Admit it. You've seen those svelte – and even a few not-so-svelte – runners pounding the streets in your neighbourhood and thought, "I could do that." But every time you decide to lace up your shoes and hit the streets, you give up the next day.
It's not uncommon for beginner runners to lose motivation quickly, says John Stanton, president and founder of the Running Room. In fact, he has seen both experienced and newbie runners give it up due to a lack of motivation. That's why it's so important to set goals, he adds.
"You can get into the doldrums if you don't have a goal," Stanton says. "It helps get your butt out the door on days where you don't feel like it. It also allows you to test yourself and push yourself a little further than you normally would."
There are four different types of goals, Stanton says, and you really need all four to stick to it. The first is that immediate goal of just getting out the door every day to stay fit and keep well.
The second is setting a short-term, or seasonal, goal. Stanton recommends choosing an upcoming race in your community and using your daily workouts as a way to get you there. For example, you could choose an upcoming 5K or 10K race in your neighbourhood and use that training as a way to keep running for the next four, six or eight weeks.
Next, Stanton recommends setting a goal for the entire year. If you're a new runner, why not make it a goal to run a 5K this fall, then try to improve your time for next spring? Or, if you've been running 5Ks for a while, you could make it your goal to move from the 5K to the 10K distance in the next year.
Finally, you also need a long-term "dream" goal, Stanton says. For many people, that might be running a destination race like the New York City marathon or the Vancouver Sun Run, a 10K run that is one of the city's most popular events. For others, it might be the dream of qualifying and running the Boston Marathon, often considered the Holy Grail for runners thanks to its legendary status and elite qualifying times. You may not be able to reach your dream goal in your first year of running, but Stanton says if you keep working toward it, you can reach that goal in a few years.
You've decided to start running and you've laid out your goals. The most important thing to do next is select your short-term goal race. Here are a few of Stanton's tips on how to choose – and reach – that short-term goal:
Choose a race with meaning. If it's your first race, you want to choose one that inspires you to get out the door. Stanton recommends choosing a race that supports a charity close to your heart (like the yearly Run for the Cure, or a Terry Fox run), as it will help keep you motivated. "Those days you don't feel like running, you can remind yourself who you're running for," he says.
Be realistic. This one is especially important for new runners, as you want your goal race to push you a bit out of your comfort zone but still be attainable. Don't sign up for a full marathon in six weeks if you've never run a day in your life, for example. Start by running a 5K race, and once you've mastered that, you can move up through other distances.
Don't do it alone. Your chances of success are far greater if you join a running group or find other new runners to run with. "You don't miss the workouts if you're training with other people," Stanton says. "You don't dare miss a run because you're going to have to face the music next week when you see them.”
Enlist support. Share your running goal with family and friends and use their support to power you through. But Stanton warns against telling the entire world about your goals, lest you put too much pressure on yourself.
Leave naysayers in the dust. The support of friends and family will help keep you motivated, but don't forget to use those negative comments as well, Stanton says. If someone tells you that you can't meet your goal, do everything you can to prove him or her wrong. "Use that on the days you're out there struggling," says Stanton. "Say, I'm not going to quit because I'm going to prove that jerk wrong."
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.