If you’ve taken up running recently, you probably find it exciting to learn what you’re capable of. But if the only goal you know is running continuously for three miles—the famous “couch to 5K”—you may find yourself wondering: Is that all there is?
Fortunately, no! There are tons of different ways to progress and new goals to chase. These aren’t just for beginners, either: If you’ve been working toward one thing, feel free to change gears and set your sights on a different goal. Here are five that will keep you busy for a while:
Distance (or time)
Let’s start with a simple one: give yourself a finish line and run (or run/walk) towards it. Once you’ve run your first 5K (five kilometers, or 3.1 miles), you can keep going. Here are some popular race distances to aim for:
5K, or 3.1 miles
10K, or 6.2 miles
a half marathon, or 13.1 miles
a full marathon, or 26.2 miles
Instead of measuring distance, you can measure the length of your runs in minutes. Go for half an hour, a full hour, and so on. Once the mileage starts ratcheting up, remember that a smart training plan only involves one long run each week, supported by several shorter runs.
Walking isn’t cheating, by the way: if a walk break helps you keep your pace and finish the distance, it’s a legit training tool, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Not excited about cranking up the distance? Try making your training more consistent. If you only run two or three days a week, try adding another day. After a couple weeks, if you’re feeling good, add another. (I’d stop at six, though; a little rest is important.)
This goal is partly about fitness—working up to where your body can handle the training load. But it’s also about dedication. Can you plan ahead to make sure you won’t have to miss any of your appointments with yourself?
There’s nothing wrong with being slow, so don’t think you have to hit a particular pace to be considered a “real” runner. Still, chalking up faster and faster times is one of the most satisfying things about sticking with your training.
Decide which distance you’d like to be faster at reaching. After all, you’d train differently to improve your marathon time than to improve your 5K time. Look for a training program that meets your goals.
If you want a beginner version of this goal, I’d suggest timing yourself on a one-mile stretch of flat road (or four laps of a high school track). Write down your time, then forget about it for a month or two while you train the best you can. There’s a saying in running that goes something like, “You run faster by running more. You run more by running slower.” Don’t think of every day’s run as a race, but test yourself on a regular basis to gauge your progress.
This isn’t the same as distance, because we’re not talking about a one-time goal. Instead, count up the number of miles (or, if you prefer, the total time) you run each week.
Then try to gradually increase that number. Over the course of the summer, 9 miles (three 3-mile runs) might creep up to 11, and then 12, and then 15; then you might back down to 10 to give yourself a break, and then ratchet back up into the teens.
A rule of thumb is to only increase your total run by 10% each week—although if you’re feeling good you can take bigger jumps than that.
Not every goal has to be a constantly-increasing number. One of my favourite summer running projects was the year I decided I wanted to cover as many of my county parks’ trails as possible. Every time I went out, I chose a different path. My big accomplishment was finding all the necessary connections to follow a full loop around the outside of the park.
Exploring is just as valid as any time or distance goal, and if you’re running on trails, the effort involved can vary wildly anyway. (Is a two-miler full of steep hills less of an accomplishment than five miles of flat ground? Who can say?) Whatever you choose, make a plan and lace up those shoes. You may go farther or faster than you ever imagined—or just have a great time.