Guest post by Jenny Willden.
I’m anything but a natural-born runner. I hated running the mile in junior high school and avoided running for years. Instead I stuck to a gym-based fitness routine combining kickboxing, elliptical jogging, and walking everywhere when I lived downtown in a major city.
But after returning to Salt Lake City I began recreating mainly outside and spent a few years as an on-off runner, often being frequently sidelined by injuries. But after healing up for real I decided to make 2013 the year of running. Since February I’ve run more 5Ks than I can recall, but I’m supposing it’s around 25. My current streak is a race a weekend since September 20 with events scheduled until the end of November. As I’ve raced I’ve gotten faster and stronger than ever before and my racing streak has been peppered with wins and losses of every shape and size.
To take my running to the next level, I began setting audacious goals for myself and making accomplishing them a reality. Whatever your goal is, be it running a mile or racing a marathon here are seven tips for helping you achieve it.
1. Stick to a schedule. To become a better runner, you don’t need to run ever day. Heck, you don’t even need to run most days. But you do need to run consistently. I stick to a three days a week schedule whether training for 5Ks or half marathons, then spend the other days playing outside or cross training at the gym. This keeps me fit while preventing overuse injuries.
So how much should you run? Well that depends what you’re training for. Runner’s World offers fantastic training plans for any distance and Kara Goucher’s book Running for Women offers similar options built for ladies.
My typical schedule is 3 or 4 miles on Tuesdays at a speed two minutes slower than race pace, Thursdays I run hills or do speed work, and on Saturdays or Sundays I race or do a long run.
Many runners will say you need to run more days for distance racing, but this is up to you. That said, don’t expect a miracle without training. When trained my fastest half time is 1:57. Last winter I ran Disney’s half without training and came in at 2:30. If you care about how you finish, care to put the time in to training.
2. Find a buddy. I rarely run with other people. Running is a solo adventure for me, and I prefer spending it with just my tunes, but when it comes to LSDs (long slow distance) runs and races, I like to have a friend, or at least someone to celebrate with at the finish line. Also, popular long-distance trails like the Jordan River Parkway can be sketchy and are safest when run in pairs or with a canine companion in tow.
Choose someone faster than you if you need extra motivation to finish strong. I race with
my friend Allan (who can run sub 7-minute miles without training…it’s so unfair) and I spend most of the race just trying not to lag too far behind him. Since he beats me to the finish, he’s also a great cheerleader, and he always inspires me to be better.
Mentoring a new runner is also rewarding and a great way to build a friendship. Supporting a friend accomplishing their running goals feels just as sweet as reaching your own. You can read more about that in my Race Report of the Moab Other Half.
3.Sign up for races. I love everything about racing: the camaraderie, the cheesy themes, race medals, and the chance to win an age group award. But the best reason to sign up for a race is to have a goal to shoot for. Knowing you need to be prepared keeps you training on the bad days, the tired days, and the “I’d rather watch How I Met Your Mother reruns” days. Left to my own devices with no schedule, I just don’t work as hard. Not sure what race to choose? Women’s races, mud runs, and themed series like the Electric Run and Mustache Dache are great for beginners.
4. Track your progress.MapMyRun is a FREE tool built for smartphones that eliminates the need for GPS watches, throwing breadcrumbs, or driving your car on a route to track your mileage. I listen to my music on my phone as I run and MapMyRun interrupts me every mile to let me know my pace, split time, and overall time.
This helps me push when I need to in a race, and lets me know when to dial it down if I’m going out too fast. MapMyRun also tracks your progress over time, charts your favorite routes, and much more.
Does carrying your phone in an armband annoy you? Not to toot our our horn, but Swoob’s bras allow you to stow your phone in your pocket as you’re moving without bouncing or getting sweaty. You can also tote a chapstick, key…or even pepper spray in there too.
5. Find good music and mantras. Pick a playlist that gets you jazzed, and time it out so the most inspiring songs come on when you need extra inspiration. Whether you burn out at mile three or need a jam to push you up a steep hill, select a power song and use it. I like Eye of the Tiger and Katy Perry’s Roar, but select a song that speaks to you.
I’ll be the first to admit that mantras can be cheesy, but when you’re on your own in a long race something has to propel you to the finish line. Create your own or find a new favorite on Instagram. My favorite run-gramers are Runspiration and Runningsayings. Something simple like telling yourself to just run the next mile can be enough to keep you going.
Longer statements can be effective for pumping you up before a race or run. Here is my fave:
“I’m a distance runner. I’ve been trained to keep going, even when it’s hard. When it hurts. When it sucks. When I don’t want to. I look past it. Relentless forward progress to the finish. Call it what you want: stubbornness, endurance, determination, guts. Deep down, I don’t know how to give up.”
I also love the statement tank top trend and have bought some from Abundant Heart with phrases like “Your pace or mine?” on the front. I also rock my “Swoob Now Sexy Later” tank at nearly every race finish line party. Wearing these just makes me feel powerful.
6. Find the wins, even in the losses.
Two weeks ago, I ran my personal best 5K time. As a woman who had to work to finish a 5K in under 30 minutes a few months ago, I was in shock to see the clock as I ran in read 25:41. A lot of sweat and hard work has gone into shaving those four minutes off my time, and I couldn’t have been happier to learn it also netted me my first First Place finish in my age group. Few things feel better than that.
But you can’t expect to win all the time. A week
later I ran another 5K race. I was determined to finish faster and stronger than the week before. When the gun went off, I was hauling. I broke my own record for the first mile, finishing it in just 7:31. Sadly, starting out too fast left me disadvantaged in the hilly course and my overall time was the same as my week prior PR. A different race brings a different crowd of course, and this week the same time locked me in for fourth place in my age group.
Sure, I was disappointed to not place, but I still count it as a win to have run my fastest mile…even if it was the very thing that likely helped me lose. Be stoked when you accomplish your goals, but even if you don’t, find little wins to keep you inspired, like running a race without stopping or breaking your own record for a given distance. Little wins add up to big wins.
7. Put pen to paper. Don’t keep your goals in your head. Writing them down and reading them to yourself is a sure way to keep you on track. Anything you can do to motivate yourself is great.
Go ahead, set a big goal. I dare you. I thought it was ridiculous this summer to set out to place First in my age group, but hard work helped me accomplish it in a few short months. Just imagine what you can do if you really believe in yourself and work for it!
What are your race goals? How do you accomplish them? Share with us in the Comment section.