By Paul Johnson
Paul is the founder of RunningInColdWeather.com which provides tips and product reviews for cold weather runners and eCompressionShorts.com focusing on compression gear.
It is a new year, and a new race season. Winter can actually be a challenge for runners and athletes on many levels, as there are usually no races scheduled for several more months, and it takes discipline to keep focus in your training plan.
This time of year can actually be crucial of your racing season, as it affords the opportunity to rehab from last year's injuries, build a more balanced physical conditioning, and get yourself started in the right mental state for a productive and successful summer and fall race season.
What should you be thinking about as you get your new training year off on the right foot? There are a few steps to take and questions to ask yourself as you really get serious about the upcoming season. Focusing some good, quality time on answering these questions will give you a compass for your entire running year.
How Do You Feel About Last Season ? Start by looking backward. Look at the last racing season, at everything from your training plan, to your race performance, to the races themselves and distances you ran. Do you feel good about last season and want to repeat it? Did you do pretty well but want to build on it? Or are there things you didn't like and are ready to move in a different direction. Knowing the answer to these questions will help have a compass and help you understand what you really want running to do for you this year.
How Do You Feel Physically? High-end athletes from NFL football players to Olympic athletes get past their peak competition, and then focus on taking care of themselves. You should do the same. After the season, listen to your body and understand what you can do to mitigate any festering issues or solve any lingering ones. If your muscles feel tight and stiff, focus on stretching. If you have a joint or ligament issue, spend some time doctoring it. In some cases, you may want to set a regular date with a therapist or masseuse, or even visit a sports physician. Starting your new year with a clean injury slate is extremely important.
Do I Like My Training Style? Looking at the way you train is almost as important as looking at the training plan itself. Now is a great time to make any adjustments to the way you train. You may find that it is time to transition from being a solo runner to a group runner, and beginning a group running plan now, well before races begin. Or you may decide that you have not been scientific enough in your past training, and this is the year to have a more regimented training plan or use a heart-rate monitor.
What Do I Want to Accomplish Next Year? After assessing your past year as well as your current physical status, it is a great time to go ahead and set goals for the upcoming season. Perhaps you were a 5K runner and this is your year to do a marathon. Perhaps you love road running but want to try hitting the trail races. Or maybe this is the year to get your 10K time down to below 45 minutes. Whatever the goal is, set one (or more). Being goal-driven will give purpose to your training plan.
What Is My “A-Race” (or Races)? Now that you know what you want to accomplish and have some goals, lock in the race that is going to headline your season. For many, it is a milestone race of sorts – a first 5K or a popular local marathon. For others, it may be choosing a destination race that gets you and your family to a great new venue. Whatever it is, lock it in an circle the date. Then, you can work backward on setting up a great training plan.
Answering the questions above doesn't guarantee a successful running season, but does get you started in the right way. Once you have thought about and planned the upcoming year, focus your energy on creating a strong base and then gradually increasing the intensity. By the time you get to the end of the year, you will be grateful for the direction that your planning gave to your running season, and ready to repeat the exercise next winter.