Everything You Need To Know Before Setting Your Running Goals
By Mekita Rivas, VIDA editor/member
You don’t have to be a runner to have running goals. For many people, just getting started can be half the battle. Fortunately, Jeff Horowitz, personal trainer at VIDA Fitness U Street, is here to help. To say that Jeff enjoys running would be an understatement — he has completed nearly 200 marathons in his lifetime! If anyone can get you up and running (literally), this is the guy.
We caught up with Jeff, who’s also an expert running coach, to learn about the art of establishing running goals. Whether you’re a couch-to-5K newbie, a seasoned pro, or somewhere in the middle, these are tips and tricks that everyone can use.
Are there any common mistakes people make when they set their running goals?
Runners try to get back to where they were too quickly, or new runners become a little too ambitious. You really have to wait for your body to adapt — if you rush your training, you’re much more likely to get injured.
What’s a good starting point for setting your goals?
In running we have a basic guideline for your progression: the rule of ten percent. Whatever distance you’re running — so the longest run of the week and your total mileage for the week — the safest way to progress and give your body time to adapt to avoid injury is to increase each of those by no more than 10 percent from week to week. It might not seem like much, and you might only be progressing five minutes a week, but you should not rush this process. There will be plenty of time to just sit and wait if you end up getting injured. If you take your time, the progress will come soon enough. Just be very patient with your body.
People can definitely get a little overzealous, especially at the beginning of the year. How do you tell clients to manage their expectations?
Here in the Washington, D.C., area, we have a couple of big races coming up. These are popular, world-class events. People sign up for them, put them on their calendar, and boom, they’ve got this big goal. But the most important thing to do in training — and it applies to everything you do physically — is learn to be in partnership with your body rather than dictate to your body what to do. Whenever I have a racing goal, I always think, “OK, that’s my goal, but it’s not a firm deadline. This isn’t something that must happen no matter what.”
Have a goal that will get you inspired, develop a reasonable training plan on your own or with help — preferably with a trainer from VIDA — and then see how you develop. If everything’s going well, continue toward that goal. But sometimes it requires you to change your goal. Maybe you’re not ready for that race, or you’re not able to do it the way you originally planned to. But your body will tell you that, and you need to listen.
If somebody is essentially a total novice or they haven’t run in a long time, what do you typically tell them during your first training session?
It’s interesting, because we learn how to run when we’re maybe two or three years old? You don’t think of it as a skill you need to hone in the way you would approach tennis, rowing, or any number of other sports. But there is a proper technique to running. It’s helpful to have a professional who will work with you, who knows what they’re looking for, who will put you on a treadmill and give you a data analysis, and who will see what you’re doing and see if the mechanics are correct.
That goes a long way to being more efficient and much less likely to get injured. It also helps you get faster. One of the basics I tell people in our first session is that above all other things, become aware of the sound of your running. I tell my clients: If you can run quietly and make as little noise with each footstep as you can, then you’ll really reduce the risk of injury. Avoiding a heavy foot strike — putting this pressure and pounding on your body — is one of the key things you can do to run healthier, and that’s something you should do from day one.
If your goal is running related, sometimes there’s a misconception that that’s all you need to do. What’s your response to that?
I get it. The runners who come to me love to run, and they don’t want to do a lot of other stuff. But if running is all you do, then you’re leaving weakness in other muscles that can come back to haunt you. Ninety percent of running injuries are due to weaknesses in the core area, which is going to lead to some kind of compromise in your form. It’s going to put stress on an area that can’t handle it, and that will lead to injury.
So even though you love to run or maybe it’s just your goal to become a runner, ignoring all the other things you need to do at the gym means you’re opening yourself up to injury. The more variety, the healthier you’ll be overall. At VIDA, there are so many different types of cardio work, strength training, classes, machines and free weights, and cables. You should constantly be able to challenge your body in different kinds of ways, and that will make you a stronger, more injury-resistant athlete. And it’s just a lot more fun that way, too, because you’re less likely to get bored.
We’ve talked about newcomer runners, but for more experienced runners who may have specific goals in terms of setting a PR or logging certain miles every week, how does their training differ?
That’s a fun situation because now you’ve gone beyond basic competency, and you’ve got specific goals. Of course, that requires a more advanced type of training. We would incorporate varieties of running, like tempo runs and speed work, into our training. We might do plyometrics and explosive movements to build some of that strength and speed in your body to get you beyond just running.
What are the pros and cons between training indoors on a treadmill and running outside?
The bottom line is to go with whatever you’re comfortable with. It’s about being consistent, just getting out there, and doing it. The differences are not so great that one way is worse or better than the other. Whatever makes you happy, go ahead and do that and make the most of it.
Is there anything else you want to mention that we haven’t covered?
This should be fun! Sometimes you can get caught up in the data and the details, and you can be so performance-oriented that you forget it should be fun. One of my big mantras, especially as we go through the winter season when people get sick and they get colds and illnesses, is to be smarter than you are brave. Even if you’re sometimes brave enough to work out when you probably shouldn’t, it would be smarter not to. If you’re sick, if you’re injured, and if there’s something else going on in your life that needs attention, make sure you attend to that. VIDA will still be here for you when you’re ready. Be smart in your training, enjoy it, and have a healthy 2019!