It’s very easy to be constantly striving for the next big thing. With running the temptation to go longer, faster or somewhere more unusual is always there, stemming from social media and our own running circle. There are endless events promising us greater running kudos and sense of achievement.
The invitations start from the very early days of our running. We may finish our first 5km to be handed a flyer for an upcoming 10km at the finish line. That doesn’t mean we should be signing up.
In fact, the worst thing you could do is rush up the running distances too quickly.
While having a challenge is often a great motivator, it is equally as good for the mind and the body to enjoy the status quo, let our body adapt gradually and appreciate the journey already travelled. Our body needs time to adjust to any change in training and allowing it progress at a steady pace will make you all the more stronger and confident in your running future.
If you started running this January you will have hopefully reached 5km and may even have completed a parkrun or a 5km race by now. This is a massive achievement and I hope you realise how wonderful it is. To progress from running not being on your list of hobbies to having the fitness and confidence to run a 5km is possibly the biggest running achievement there is. You move from being a non-runner to a runner. Your mindset change is as big as the physical fitness improvement. Bask in the glory of your 5km distance for a while before deciding to set a longer run goal. Spend some time getting stronger over 5km, learn more about your body and build a solid foundation.
While many runners are happy to keep 5km as their “long run” and have no aspiration to spend more time on their feet, some others do feel the pressure or the desire to chase the next adrenaline rush and sign up for a longer distance event. I would highly recommend any “new” runner to remain at 5km distance for at least three to six months before considering anything longer. The same applies to 10km runners who feel the lure of the half marathon/marathon. Make sure you are comfortable at the 10km distance for three to six months before you even contemplate anything with the word half marathon in the title. I may not be popular for saying it, but I do feel that you should have at least two years of running in your legs before signing up for a full marathon.
For your first event at any distance I would highly recommend you set a goal to finish rather than have a time target. You set yourself up for disappointment and frustration if your entire measure of success is an arbitrary number. The celebration should be in the fact that you trained for a distance and completed it. For your next attempt you can certainly keep an eye on the clock and aim to beat your previous personal best. I have seen too many people get frustrated with their running achievements by setting unrealistic time goals to recommend anything other than focusing on what you have achieved through training rather than purely the number on the clock.
Sometimes runners are so focused on a long-term goal (like a marathon) that they miss the reward that the first 10km, half marathon and other milestones should offer along the way. Each of these distances are important stepping stones and by rushing through this learning process we risk missing the signs our body is trying to tell us. If your goal is purely to tick off a bucket list of race distances, what motivation will you have to run once you do complete them? Even without considering motivation, the risk of injury, fatigue, overtraining or burnout may prevent you from really being able to realise the potential of a lifetime of running enjoyment.
I certainly don’t want to dampen your running dreams. In the past I have fallen into the trap of signing up to too many events over a short period of time and not had time to appreciate them all. Rather than hold you back, I just want to make sure you don’t do anything too crazy. If you can take time to enjoy the process, appreciate all your body is doing and prevent injury you are far more likely to reach your long-term goals. If you do have itchy feet for a new challenge, you can always run faster at your current distance for a while. There is plenty of satisfaction in that.
Speaking of running faster, a little word of warning to all you competitive recreational runners: we can easily get caught up in the pressure of having a time target. We often hold a number in our head for what we consider a “good” time for a certain distance. But who really can decide what is a “good” time for you personally? Indeed, if you are looking to finish at the front the standard is clear, but if your aim is to train as well as you can for the body you are in and the life commitments you have outside of running, then measuring running achievements by more than a number is important.
Don’t judge your running success by what you think people expect you to achieve. The number of races you have completed or the speed you completed them in is really no one’s business but your own.
You are a runner, that is the main thing and I don’t want you to become an ex-runner by doing too much too soon and falling out of love with running along the way.
It is always nice to know there are new ventures out there in the future but it’s even better to know that we can choose which ones we fancy when the time is right for us.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!