running goals

6 Process Based Running Goals for Competitors

Running goals are the first step towards faster race results. However, outcome goals without a clear path of action are pointless. Instead, focus on process goals by identifying the factors needing improvement.

“Set an outcome goal, but then get to work on process goals.”

In this article, I will show you 6 concrete ways to increase your running performance that you can apply to your training routine and habits.

Optimize Your Running Technique

Did you know that 4 – 6 inches of improved range of motion could yield a 4 – 6 minute decrease in your 10K time? And that’s just one variable affecting your running economy. Imagine the improvement you could get from an accumulative optimization of your body position, foot strike, hip extension, and arm swing. Chances are there is a lot of untapped potential to get closer to your performance running goals. 

Make it a habit to include a dynamic warm-up with running drills and a cool-down with static stretching to most, if not all, runs. That may add 15 – 20 minutes to your workout, but it’s time well spent. Not only does it result in performance gains, but it also makes you more injury-resilient. 

If you are unsure about your deficiencies, I recommend a Functional Movement Screen. It will uncover muscle imbalances, flexibility issues, and other shortcomings. Then, you will have an accurate picture of where to direct your efforts to become a more efficient runner. 

Regarding the details of good running technique, I will publish an article on improving your running form at the end of this month. So make sure you check in. 

Increase Your Aerobic Base

We like to race often. The average competitive runner participates in 11 events per year, according to “Running USA.” But that leaves little time for extended periods of base training. Without a solid aerobic base, improvements in later training stages, such as support and race-specific training, are limited. But improving your aerobic base also means taking your overall weekly mileage to another level.  

For example, if you run 4 times a week, you could add a medium-duration easy run the day after your long run, magnifying its effect. Or if you already run 6 times a week, you could introduce doubles (running twice a day). That doesn’t necessarily make your training week harder, as you can spread your weekly mileage to more runs. But of course, you should aim to run as many weekly miles as you can tolerate. 

Another way to improve your aerobic base is by increasing the duration of your long runs. This goes hand in hand with your overall running volume, as the long run shouldn’t exceed 30 percent of your weekly mileage. (The exception from the rule would be the occasional monster long run during a marathon preparation.) So if your longest runs are 90 minutes, try to increase the duration to 2 hours every second week. 

Improve Your Maximal Speed

It seems illogical to work on maximal speed to achieve your running goals from the 5K to the marathon. We are not competing in the 100m dash after all. However, the reason for working at maximal speed is twofold. First, it improves the running economy by increasing the range of motion and refining neuromuscular coordination. But it also lays the foundation for submaximal speedwork, such as VO2 max intervals at 3K pace. If you struggle to run fast over 100m, you will also struggle to run relatively fast over 5x 800m, despite a high maximal aerobic capacity. 

If you haven’t done sprints before, I recommend strength training for a few weeks first. Otherwise, you run the risk (pun intended) of getting injured. And just as your ability to run fast over longer distances depends on speed to some extent, your ability to sprint depends on the power you can impart into the ground. Strength training first, then add some power training in the form of drills and low-intensity plyometrics.

Once you have acquired a foundation of strength and power, adding hill sprints to 2 easy runs twice a week is safe. A hill with a 6 – 10% incline is ideal, and it should be run with a near-maximal effort for about 8 seconds.  Hill sprints have a lower landing impact than flat sprints but recruit more muscle fibers. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to do flat sprints after some weeks of hill sprints because the velocity is higher. 

I also recommend frequent 100 – 200m surges at 1500m pace as it bridges the gap to VO2 max training. In my training plans, they are part of Fartlek runs during base training. 

Lower Your Racing Weight

Lowering your body weight is the fastest way to improve your VO2 max. When we read somewhere of maximal aerobic capacity, it always means relative VO2 max. That means your absolute capacity to process oxygen in relation to body weight. Therefore, a lighter frame for the same engine allows for faster distance running. This enables you to reach loftier running goals without any changes in your training. 

But before you go on a crash diet, bear with me. A drastic calorie restriction, especially a carb reduction, may lead to fast weight loss since 1 gram of stored carbs in your body binds 3 grams of water. That’s how weight-class fighters cheat the scale on the weigh-in a day before their event. But as you guessed, there’s no point in showing up on race day with depleted glycogen stores, nor is it any fun in training. 

What you want to minimize is stored body fat. Of course, that’s not an option if your body fat percentage is already at 5 percent as a male or 10 percent as a female. And I’m not saying you should move heaven and earth to look like an elite athlete, but for every pound you shed, you will be roughly 2 seconds faster per mile. Assuming you lose 5 pounds, you will be a full minute faster over the 10K. 

Enhance Your Recovery

Training sets the stimulus for adaptation, but adaptation occurs during recovery. The best workouts won’t get you closer to a new personal record if you can’t absorb the training. For that reason, it’s paramount to implement easy days, follow the guidelines for good sports nutrition, and get quality sleep to support your running goals. 

It’s no secret that most runners run too fast on easy days. It’s also no secret that those runners do not do their key workouts hard enough. That’s because they can’t from the accumulated fatigue. This is especially true for master runners (age 40+) who need more time to recover than younger athletes. An easy run at 60 percent of VO2 max results in a full contraction of your heart and works your slow-twitch muscle fibers. That’s the purpose of easy runs. If you are under-challenged, extend the duration of your easy runs.

Nutrition also plays a significant role in the recovery process. It has the potential to magnify or sabotage your training efforts. It may seem obvious, but ensure you ingest enough calories to support your training, especially carbohydrates with a low glycemic index.  

Sleep is the third aspect of recovery from training.  Entire books are written on the subject, but let me outline 3 fast wins here to get quality sleep. Go to sleep before midnight, ideally even 1 or 2 hours before midnight. That way, more growth hormones are secreted, which speeds up recovery. Also, make sure you drink your last coffee early enough in the day so it’s mostly out of your system by the time you go to bed. And finally, avoid all screens 2 hours before bedtime. Blue light reduces your melatonin levels. 

Review Your Training Structure

Do you employ all the right workouts, arrange them for a balanced training week, and progress your training through different phases? It’s easy to fall in love with certain routines – or lack thereof – that no longer serve your best interest for your running goals.

The primary workout modes for competitive runners are easy, long, tempo, and intervals — all of which can be further modified by duration and intensity. For the 5k and 10K, the emphasis is on faster work; for the HM and marathon, tempo runs and long runs have priority. But all workout types are present for all race distances. 

A good weekly structure provides the right balance between these hard and easy workouts. There are typically 48 – 72 hours between key workouts, such as VO2 max intervals, tempo runs, and long runs. The remainder is easy runs to accumulate mileage. It’s a time-tested practice that 80 percent of your training, including your long run, is at an easy pace. 

But the real skill of structuring training is periodization. That means systematically progressing your training from general speed and endurance towards race-specific intensities. The three training phases are base, support, and race-specific. If you do too much race-specific training too early, you will plateau at a relatively low level after a few weeks. Timing your periodization so that you peak at your race date is an art. 

Supercharge Your Training Today

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in 8, 12, 16, and 20-week versions.

Training plans for every time goal
in 8, 12, 16, and 20-week versions.

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Sandro-Sket-4 (2)

Sandro Sket, CSCS

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Hi, I’m Sandro. A lifelong endurance athlete,
coach, and founder of RunningFront.
You can find my training plans on
TrainingPeaks and FinalSurge

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