At the start of last year, I felt like I was on the edge of a breakthrough. Until then I had been a good runner. In the big picture, though, I was mediocre at best. When January rolled around, I had big plans for what the year would hold. I thought that if I could stay consistent and healthy and put in a long stretch of quality training that I would get to a higher level. For the most part, I was correct. After a brief setback in February (which was sort of a blessing as it got me to join the Y), I managed to string together over six months of solid training. Because of that consistency, I managed to PR at distances from one mile through half marathon despite dealing with some setbacks that started in October. By the end of last year, I would say I definitely was at a different level with my running. My PRs had downshifted by almost a minute at 5k and by more as the distances grew. I was no longer a front-of-the-midpacker in local races; I belonged right up at the front. At the bigger races, I was no longer a mid-packer either (like the Richmond half where I placed 33rd out of thousands).
The progress had been good but I am not even close to satisfied with anything. If anything, the improvement from only a half year of consistency has only further stoked my competitive fire. I’m not content being near the front at local races, I’m not satisfied with running decently fast, I want to be faster. I’m certain I haven’t come close to my physiological best, that there is A LOT more in the tank. I’m still pretty young and I’m still fairly new to running, having been serious for now about three and a half years. I know I haven’t started 2011 off like I had originally wanted and that’s why I held off on writing about my goals for the year until I was actually running. I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ll make a quantum leap and knock huge chunks off my PRs this year (though if I do, awesome) but I do want to see steady and substantial improvement by year’s end. With that in mind I’ve come up with two sets of goals – process goals and product goals. I don’t need to run a specific time to accomplish the process goals. They’re things I want to do in training which I believe will allow me to accomplish the product goals. The product goals, which I’ll get to later, are what most people think of when thinking of running goals – the times, the PRs, the results of races run.
My 2011 Process goals
Get leaner: This is a broad goal that encompasses both weight and nutrition. There’s no specific weight goal in mind. I am aware that I am already quite lean but I have some bulk, especially in my upper body (remnants of years ago when my main focus was power lifting), that does more to hinder running performance that benefit it. I’m not going on a diet or anything but I’ve started (and will continue) to stop overeating, eating just because I’m bored, eating when I’m already full, that sort of thing.
Improve nutrition: I already eat a pretty high quality diet (I don’t like to use the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy” because they’re subjective and pointless really) but it can improve. Already I’ve started to work on this but the goal is to maintain it. I’m trying to eliminate most low quality foods and incorporate more high quality ones in my diet. The better the fuel you put in, the better the performance you get out is the mindset. In transitioning, I’ve found that I don’t really miss the nighttime bowl of ice cream, the cookies, the two or three beers a couple nights a week, etc. I still eat really well (thanks in large part to the brilliant and delicious ideas Jess comes up with) and I still indulge occasionally but there’s no OVERindulgence.
Strength train 2-3 times/week: This is something that really fell off for me last year. Part of it was that I didn’t live close to a gym and part of it was that my already strenuous job and lack of free time caused a lack in motivation. It’s a component I feel many runners overlook, but one that can pay dividends. Getting stronger doesn’t have to mean getting bigger. It DOES mean my performances on all terrains – trails, track, or roads – will get better. Considering the injuries I’m getting over, there’s even MORE importance on keeping my legs, lower back, and abs strong.
Foam roll, massage, stretch, etc most days: One of the things I know is true about the times I have been most consistently healthy is that I was also being consistent about taking time almost daily to take care of my muscles. I have a foam roller. I have a massaging stick. I need to use them more. Setting aside a half hour or so every evening to roll, massage, and stretch my legs will help keep them loose and uninjured.
Keep easy days easy: This is something I did fairly well with last year but it’s something worth emphasizing again. As I get faster, I see the training of people around my ability level and lot of days they’re running quite a bit faster than I normally do. The temptation is there to pick up the pace and morph an easy run into something a little bit more. The problem is there’s no real payoff in that, and it hurts my ability to go hard on the quality workouts. This year I’m going to run easy on easy days and not care so much what that translates to, pace-wise.
Rest more: This doesn’t necessarily mean I want to take more off days. I mean literally I want to get more sleep. I’m usually getting about 8 hours a night, more on the weekends. It’s adequate but when the volume starts increasing, I know more would be even better. Whether that means a daytime nap on weekends, or just forgoing something on tv to get to bed earlier, I’m willing to do it.
More doubles: This is something that’s a month or two away at this point. I didn’t do nearly as many doubles as I had planned last year. Most of it was because I opted to sleep in instead, resulting in longer easy runs at the end of the day. If I can break up some of those days into doubles, I can still get similar volume but put less overall stress on my legs. This goes hand in hand with the rest goal. If I get more sleep, and get to sleep earlier, I’ll have an easier time getting up before work for some of those mid-week double days.
So that’s all I’ve got process-wise. The cool thing about process goals is there’s no way I can fail if I just stick with it. And I’m confident that if I DO stick with these, the product goals I have for myself with be well within reach.