With a secret sigh of communal relief, the festive season is over. We’re now firmly into 2023. Perhaps you’ve already made your New Year running resolutions; maybe you’re still mulling them over. Resolutions, of course, don’t work for everyone.
For many, it will be enough to lace up those new shoes, strap on that new Garmin, and, armed with some salty advice from Born to Run 2, head out onto the tarmac or trail.
However, if you are the kind of runner motivated by self-set targets, it’s vital to strike a balance between achievement and ambition.
For those runners, we’ve come up with five great and five terrible New Year’s resolutions to help you set realistic goals that deliver that warm glow of achievement.
10 Runner New Year’s Resolutions: Dos and Don’ts
1: DO: Try running different distances.
This doesn’t mean launching into a 100-mile ultra if 10k on the track is your usual tipple.
However, it could mean attempting a half marathon if your regular distance is 10k, or stepping down to 5k and really pushing that speed threshold.
For trail runners, it might require topping ten miles once a week. For ultra-fanatics, it might mean adding a 100k to your race list for the first time.
Varying your distance helps you strategize your runs and reserve your energy. Your body gets better at rationing its glycogen reserves.
Willpower improves, too, whether it’s feeling the burn of sub-6-minute miles on a 5k or summoning the strength to speed up in the last mile of a half marathon.
2: DON’T: Set unrealistic goals.
Setting the achievement bar too high is a surefire way of experiencing disappointment. I attempted a sub-3-hour marathon for my first race OF ANY KIND. Guess what? I fell short (3:14).
For many activities, such as attempting your first marathon or running a coast-to-coast trail over several days, just finishing could prove enough of a challenge!
Aiming for 5-10% improvement is more realistic than trying to transform your body and mind in a single 12-month period.
3: DO: Try running with other people (or alone).
They say that misery loves company.
I wouldn’t have completed half of the marathons and ultras I’ve managed without someone to talk to, complain to, or share disturbing blister anecdotes with. My marathon time improved by six minutes when I trained with other people. My 5k went from 22 minutes to 17 and change.
I find running with others takes my mind off the negative side of the endeavor (aches and pains, boredom, negative trains of thought) and emphasizes companionship, laughter, and mutual support.
Don’t believe me? Read Lisa Jackson’s excellent Your Pace or Mine? for an inspiring depiction of social running.
It can’t be denied that the Park Run phenomenon has changed the lives of millions of wannabe runners, largely because of the communal joy of a challenge shared.
And if I’m preaching to the converted and you always run with a friend, partner, or club, then try the occasional run alone, with just nature and your own breathing as companionship. It may be scary at first, but you might just discover reserves of resilience and peace you didn’t know you had.
4: DON’T: Attempt a marathon without a training plan.
We can do many things for the first time by winging it. Preparing a salad, building a sandcastle, or kissing spring to mind. Marathon running is not one of those things. Though it’s true that a lot of regular runners could step up to a half-marathon distance with very little preparation, this isn’t true for the marathon.
That’s because of the phenomenon of The Wall. You’ll have read much about the moment when your body’s carbohydrate reserves run out, and you switch over to fat burning. You may even have experienced it in training. However, when you hit the wall during a race for which you’re woefully unprepared, it can feel like the end of the world.
If you don’t want to end up weeping in a Portaloo or having a hypoglycaemic attack after the race (again, I may be writing from experience), then do pick a realistic, goal-cantered training plan and stick to it.
5: DO: Get out onto the trails.
Both research and anecdotal evidence are undisputable – getting out and about in nature is a huge balm for the soul (and will improve your running form too). Even if you’re a confirmed tarmac junkie, try the occasional run on the grass in your local park or a canal towpath trot. You may find a whole new side of running opens up to you.
Whether it’s watching graceful swans, battling the elements on a hill climb, or feeling the freedom of running barefoot along the sand, running in nature is a world away from pounding city streets.
