It's the dreaming season. As 2024 approaches, and many of us take the time to reflect on our 2023 achievements, we also begin to lay out our goals and dreams for the new year. The promise of new finish lines, changing seasons, warmer weather and longer days all lie ahead!
As we skim our calendar and ponder the goals we want to ink into it for 2024, it’s best to first consider how we will fill the space in between. That’s right, we’re talking about the months of blank space on the calendar between those 2 or 3 big events, where we’ll be quietly putting in the training that’ll allow us to realize our big dreams when those 2 or 3 choice dates finally do roll around.
Not only do we have the greatest chance of success when our goals align with our habits and routines, but the amount of enjoyment and fulfillment you find in pursuing those goals, week in and week out, is multiplied. Here are our 5 questions to answer before you fill in your 2024 event calendar.
1. What type of training do you want to do more of?
What were the sessions you consistently looked forward to over the last year? Was it the long runs? The tempo runs? The hill sprints?
By thinking about what you like or what skills you’d like to develop in 2024 before you register for events, you’ll be able to make sure that your day to day training is something you’re enjoying. If you love the red-lining in hill workouts, then perhaps signing up for a Vertical Kilometer is a good goal at some point in your year. If you can’t get enough Zone 2 aerobic volume and always find yourself wishing you were able to spend more hours of your week running, then perhaps it’s time to look into marathon or ultramarathon distances.
The events you choose will determine the training you’ll need to do to a large extent. By first thinking about the training you enjoy, and then extrapolating the sort of events that training will get you fit for, you set yourself up to enjoy your workouts and perform your best on race day. A true win-win.
2. Where have you gotten stuck before?
Take a look back at where things have gone awry and plan to avoid them.
A lot of athletes that face issues in achieving their goals can look back and identify the moment when something went wrong. Perhaps too much speed work or getting back into training too quickly after a race led to an injury. Maybe building up weekly mileage for 5 months straight was too long and they felt burnt out before race day arrived. Don’t forget the mistakes of your former self just because they were a few months ago. Learn from them to make for a brighter 2024.
If you’re registering for racing really frequently but failing to have that top-level performance you know you’re capable of, then commit to 2 or a max of 3 big events in 2024 with plenty of time in between to let you recover mentally and physically, and build back up again before your next race day. Maybe you kept having mundane injuries pop up that didn’t entirely sideline you, but would derail your training every few weeks. Let it be a sign that you might benefit from consistent strength training, alongside those low intensity workouts, and plan to dedicate a minimum of 60 minutes a week doing strength training to avoid those injuries in the future.
Make the plans now that will keep you from falling back into habits that have failed you..
3. What training environment lights you up?
Are you the kind of runner who loves logging miles alone with your thoughts, or do you wish you were able to share more miles with that local run group you only joined a couple of times, in 2023?
Whether you like clicking off road miles, flowing along technical trails, running alone, running with company, or some mix of all of the above, articulate it to yourself. Understand what your “ideal” training environment looks like. Maybe what you like in training won’t perfectly line up with what goals you aim for in the new year, but understanding the ideal scenario for your training environment will let you find the happy medium between the day to day of training and the draw of your exciting goals on the horizon.
4. How much time and energy do you really have to give to training?
It’s easy when we sit down and start to outline our goals for the new year to let things run away from us and forget about all the things we’re balancing in life alongside our training. For this, I like a tool originally articulated by Dr. Andy Galpin for getting yourself in the right headspace.
In life, we’ve each got four boxes we can put our time and energy in and 10 points to split across those boxes. The boxes are Work/Business, Relationships, Training, and Recovery. How are you splitting your 10 points across these areas?
It’s a rough cut tool, but if you go through this exercise you’ll knock yourself back into the right frame of mind. Training and racing gets a small fraction of our time. How much time and energy you have to put towards training is going to determine how aggressively you can reach with your goals without overstraining. We want to go after things that are big enough that they scare us a little, but we don’t want to make the mistake of overreaching in 2024.
5. Have you successfully incorporated strength training into your schedule?
Training endurance does a lot for our health, but it doesn’t absolve us of the need for strength training. Athletic performance aside, research clearly shows the importance of resistance training for our longevity and overall health, so it has to receive some of our attention (even when that means we need to cut back on running workload and time commitment). Have you failed to maintain a consistent habit of strength training? Or have you created the habit, but it could do with some tweaking?
There are a lot of ways to create or to better sustain the strength training habit. Some athletes may choose to replace one run a week with a solid full-body strength session. Others might prefer to strength train 5 or 6 days a week, but only for an extra 10 minutes at the end of their running workout. It’s not rep counts or the heaviness of the weights we’re lifting that matter. What does matter are the same two things that matter to progress in running fitness: are you doing it consistently, and is it at least kind of hard?
Your answers to these questions will help you better define what your ideal training process should look like on any given day, or over any given week. A clear picture of what your day-to-day routine and capacity will look like are foundational to your success in 2024. With the picture you’ve outlined by answering these questions, now you can better choose the goal or events that will enable your greatest enjoyment of the process along the way.