The month of March has arrived and that means spring is not far away. For runners, spring not only means better running and training conditions but also plenty of opportunities to test that winter training and fitness in an upcoming run or race.
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With several weeks and months before those goal races arrive, it’s important and valuable to reflect on how training has gone so far and whether you are on track to accomplish your spring running and racing goals. This is where doing a self-assessment of your training and your current fitness can be useful.
Review your training log
No matter how you choose to track your running and training–a written journal, an excel sheet, an online website, etc.– try to find time to do this weekly. Most runners find doing this at the end of the week–think in the hours after the long run, when, let’s face it, you’re not going to do much else–and before the upcoming week ahead, works best.
Look back on how often you ran, how far and how fast? Did you feel good on your runs? If you did specific workouts, what were they, what was the purpose and how did they go? Did you do any strength or cross training to supplement your run training?
Basically over time–from a few weeks to many months–you want to see some sort of progression, either in how much you run, how fast or whether you are enjoying your running more. Not every run, workout, long run (or even race) is going to be great, but hopefully the trend is in the right direction. Reviewing past training can also help identify your personal running strengths and weaknesses which can provide ideas on how to improve.
Check-up on your current health
Running is tough. The risk of getting injured is high. Dealing with near-constant soreness, stiffness, aches and pains are an unfortunate (but normal) part of being a runner. With several weeks before your goal race and some big training still to come, now is the time to honestly ask yourself if you’re feeling healthy and able to endure the tough training ahead. If you are dealing with a minor injury or worried that you’re at risk of one, take the time now to address the issue(s). See a specialist, do prehab exercises and/or get treatment to ensure you remain injury-free.
Do a fitness test
One of the absolute best–and brutally honest–ways of assessing your training and current fitness is to test yourself with an “all-out” effort such as in a time-trial or tune-up race. Pushing yourself in this way will indicate where you’re at currently and give the most accurate idea of what you’re capable of going forward. A self-performed time trial, which you can do almost any time, anywhere gives you more control over the circumstances and allows you to choose the distance, course, setting and conditions. In this way, it is less useful because obviously you’ll have no control come race day, but can still provide useful info regarding your fitness and ability. Better than a time trial is to run a tune-up race, which is usually of a shorter distance than your goal race. A tune-up race will both mimic the environment of your goal race as well as allow you to practice pre- and post-race routines as well as pacing and fueling strategies. As such, it is the ideal way to really push yourself and get the most accurate feedback. The result of a tune-up race can also help you set training paces going forward as well as give an idea of what time goals you should set for your goal race.
Assess and re-evaluate
Once you’ve done one or more of the above, it’s time to (re)assess where you’re at and plan what’s next. If you feel you’re on the right path and things are going well, stick to your current plan, continue to do what’s worked thus far and remind yourself of your goals and why they’re important to you. Keep working towards gradual improvement by progressively increasing the volume and intensity of your training. Remember to respect the “hard-easy” rule in that most of your runs should be easy in order to rest and recover for the hard ones.
If you feel you’re off track and at risk of missing your goals, ask yourself whether there’s still time to get back to where you need to be. If yes, make the time and commit the energy needed to do so. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to accomplish your original goals, perhaps it’s time to adjust and reset them slightly to something that is more realistic and attainable. Giving up on a goal that is unrealistic is far better than failing to achieve a goal that is not attainable. Remember that success in running and training is about consistently working towards your goals and making small improvements along the way.