April 10, 2017

By Yitka Winn

For many a runner, signing up for races can be an inspiring source of motivation. Spring is prime season for creating a schedule for the rest of the year, then reaping the motivational benefits of having concrete goals on the calendar to work toward.

However, scheduling up your year can have a down side, too. If you’ve been racing for several years or more, sometimes the goals that once motivated you can begin to feel, instead, like a burden.

Wondering what to do if your goals feel like an obligation?

Here are a few tips on choosing goals to maximize your motivation and maintain the flexibility to adjust your training as needed throughout the year.

Less Is Oftentimes More

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because one or two big races have you jazzed to train, that these 10 targeted races will make you 10 times as motivated.

In fact, it can be highly demotivating to feel as though you are always either tapering for a race or recovering from one; this cycle makes it exceedingly difficult to train as effectively as you could otherwise. You’re likely to see fewer performance gains, and nothing zaps motivation faster than a disappointing lack of forward progress.

Instead, choose one to three big races annually that you’re truly passionate about — not just signing up for because your friends are, or you feel you should, or because that’s what you’ve always done. Focus on those few, special races, then build goals around them.

Rocky terrain and beautiful scenery help make trail running a popular choice in the Northwest to spice up your training.

Change Things Up

Most of us tend to set the same kinds of goals, year after year. For some that may mean endurance goals — setting our sights on longer and longer distances each year. For others that may mean speed goals, like setting a new personal best in a distance you’ve raced many times before.

If you feel your usual motivation flagging, change things up by focusing on a different kind of goal or two this year. Here are a few out-of-the-box ideas for alternate goals that can rekindle motivation:

• If you usually set endurance goals, set a speed goal instead; or vice versa. Consider setting goals related to other factors altogether: enjoyment, consistency (such as a “running-streak” goal of running at least 1 mile every day, or completing a certain number of miles per week), perceived effort, community, heart rate, vertical feet (if training for trail, mountain or uphill races), or raising money for charity.
• Sign up for an event that’s totally outside your prior wheelhouse of experience. For example, an obstacle race, sprint triathlon, trail race, ultramarathon, road 5K, uphill race or a group-running relay race.
• Set a non-event-based goal. For example, train to set a new mile personal best on a local track, try to run or bike your age in miles or kilometers on your birthday, or organize a group of friends to embark on a big adventure like circumnavigating a volcano on foot.

To Coach or Not to Coach

If you’ve never worked with a personal coach or trainer before, consider hiring one. Doing so can help you change things up and clamber out of a training rut. If you naturally tend to be a people-pleaser, having a coach to hold you accountable can be a great motivational boon.

On the flipside, if you’ve been working with the same coach for years and are struggling to stay motivated, it might be time to take a break from a formal training program or, at the very least, have an honest talk with your coach.

By removing some structure and pressure from your training, you may find you’re better able to tap into the reasons you fell in love with running in the first place — be those endorphins, mental clarity, a sense of community, an excuse to spend time outdoors, or the simple, meditative joy of putting one foot in front of the other, again and again.

Yitka Winn is a freelance writer, avid runner and OutdoorsNW’s On the Run columnist. She lives in Seattle. Follow her adventures on Instagram @yitkawinn