Look, Feel And Run Your Best

Whatever your goals are for the year, this guide will help you look, feel and run your best


Posted: 1 January 2009

Setting challenging yet attainable goals is key to maintaining a long-term running career. After all, you’re more likely to stay motivated when you have something to work towards and can measure your progress at regular intervals.

But picking the right goals can be tricky. Set your sights too high and you’re likely to find yourself disappointed (and demotivated) from the word go. Aim too low, and you’ll miss out on achieving your full potential.

It might sound clichéd, but only you will know what goals suit you best. Maybe you want to increase the time you’re able to run non-stop, shed excess weight or knock minutes off your race times. Perhaps you’re looking to add to your medal collection or bid a final farewell to a nagging injury. You alone know where you are, where you’re going and where you want to be in the weeks and months ahead.

Thankfully, whatever your aims and objectives, you can count on RW to help, from sowing the seeds of big ideas to furnishing you with expert advice to accomplish them. The only limit is your own imagination...

Getting Started

If you’re a complete beginner, then first things first, wave goodbye to the idea that you need to have any racing ambitions before you get started. Lots of people take up running, not for the competitive element, but for health reasons – either to improve their overall fitness, lose weight or reduce cholesterol.

It’s important to start out slowly, so your initial aim might be as simple as going for a run. Your first few steps can often seem the most daunting, so take a minute to check out our BIG Beginners’ Index before you bound out the door – it’s packed with get-started tips, motivational advice and an essential kit checklist too.

Don’t be tempted to run as far as you can, as fast as you can to start with – few people can run a full mile first time round, and you’ll easily get disheartened if you find yourself starting to struggle. Instead, have a look at our run/walk programmes. They’re perfect for easing you in gradually, and you’ll also see week-on-week improvements, perfect for keeping you motivated in the long-term.

Those returning to running after illness, injury or childbirth also need to take things slowly at first – though you might not consider yourself a novice your body will take a while to re-adjust after a period of imposed rest. Here are our top tips on making the perfect comeback, however long you’ve been sidelined.

Head to our BIG Weight-Loss Index for links to all our most popular waist-reducing reads. Trust us, there’s not a hamster-size portion or diet shake in sight, just plenty of no-nonsense advice about healthy food swaps and how to maximise the calories you burn during each training session.

Of course, you don’t need to be actively seeking to drop a few pounds to make the most of our nutrition archive. There’s plenty to satisfy the curiosity of runners simply looking to improve their diet and internal well-being, from understanding food-group basics and vitamins and supplements to easy-to-make mouth-watering recipes.

Ready To Race

Maybe you’ve been running for a while and working towards a set distance or time is top of your to-do list. Now’s a good time to (re-)discover the three primary training components involved in becoming a stronger, faster runner – speed, strength and endurance. You’ll find links to more in-depth training articles below but in the meantime, you might like to chew over these introductory reads...
Your First Speed Sessions | Long Run

Why not consider signing up for an event too? Click here for full UK listings or cast your eye over our Worldwide Races Index for more far-flung ideas. Not only is a race a great way to measure your progress, the pressure of an approaching fixture means you’ll be more likely to put in the required training.

Next, it’s time to think about your weekly routine. The benefits of a pre-prepared schedule are several. Firstly, it will be designed to provide exactly the correct balance of hard and recovery workouts, so will help your body adapt gradually to the increased training demands that a step-up in distance or speed requires. What’s more, it’s also more likely to force you outside of your comfort zone - a sure-fire way to see real results - than if you try and stick to your own devices.

Don’t forget you can also use our free, interactive tool, SmartCoach for an intelligent, personalised training programme, perfectly designed to suit your lifestyle. Or, if family or work commitments leave you struggling to fit in more than three sessions a week, you might find the principles behind the FIRST programme are right up your street.

Quick-fix solution, or long-term venture?

Sometimes all it takes is a few simple tweaks to your training to see results. For the seriously time-pressed, our 60-Second Guide Index lists a selection of bite-sized articles designed to help you train better, avoid injury and fuel each workout. What’s more, these three tip-tastic guides are full-to-burst with ideas to put some added pizzazz into your training.
Shortcuts to Success | Fast Fixes | Small is Bountiful

If you feel like your training needs more than a swift spruce-up though, then it might be time to sink your teeth into some of our more detailed reads.

Look back over previous races or training runs for an idea of your individual strengths and weaknesses. Does your stamina always fail over longer distances? Do you wish you could improve your finishing kick in races? Do you always make a conscious effort to run around hills rather than over them? Focussing on areas you know you need to work on is a great way to keep your training from reaching a plateau.

Here are some of the more common running goals to get you started, along with links to some of our most popular (and practical) reads. Target them in isolation for a real fitness boost, or use the recommendations to inform your existing routine – either way we guarantee you’ll be running stronger and faster within a matter of weeks.

I want to... improve my speed
Short, sharp bursts of high-intensity exercise might seem daunting, but your body will thank you for it. Not only will you notice significant improvements in your speed over shorter distances, you’ll be able to sustain a quicker pace for longer distances too – a sure-fire ticket to better race performances across all distances.

Essential read: The Can’t Fail First-Time Speedwork Guide

The next steps:

I want to... improve my strength
Running hills will not only make you physically stronger, it’ll also improve your running economy, boost your cardio-vascular fitness and requires less impact than running fast on the flat. Make time to cross-train too – working opposing muscles will help strengthen your body and add power to your running action.

Essential read: Everything you need to know about hill training

The next steps:

I want to... improve my endurance
You don’t have to be training for a marathon to reap the benefits of a weekly long run. Not only will this session condition your muscles to delay the onset of fatigue, it’s also great for learning the importance of pacing yourself right, and is an all-round fat-burner too. Notch up some comfortably hard, tempo runs too, and you’ll soon be hitting faster times over longer distances.

Essential read: In The Long Run

The next steps:

I want to... train to my heart-rate
Monitoring your heart rate is the best way to gauge exactly how hard (or how easy) you’re working. Just as your weekly routine should include a variety of paces - from the long, steady run to flat-out threshold sessions – so too should your heart rate differ with each workout. Otherwise you run the risk of running all your steady mileage too fast - a one-way ticket to overtraining.

Essential read: RW Complete Guide to Heart Rate Training

The next steps: Know what to look for when buying a heart-rate monitor

  • Calculate your maximum heart rate and threshold heart rate
  • Get your heart racing with these beginner-friendly sessions
  • Keep an eye on your pulse to help you bounce back from illness or injury
  • I want to... stay injury-free
    Trying to progress too fast, too soon is the most common cause of injury among of runners. This might be hard news to swallow (especially if you’re the impatient type) but the sooner you realise most grievances are self-inflicted, the sooner you’ll be ready to learn how to manage and avoid them.

    Essential read: Escape from Injury

    The next steps:

    Take A Break

    Don’t lose sight of the most important aspect of running: fun! Sometimes it’s all too easy to feel deflated and demotivated, especially immediately after a big race or training setback.

    Running isn’t meant to be a stress-producer so consider leaving your watch at home, exploring new training routes or even taking a few consecutive rest days (or weeks) every once in a while. Chances are your body will thank you for it, both mentally and physically. What’s more, you’re likely to come back stronger, bursting with inspiration and more determined than ever to take on your next challenge.

    Good luck!


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