New Year's Resolutions: 5 Ways to Stick With Your Running Plan
Updated: Jan 4
Every new year's resolution seems to follow the same pattern: excitement and motivation, a few weeks (maybe months?) of dedication, and an inevitable dwindling commitment which often leads to looking for a new blank slate on the next 31 December. 2021, more than any other year, is calling on us to turn a new leaf. And, if you've thought of turning to running for your new year's resolution, you're probably thinking that you need a plan to stick with it. Here are five ways to keep that resolution and have it bring something great into your life.
Know Your Why
Why are you taking up running? Are you returning from a break or an injury? Do you have a goal in mind, such as distance, elevation, or a particular race or event you'd like to conquer?
Having a specific measurable goal is essential for keeping you on track and providing motivation throughout the year. While a lot of usual runners build up to races during the year, splitting their training calendar into A, B, and C goals depending on the importance of the race, for a first-time runner it's great to just aim to conquer a particular distance, e.g. 10 km.
Beyond these measurable goals, however, there is a bigger question as hinted at by pro runner Lucy Bartholomew on her Instagram post about New Year's resolutions: what is running bringing into your life? Why did you decide to take up running and how do you feel about it after every session? As long as it's bringing joy and accomplishment, it will be something you stick with, so this is a very worthwhile question to ask yourself, and one which I think a lot of us forget about when we first lace up our trainers and grind out the miles.
Set Big Goals
When you set off on a new adventure, it's important to dream big, or else you won't be excited by the journey. There is a lot of theory around setting achievable goals and the business approach of SMART objectives, which is all 100% correct once you break down your big goal. But first, be bold. Stephanie Case's excellent blog post covers it well:
We learn nothing by setting goals for ourselves that we know we will accomplish – that’s a participation medal I don’t really want to get.
By going after goals that are just outside our reach, we focus on something exciting and genuinely go on an adventure, rather than just start a "regular" running plan. If you know you can run 5k, challenge yourself to run a 10k event this year, Don't settle for something you know you can do anyway, or there is a danger that you won't put as much effort into your training and you will not progress. Consequently, if you're plateauing in your fitness journey, that will demotivate you, sending you down a spiral where you won't want to stick with your new running goal.
... And Small Objectives
However, make sure you break your bold goal into smaller, achievable objectives. This can be a number of miles run per week, a specific pace you'd like to be able to sustain, a time you want to achieve up your favourite hill... The more small boxes you can tick along the way, the better for measuring progress, giving you a sense of achievement. Remember gold stars in schools or "levelling up" in a video game? That's the same - only for your running resolution! And they can get addictive, keeping you coming back for more miles.
Once you have set your sights on your ambitious goals and broken them down into measurable objectives, a key way to stick with your running resolution is to measure that progress. Whether you use a social app like Strava where you can set weekly and annual targets for distance or hours spent running, or a more old-school spreadsheet, anything goes! Just remember to check in every week at least, to see how you're doing against your targets.
Not only does measuring progress keep you motivated as you can see yourself smashing through your plan, it will also alert you when you're about to be led off course. After all, having your goals out of sight will eventually lead to them being out of mind, too.
Here's a hack I use: I've printed out my big goal for the year and have it in front of me at my desk so I can see it every day. I've also dropped in 3 reminders in my phone to alert me to do a review at the end of every quarter. And I will keep sneaking a peak at Stava's year-to-date stats when I upload my runs, to see how I'm doing!
Make It Easy - And Fun!
That's right, you need to make running easy to begin with. Of course, adverts for new kit and swanky YouTube videos from your favourite runners make it look like everyone's out there every day setting PBs and Strava records. But, in reality, the best thing you can do when you get into running is to be balanced, take it easy, and have some fun. That way, you're more likely to stick with it, especially in the early days (I do believe that, when training in a structured way for a race, you should "dread" some of your workouts, especially hill repeats! You need to push yourself to get those adaptations, but that's for a different blog post.)
Many behavioural experts teach us that, often, making the first step easy is key to starting, and keeping up with, a new habit. This may mean you set out your running clothes by the bed so you get dressed first thing in the morning. Once you're all set for your run... you might as well go running, right? The first 10 seconds of your new habit will help you keep it going, more than the following 30 minutes of running.
Finally, you're most likely taking up running for a hobby. So, make it fun and not all-consuming! Instead of obsessing over miles and hours run, try to mix it up and do some seasonal cross-training when you have the chance (such as skiing or swimming), go out with friends for an easy run/chat, throw in unstructured fartlek intervals into a session, or sign up for a fun run where you're not chasing a PB. All these will bring you joy and keep running a fun way to spend your days, not something you make yourself do.
Whatever you do this year, whether it's heading for a trail run for the first time, or climbing a new mountain, or setting out to run 100 miles, make sure running is fun and rewarding. And remember to set a new, bolder goal next year, and every year after that!