Perhaps you live in the heart of the city, and it’s hard to drive out to the sticks every weekend. Nevertheless, with over 140,000 miles of public rights of way in the UK, 62,000 urban green spaces, and 2500 miles of National Trails, we’re never far from nature.
6: DON’T: Ignore that injury.
While it’s true that many niggles and aches seem to sort themselves out when we run regularly, there’s also pain that indicates a significant problem. From heart palpitations to breathing difficulties to stabbing pains in the mysterious region under your kneecap, some physical ailments can’t be run through.
Fortunately, there is a legion of osteopaths, sports physiotherapists, and massage therapists who won’t just declare a moratorium on your favorite pastime. We’re all avoidant (and this writer has certainly ignored his share of problematic pains), but we know we’re only putting off the inevitable.
If we want to keep running, we need to find out what’s going on and address it.
Make that appointment you’ve been putting off – and look after that remarkable running machine.
7: DO: Set yourself a fun challenge.
Not all challenges need to be epic ultras, gold medals in track meets, or marathon PBs. Some can be purely personal.
Among the challenges I set myself in 2020-21 were running between every station on London’s Piccadilly Line and doing a barefoot marathon for charity in my parents’ garden, drawing a dinosaur using Strava, running in the snow, and racing to the top of a mountain and back down.
Whatever it is, make sure it’s personal, different, and, most of all, fun. Something you’d be glad to post on Instagram or share with a friend. These crazy challenges reinvigorate the soul and remind us how extraordinary the act of running can be. At the very least, you’ll earn a fun anecdote or two for the pub.
8: DON’T: Let running become routine.
The flip side of adding unique challenges into your training is that you can add variety even to the most regular schedule. Simple interventions like running at different times of day, stopping to take photos, and running a route in reverse (no, not facing backward!) can make all the difference.
Google some nearby routes you haven’t explored. Run with friends and family, join a club, or strap on a headtorch and run after dark. Whatever you do, especially if you’re planning to bang out 50-80 miles a week for your marathon schedule, do build in a bit of variety. It will stop your running from becoming just another daily chore.
9: DO: Go public with your ambitions.
Be a little careful with this one! Assuming you’ve set challenging yet achievable goals, tell people about them. It’s too easy to become blasé about taking part in events that others might consider inconceivable. Not only do people like hearing about the grand ambitions of others, but most decent people will actively support your aspirations.
If you plan to train for your first ultra or work hard to break that 20-minute 5k, then don’t be afraid to share that dream. It will motivate you as much as everyone around you. Let’s be honest; the embarrassment of pulling out of a challenge might stop you from doing so! Plus, if you’re fundraising for a good cause, then the more people know what you’re doing, the better.
That said, perhaps keep those blackened, missing toenails to yourself.
10: DON’T: Beat yourself up over DNFs.
Eventually, it happens to every runner.
Either you have a significant physical reason to pull out or lose the balancing act between effort and reward. You’ve struggled agonizingly for several hours in the rain or battled an injury, or you simply aren’t enjoying it even remotely.
(Whisper it:) It’s okay, sometimes, to pull out of a race.
In war, it’s called strategic withdrawal and is an accepted necessity when the odds of defeat are simply too high. Think of it this way – unless you’re a complete masochist or you are determined to punish yourself for some unconscionable sin, why would you make yourself endure unremitting misery that benefits nobody?
We’re not suggesting pulling out of a race as soon as the going gets tough. However, there are times when it’s fine to throw in the towel. Such as when this writer had fallen in the same icy Highland river twice after 12 hours and 50 miles of running while experiencing the first symptoms of hypothermia (thanks, Tyndrum 24!)
You’ll achieve amazing things in 2023… just not every time you run. So set those aspirations for realistically magnificent and enjoy your running year.
For some other New Year’s Resolutions that are not particularly running-related, check out our 17 New Year’s Resolutions Ideas To Get You Motivated in 2023!