For runners, there is more to fall than going back to school and eating all things pumpkin flavored. Once the hot weather that plagues most of us all summer recedes and leaves us with more temperate running weather, we find that we suddenly have twice as much energy and can actually bear the thought of signing up for a fall race.
This time of year, I think fondly on high school preseasons from many years ago, when the final free days before school were consumed with two-a-day workouts, complete with weight lifting sessions and pool workouts. While most of us don’t have the luxury of devoting all day long to training for two weeks, we can still use the cooler days to rejuvenate our running routine.
What is perhaps most helpful is to think of a goal for the coming months so that your training, which may have been lackluster over the summer, has more consistency before yet another interruption when fall fades to winter.
Several goals you can pick or create your own:
- Completing a new race distance. Since it’s not as hot out, you will find that you don’t get tired as quickly and can run further to establish a base for a longer distance. Or alternatively, you could add in some intervals to your training and try to run a shorter race if you’re generally more of a long distance type.
- Setting a personal record (PR) in a distance you’ve raced before. One of the addicting parts of running is that it’s always possible to run faster. Whenever I am trying to set a PR, I always additionally set a 10-50-90 goal, where I establish what time I am 10% sure I can run (usually, the PR, or a goal that feels like a stretch), what I am 50% sure I can run (a goal that you would be pleased with the time but feel comfortable that it is within your reach if all goes well), and a 90% goal (a conservative goal, which you are quite confident that you can achieve and feel you would only miss given bad race weather, illness, or some other extenuating circumstance). This way, if you miss the PR, you aren’t devastated, as it takes a lot to go right in order to set a PR.
- Running a certain number of days per week. If you’re not into racing, maybe you want to make sure you’re getting out there consistently. It may be difficult when the nights start to get darker if you’re an after work runner, so you may have to get creative, but this is a good low-pressure goal. I’ve heard recommendations of running 3 days a week just to keep in shape and 5 days for optimum cardiovascular health, but ultimately, the number should fit your goals and your schedule. Pick a number that is doable, and remember that some weeks, you may have settle for close enough if things get hectic.
- Running a certain weekly mileage. Another non-racing goal, this gives you flexibility to run longer some days and shorter some days while still progressing in your general running fitness. I recommend looking at your schedule ahead of time for which days are going to be busy and making sure you get in your longer runs when you have a little more time.
- Improving some other aspect of your fitness. Maybe you’ve been dying to try Zumba or yoga or swimming or lifting weights. Now is the time to try. Cross training helps keep your body from getting acclimated to your exercise and helps keep you from getting bored of doing the same old thing day after day. In addition, it can pay off in your running performance, as you work different muscles and gain strength and flexibility. Furthermore, it can serve as a good fitness routine in times of injury or if you can’t get outside when it’s light and, like myself and many others, can’t bear the thought of running on a treadmill.
Whatever your goal, write it down, tell it to someone, and commit to it. Make sure it’s specific enough that you know exactly what you’re striving for but flexible enough that you don’t abandon it at the first sign of trouble. Fall is an exciting time, and the cooler climate can be the perfect jumpstart to a tired training routine.