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A Reason to Run

Understanding why we run is key to setting training goals. Especially with racing on hold. So now is an ideal time to improve our running and set training goals.
The opportunity to evaluate your training is one we probably should do more often. So with a little time on our hands now is a great opportunity to do just that.

What is Your Training Motivation?
It is actually important to understand this. It will impact on your review and affect what you are satisfied with as you review your training and race goals.  Are you running for Health? Perhaps it is the social side of things and meeting up with friends? Or are you looking to achieve a new personal best or to finish ahead of someone within your group or club, maybe to win?

Why do you run?

Yet these three things are continually changing and are inexplicably linked. With racing postponed or the inability to meet up with running groups or clubs, it is understandable to drop into a healthy approach to running, sensible and makes so much sense. For others, it has been frustrating as training goals have been based around the upcoming race season and now what?
Yet as runners regardless of our main motivation for running we all enjoy a little variety and working on our fitness. Running more days in the week or a few repeats up and down a local hill would all make sense as they add something different and a little challenge.

Racing Goals…
Many runners are motivated by the next racing challenge and often this dictates the next set of training goals. The simplest is working up to the required distance. Or it could be practising a known racing effort in training so that the body get’s used to it so improving your efficiency enabling you to run faster.  A mountainous course would dictate up and downhill reps and so on…

Yet there is a very strong argument that looking at other factors that help with your general fitness will be a much better model for goal setting. Right now this is very much the case. Planning for the worst case of no racing this year is perhaps not unreasonable and it is certainly the case that planning your training around your own fitness goals is not going to do you any harm.

Establishing Your Training Goals.
The key to this exercise is to remember that there is nothing actually wrong here, only an opportunity. Things are the way they are and this year’s strength could be next years weakness.
So in going through the areas you need to work on it may appear quite daunting and that you are way behind where you thought you should be. In truth to even get to this point, you have done something positive and you are probably fitter than you realise. Without having something to work on you’d never improve so take the areas you have to work on very much as a positive step forward.

Strengths Opportunities
Weaknesses Threats

The trick to going through the things you are good at and the areas you need to work on is not to look too deep.  Keep things straightforward and try your best not to over-complicate things.  Most things that need to be worked on are probably the basics, the foundation of your fitness and the fundamentals of what you do.

Foundations and Fundamentals…
As always whenever I complete a SWOT Analysis with anyone I begin with the basics. Getting the basics right is a little like building the foundations of your house, something we continually hear and read about.  So here’s some of the areas that I find are well worth reviewing.

Aerobic Endurance – Your ability to run far. Usually, your Sunday long slow run. Simply can you keep the effort going, without a rise in heart rate and not slow down? If you do then this could be an area that you need to progress.
Flexibility – stretching and mobilisation are important to ensure you keep moving well when you run. Is this something that is missing from your routine and could be added in?
Core Strength – I’m not just talking your legs here. Are you a stable runner with a good strong core? If not it could well be worth reviewing this and adding in a weekly routine. If it helps your running then it has to be a good thing, plus the benefits of having a stronger core can result in less injuries and improved movement patterns.
Running Technique – This is definitely a key foundation of running well and avoiding injury. Yet it so often neglected. If you are taking your technique for granted then there is a good chance it will need some work.  Adding in 15-20 minutes of running drills could prove to be extremely beneficial. This could even be more specific with a focus on up and downhill work.
Pacing – I always start to fast and ended up slowing down far too much. So adding in some specific runs where you focus on this could be the difference between a race day PB or not.
Hills – I hate hills. Add this in as something to work on. Reps could be the way to go with a focus on starting them at a lower effort so that you can run further up the hill next time.

If you have read through the list and have at least two things you could be working on, well ‘Wow’, what an opportunity. So from having a number of weaknesses, you suddenly have some brilliant opportunities.  Time to get to work then, with focus and hopefully a renewed sense of purpose.

Clearly, whilst you are listing that which you can ‘Work On’, don’t forget to look at those areas where everything is good. Your strengths should not be ignored as you need to know what they are. Plus, there’s a pat on the back for yourself.  Why not.

As to Threats, it is a case of ensuring that the changes you make do not impact negatively. You start to increase the length of your runs… it could be that the threat ‘Is too much too soon’ and you risk an overuse injury.

The key to setting training goals is to keep things straightforward, make gradual changes or introductions to new training. One at a time. Remember small steps equate to BIG steps when added together.

Testing Yourself.
It can be difficult to do this on your own, yet again, why not.  The only person you would be testing is yourself, who else needs to know?
It could be you set yourself a full-on time trial. How about a specific time and not exceeding a specific heart rate – how far did you run this time? Did you manage to run up that hill, no stops or pauses?

Yes, it is even possible to set up a Time Trial with a friend, fast or slower. Set an interval between each other’s start times. One that equates to you crossing the line together – race on!
Then having ‘tested’ yourself, what did you learn?  Back to the SWOT… so it continues. Always positively, always balanced and always with a workable outcome that you can use to help yourself.

The proof is in the Pudding… as they Say.

Case Study – Harvey Martin
Competitive Runner looking to improve 5km Time on the road, with a longer-term objective towards Trail Racing.

Harvey Martin Team Accelerate-Scott Strengths: Determination, good recovery strategies, Aerobic efficiency and Endurance, good training patterns, resilience.

Training Opportunities: Anaerobic efficiency (tempo and above), Strength and stability, specific race speeds coupled with pacing and avoiding starting too fast. Running Technique, always.

Training: Worked through early 2020 developing strength stability. Two sessions per week, plus one active strength session. Maintained aerobic / endurance running. Slow hill reps also. Winter speed not exceeding current race pace.
Into spring, reduced strength work and increased speed, exceeding race pace. Began to shorten recovery times. Tempo Running to specific heart rate.
Summer, faster pacing. Introduced shorter faster reps and some power workouts.
Spring (first) 5k TT: 17:15  August (most recent) 5k TT on the same course: 16:13.


Many will look at Harvey and perhaps think that’s not me. Yes, he is a committed individual, yet it is the process of looking at and working through a SWOT that we can all take away. It is still about understanding why we run, in his case ‘Competitive’.

For me running is very much about the enjoyment and the health, with a little competitive thrown in. Technique and strength are still key to me being able to run and stay healthy. So yes, they form part of a much less detailed SWOT.

No one has anything to lose by understanding their reason for running and for thinking about the areas that will help to keep them running. Ultimately, we just wanna run.

Other articles in this Series, ‘Stop, Think and Then Go Run’ are:

1. Stop, Think and Then Go Run

2. Stop, Think and Then Do Strength

This article has been written by Stuart Hale. He is a highly experienced coach and works for the Accelerate Performance Centre and England Athletics as part of their ClubRun Program.

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