How to Set the Right Running Goals: Tips from Coach Ian Sharman
Ian Sharman is a USATF-certified ultra running coach and has completed over 200 ultras and marathons in over 30 countries globally. He’s a runner for Altra Running, has represented England, and been selected for the Great Britain 100k team. He is a four-time Leadville Trail 100 Champion, three-time Rocky Raccoon 100 Champion, Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record holder, and nine times top-10 finisher at the Western States 100. He’s also an avid columnist and writes widely about the sport.
Also read: Running Tips for Beginners
We caught up with Coach Sharman to get an insight into goal setting for runners and how to stay motivated as you chase your running goals. Here are a few tips from Ian Sharman on how to set running goals and be successful in the long run.
How can you approach goal and goal setting?
According to Sharman, setting race goals is all about going where you need to be during the actual racing event. He recommends thinking about the big race, planning some of the intermediate mock races, and “seeing how long it would take to get them into those intermediate markers, so you don’t rush what you’re trying to build up”.
He explains: “It doesn’t matter what distance you’re looking at — look at it as a race rather than just covering a particular distance. This will add a bit more formality and will motivate you to train harder. A race environment, with other people around you trying to take on similar challenges — rather than just you running a distance by yourself — will give you more objectivity, making it easier to push yourself.”
How and how much should you push yourself?
The first and foremost thing is to build a habit. “Getting into a habit of training regularly is important, especially while preparing for a race. It is essential to make sure that you are not just physically, but also mentally prepared to get through the race,” says Sharman. “One of the key things to do is to train your mind to get used to a particular activity. If you are trying to ease into a running routine, start by setting easily achievable goals so that you can have a sense of achievement and gradually build a habit.”
According to Sharman, a beginner runner could set a goal of running 1km on the first day, then take a rest day, before setting a goal of running 1.5km or repeating the same distance the day after. Not every run has to be more demanding than the last one, he points out. So every time you take yourself through your goals, you’re also getting into the habit of training.
Another thing to be mindful when it comes to setting and chasing running goals is that you should avoid cutting corners, ie, refrain from taking the easy way. Generally, every time you take the hard route, it helps make you tougher. “For example, if you have the time to do a 10K or a 9K, if you take the slightly tougher of the two options and decide to run a 10K, you will be reinforcing the habit of being mentally tough and prepared. It’s about developing a skill set that goes beyond having the knowledge or skills specific to the sport,” explains Sharman.
However, there is a caveat to this as well. While it can be beneficial to pick the tougher path, you don’t want to be too stubborn with your habits, says Sharman. For instance, in case you’re injured or over-trained, it is not ideal to push yourself. It’s more sensible to assess what can make you fitter and aid your training to get you to where you want to be. Be honest with yourself, don’t find excuses, but if there’s a genuine reason to adjust your training, then do it.
“Even with my own personal training, I’m constantly adjusting it day by day based on how I feel. I have got an idea of what I’m going to achieve that week, but I move it around based on picking the right days to push myself a little bit harder as well as allowing for things like real life, like you have more time one day than another day,” shares Sharman. Be smart with your training schedule and it’ll allow you to do well in races.
Pushing yourself while injured or ill may just be causing harm to your body by overtraining. Usually, the early signs of some form of overtraining or injury manifest as things feeling a little bit harder. For example, maybe you just find that you are unable to complete a workout, which can be a red flag.
Sharman adds: “If you complete two or three runs in a row, and then feel significantly worse than you expect, make little changes. Usually just by backing off a little bit…makes it more possible to get back on track.” It is much easier to fix any problem in training or racing if you can identify it earlier than later.
How can you figure out your limit?
Sharman says it’s a question of trial and error and suggests that it may be wise to not set a particular limit as one doesn’t know what one’s peak might be. So if you’re aiming for a specific marathon time or completing a particular race, it’s better to focus on quality training that can help you achieve your goals and unlock your potential.
Sharman says that his coaching experience has taught him that everyone was always capable of doing more than what they initially thought. He also suggests that the majority of people are capable of completing even 100 milers, given enough time and good training.
“Consistent training is key. It is important that you keep at it till it becomes a habit — the more you get used to running, the easier it becomes to fit it into your daily routine. Consistency will also allow you to train harder and the build-up of a number of years of training can pay off and help you improve,” says Sharman.
Also watch: How To Build A Consistent Running Habit?
It’s of course a given that you need to be willing and mentally prepared to put in the required amount of work. One of the primary limiting factors that may hinder one’s training and potential, says Sharman, is the desire or willingness to do it. Dedication to one’s training is imperative to success.