Setting Mileage Goals
I'm probably a little late on this post since we're almost at the end of January... but oh well.
Mileage goals seem to be a big deal in the world of runners. Most runners pick some random number of miles that they think he/she is capable of, and then wait and see how the year pans out. In truth, I'm not a huge fan of mileage goals. Yes, I succumb to peer pressure and love to see the mileage rack up as much as the next runner, but mileage goals are never my priority.
So here's my love and hate about mileage goals:
Love - Goals are a positive thing and keep you motivated.
Hate - It doesn't allow for injuries and "life happens" times throughout the year.
Love - It forces you into good, consistent running.
Hate - It encourages quantity over quality.
Love - It makes for a great sense of accomplishment when you hit the milestone.
Hate - Sometimes it forces people into massive over-training during the last months to "catch up".
The question then becomes, how do you set a mileage goal but avoid the pitfalls.
First - Pick an easily attainable goal based on your training schedule for the year. Did you run 600+ miles last year and have a schedule full of half marathons this year? 1000 miles might be a good goal. But maybe you live on the surface of the sun (i.e. Texas, Arizona, etc) and don't run much in the summers, you need to consider that. Maybe you hit 1000 last year and have marathons on your outlook this year and 1500 would be an attainable goal. Whatever it is, don't go too outlandish... just like you ramp up slowly on weekly mileage, don't force yourself into a 2000 mile year when you just finished an 800 mile year.
Next - Plan it out. You don't want to be stuck with 300 miles left to run in December when you're thinking about Santa Claus and egg nog. Write out your year with your races and planned mileage. The best way to hit your goal is to make sure you are on track at least monthly. And remember, there will probably be higher months around marathons and lower months after in recovery or in the hot summer. What you don't want is to end up running "junk" miles just to boost your numbers when those excess miles could potentially be a detriment to your training.
Finally - Don't be stupid. Seems easy, right? Well, when you want to hit that mileage goal and have some nagging shin pain, it's easy to just go ahead and push through and hit the goal. You have to be smart enough to draw the line. Think about the goals that are most important to you - a new distance, a new PR, or whatever... and focus on being healthy and properly trained for that. Ultimately, mileage is just a number and that number is relative to the person running it.
Be consistent. Consistency is the key to having a good mileage year.
Make interim goals. Monthly and quarterly will help make sure you stay on track.
Be aware. If your body is telling you that you need a break, don't run just to hit a mileage goal. In goals like this, it is important to be smart enough to let go of it when it's the right decision for your body.