5 running goals that have nothing to do with racing

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Having a race on the horizon motivates many runners, but the prospect of competition is hardly the only reason people run. Your objective might be to lose weight, meet friends, claim some ‘me time’, or invest in healthy habits that ward off chronic disease. Some just simply love to run and dislike the pressure of competition. ‘Just because you’re not running in a race doesn’t mean you can’t have a goal,’ says coach Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Running For Mortals (Rodale). Identifying your aims makes you more likely to get out to run. It also shapes your strategy: running to lose weight, for example, requires a different approach from running to combat stress. Here’s how to tailor your workouts, whatever your non-racing goal happens to be.

Your goal: Overall health

Running makes you a better runner. But if all-around health and fitness is your priority, cross-training is key, because it develops full-body balance, reduces your likelihood of injury and alleviates boredom. Jeffrey Horowitz, running coach and author of Quick Strength for Runners (Velopress), advocates running three days per week (up to a maximum of 35 miles). ‘That delivers peak benefit without increasing your injury risk,’ he says. Two to three other weekly workouts should develop aerobic fitness (Horowitz favours cycling), core strength and balance (Pilates achieves both). Choose activities you truly enjoy so that you’ll keep doing them over a lifetime.

Your goal: Weight loss

Each week, include one session of high-intensity interval training and one long, easy run. ‘That longer aerobic effort teaches your body to use fat for energy,’ says Hadfield. Speed isn’t important; instead, maintain a conversational pace that you can sustain for 45-90 minutes. Hadfield’s ‘fat-blaster workout’ follows a six-minute walking/jogging warm-up with eight to 10 one-minute high-intensity bursts and 90-second walking recoveries. It takes just 25-30 minutes, but revs up your metabolism to burn more calories throughout the rest of the day. ‘It’s all about the afterburn,’ says Hadfield. ‘Plus, these shorter bouts don’t seem to trigger runners’ hunger mechanisms like longer distances do.’ Strength training also promotes that afterburn and will give you a trimmer, fitter appearance, so Hadfield recommends doing squats or lunges with dumbbells instead of the fat-blaster sprints every two or three weeks. Remember that you also have to watch what you eat: you still need to prioritise fruits and vegetables and cut back on sugary and processed foods.

Your goal: Stress relief

When stress overwhelms you, running can provide an antidote – but only if you don’t set out determined to hit a new personal best over 5K. Studies show that, just like other high-stress situations, intense workouts produce cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ that can result in blood-sugar imbalances and a weakened immune system. ‘If you’re not in a place of wellness, running hard only feeds the cycle and continues to drag you down,’ says Hadfield. If stress is interfering with your sleep, triggering unusual food cravings, or making you tired and irritable, ease back on the throttle while running. ‘Adopt an easy pace that lets you lose yourself in running,’ says Horowitz. Try logging easy double-run days, with one in the morning and one several hours later, rather than long, punishing workouts. ‘Splitting up the miles into two short runs of 20-30 minutes not only fits better into busy schedules, but also gives you that mental refreshment more frequently,’ says running coach Brandan Cournane. To reap the most benefits, run outside rather than on a treadmill: a 2010 study found that just five minutes of light outdoor exercise improved subjects’ moods.

Your goal: Socialising

Joining a group run is a surefire way to expand your circle of friends. Sprinting away from the pack defeats the purpose, so plan on logging an easy, conversational run. Once you’ve established running buddies, it’s easier to skip the chit-chat. ‘Camaraderie can really fuel a hard workout when runners push one another to perform,’ says Cournane. Even when talk is sparse, running with a group can provide encouragement and motivation to tackle tough runs that you wouldn’t have completed on your own. If big groups seem too intimidating, recruit a would-be runner and join them on their initial runs. Making yourself a role model for others is incredibly motivating.

Your goal: Enjoyment

If you’ve fallen out of love with running, make a change, advises running coach Beth Baker. Build a new playlist, discover a new podcast to listen to on the run, or map out a completely new route. ‘It’s important to keep your running feeling shiny and new,’ she says, because although your body might prefer a familiar routine, your mind loses interest unless you give it something fresh to look forward to.

Motivation can also come from a sense of purpose. ‘Identify something you want to run for,’ says running coach Krista Austin, who has served as an adviser to 2014 Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, among others. ‘Running is about character, not always about setting a new PB,’ says Austin. You might dedicate your week’s workouts to an injured friend who can’t run, to your heart health, or to setting a positive example for your kids.

Runners can even revive their love of the sport by running outdoors in winter, counterintuitive as this may seem. ‘You can admire the change of the seasons and the beauty of nature, which is harder to appreciate when you’re absorbed in serious training,’ says Cournane.

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