Find Your Spark

Set your next, best goal by identifying what gives you the most satisfaction.

Nobody tries “do it all” like a runner. When you read about the benefits of long runs, tempo runs, intervals, hill workouts, post-run strides, cross-training and on and on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you think you should accomplish. If your quest to fit it all in is dampening your enjoyment of running, it’s time to declutter your training schedule.

Organising maven Marie Kondo, who introduced her philosophy in 2014’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, followed that manifesto with a practical guide called Spark Joy. Its premise: happiness comes from letting go of items you’re storing out of obligation, and keeping only your favourites. Applied to training, Kondo’s idea can help runners trim the “shoulds” and focus on what gives them the most satisfaction, says ultrarunner and “holistic” coach Art Ives.

The best way to set a goal might be to first identify the type of running that sparks the most joy for you and then let that dictate your running target, says Larry Blaylock, a running coach. Here’s how to choose your next goal (and organise your training) according to the workouts that bring you happiness.



YOUR GOAL To race further

“I love running longer, because you work so much stress out,” Blaylock says. Plus, long runs change your perception of limitations. “There’s a second energy that you get in the later stages,” Ives says. Blaylock recommends choosing a race up to 60 per cent longer than you’ve ever gone – whether that’s a 10K or a 100K. Training for a 10K takes eight weeks; prerequisites for an ultra include several marathon finishes and 21 to 24 weeks of training. Avoid injury by following a plan.



YOUR GOAL A fast 10K

Tempo runs – which include at least 20 minutes of running at a comfortably hard pace – appeal to people who love to push themselves.

Tempo workouts raise your fatigue threshold – letting you run faster, over longer distances, without tiring. That’s key for a strong 10K, which requires both speed and endurance. Start week 1 with one 20-minute tempo session (bookended by a five- to 10-minute warm up and cooldown), and vary the duration of the tempo phase (up to 40 minutes) each subsequent week.



YOUR GOAL A trail run

There’s more to hills than just the incline: “Hill climbs represent working toward and reaching a high point,” says Ives. Choose a trail race that’s shorter than your go-to road distance, and start by logging a weekly trail session. For the first three to six weeks, run on short, rolling hills. Then over the next three to six weeks, graduate to hills that are longer (up to three kilometres) and steeper. Keep the effort level easy, even if your pace slows to a walk: “These climbs build strength and stamina,” says Ives. “The speed will follow.”



YOUR GOAL An obstacle race or triathlon

When runners challenge their bodies in different ways, they unlock heaps of childlike fun – and build total-body strength. Sprint triathlons don’t necessarily require a lot of additional training time, and obstacle races show off all-around fitness. Run for at least 30 minutes three times a week to maintain running-specific adaptations.



YOUR GOAL A full datebook

Chatty runs are great for developing base aerobic fitness, Blaylock says. But buddies can also propel runners through hard workouts. Offer to join friends for hills or intervals: if they’re slower, you can up their game, and if they’re faster, you can chase them. Be sure to take slow, easy days before and after. Try expanding your circle, too: join a local shop or club run each week.



YOUR GOAL To run healthy

You don’t have to race to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of running. Aim for at least 90 minutes per week of running at your happy pace. To stay injury-free, do two weekly 15-minute strength-training sessions. Target core muscles (with moves like planks and side planks), along with some lower leg and glute work (like squats and lunges).


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