trying to get there. So I split it: First run a half marathon, then a marathon, then a mountain marathon, then ultra trail races, and so on.

And that brings me to one of the most important things. Take your time!

I have seen marathon runners in their 60s and 70s who were running just for a few years. Also studies have  shown that the performance potential of a 60-year-old runner is the same as that of a 19-year-old runner! So the point here is that you can still run and improve up to high ages. So take one step at a time and don’t rush into anything, your health will thank you for this approach!

Create a Weekly Plan

The first step to take is to make a weekly plan of all your activities. Make a plan in Excel with seven columns and 24 rows. That represents the days of the week and the hours of the day. Pick a regular week and fill all the hours each day (sleep, work, travel, eat, cook, family time).

After making your weekly plan find about 6 hours you can use for running. That doesn‘t mean you have to run 6 hours each week. This time can also include learning (e.g. reading this post), cross training or stretching.

I will write more about training planning in the weeks to come. For now check out the Improve & Achieve section for more information or check out one of these posts:

The Way to Your First 5K Race

How To Run An Awesome First Half Marathon

Analyze

In order to plan your future in the healthiest and most efficient way, it is also crucial to look back. Analyzing your current performance and the training in the past is a big help not only for defining your next running goal but also to train in a way that suits you and what you aim for.

To keep it simple you can check your current performance with a race of any distance. With that you can calculate your theoretical finishing time in other distances and help you define your next running goal. Check out this calculator for this purpose:

Race Time Predictor

I usually recommend you to use these two tools for gathering data and knowledge you can later analyze:

1. GPS and Heart Rate Monitor

This is the piece of equipment most runners use anyway. If you don’t already, you should invest in a good running watch with GPS. You can also use your smart phone for tracking but you should buy a bluetooth heart rate monitor you can use with your preferred running app.

GPS allows you to track your pace and distance as well as changes in altitude. All of these things are important when it comes to analyzing your current performance level and training improvement. With comparing your pace and distance with your heart rate you can get a decent idea of how fit your are. With that you have a tool to estimate the time you should target at your next race.

To learn more about heart rate training, check out this post:

A Beginners Guide To Heart Rate Training

2. Running Log

In addition to gather and analyze your training data, I recommend you to keep a running log. This should help you to track how you personally felt that day and how the conditions (temperature, humidity, burning sun, snowing, slippery surface, …) were.

Try to note these things on every day you go for a run:

  • How you felt before the run (tired, sore muscles, motivated, etc.)
  • Your feeling during the run (breathing issues, weak legs, cramp, runner’s high, etc.)
  • How you felt after the run (tired, sore muscles, exhaustion, hunger)
  • Weather conditions (temperature, humidity, precipitation, sun)
  • Surface you ran on
  • Amount of sleep
  • What you ate before, during and after the run

Reflecting upon all these things help you to get to know your body better. That is pretty important as you’ll learn in the next section.

Know Your Body

Getting to know your body is one of the many advantages of running. And the fact that you can interpret the signals of your body more and know how much effort it can handle, the higher the chance that you will achieve your running goal and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Most runners when starting out have a hard time to distinguish different types of aches and pains during training. An unwell feeling in your legs could be just regular muscles soreness from a hard training or the beginning of an injury. Try to focus on the feeling you have right after training or in the days to come. Not only check how your legs feel but your body in general like if you are overly tired.

Also observe your body while running and how the breathing, heart beat, sweating and general wellbeing changes as you increase intensity (e.g. faster running or uphill). With a bit of practise you know how high your pulse is and in which training zone you run in without carrying a heart rate monitor. That helps you to train at the correct intensity as well as how hard you can go during a race.

Knowing your body and be able to train and race accordingly is one of the major factor that influences consistency and the chance of achieving your running goals on a regular basis.

Iron Will

If you wanna finish that marathon one day of beat all of your friends at the next local 10k then nothing is between you and your goal other than yourself. It‘s not just another idiom when people say will can move mountains. If you really, really, really want to achieve anything an iron will is your best chance.

Wanting something desperately makes you take action and work towards your goal almost automatically. It will make it much easier to compromise and plan your training into your everyday lifestyle.

Also remember that an iron will comes in very handy during the race in which you want to achieve your running goal. Seeing what you worked for in front of your inner eye paired with your will to succeed help you to squeeze out the last portion of energy out of your body.

There are several techniques that help you increase your will power. I usually used some kind of visualization. On each day I trained I tried to visualize the moment of achieving my running goal as vivid as possible and saying to myself: You can do this! Doing theses visualizations regularly creates anticipation and leads to more will power.

Luck

Let‘s not completely forget about the luck factor. I guess about 90% of the outcome is based on things you can affect. But as in any other part in life also in running bad things can happen to you that are outside your reach of influence.

You might catch a bug or get some strange disease that keep you sidelined for months. Or a dog could attack and injure you or your work and family life don‘t allow you to spend as much time with running as you want to

Sure you also need a bit of luck to be able to achieve your running goals in the time span you wish. But try to focus on the other things I mentioned earlier and keep the luck factor as small as possible.

And should you be unlucky and fail to achieve your big goal right away, keep working hard and your time will come!

Over to You: Actions Steps

So enough with the theory let‘s discuss some things you can do right away to get that great sense of achieving a running goal.

If you havent already, choose a running goal that suits you first. This guide helps you find one.

Focus on passion:

Go on a run without wearing any technology. Leave your smart phone and running watch at home and try to go out into nature. Just enjoy running and the good feelings it gives you. Making the run around sunrise or sunset can increase the effect.

Focus on planning and compromising:

Make a plan of a regular week in your life and fill in what you do in every hour of the week. Fill in stuff like sleeping, working, commuting, cooking/eating, family or friends time and your hobbies. Check where you can squeeze in a workout and make a weekly running plan (just free up time for running, a training plan is a bit more complex).

Focus on analyzing:

Start a running log right away and choose an app/product to keep track of your training. I use a Suunto Ambit heart rate monitor and linked their web application with Strava which is my main training analyzation tool.

Focus on knowing your body:

Write a few sentences each day of next week into your running log. Note how you felt that day. Were you tired? Or had you any aches and pains. Compare this with your training, sleep and eating in the same week and try to figure out what helped you and what made you feel not so well.

Focus on your will power:

When you go to bed tonight and close your eyes try to visualize how you cross that finish line with the time you desired. Change the visualization according to your running goal.

Focus on luck:

What? How should I focus on luck? Yep there is a way to increase your luck. Sign up to our mailing list and we float the newest running advice to the top of your inbox. We work constantly to improve your chances of success.

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One comment on “How To Achieve Any Running Goal”

  • Kristin says:

    Very inspiring post. I ran a half marathon 7 years ago. I would love to start running again for the discipline and health benefits. I like your excel sheet of the hours in a day for a week. Will try that.

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