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Cooper River Bridge Run Column - April 4th, 2005
Keep Fitness Ball Rolling After the Big Run
By Art Liberman

Saturday’s Cooper River Bridge Run will go down as among the most memorable in its history. Never will such a site be witnessed again- three great bridges standing side-by-side with a record number of 42,000 runners and walkers crossing the Pearman for the final time.

But is the race really over?

If you’re among the thousands who asked themselves, “What’s next?” soon after crossing the finish line, the race no doubt continues deep within you. That’s what Cooper River Bridge founder Dr. Marcus Newberry had in mind when conceiving the idea for the race back in the mid-1970s- “to promote health and fitness in the Lowcountry”.

If some lingering muscular stiffness/soreness prevents you from resuming your training immediately, no problem. Take a few days off from running and walk or cross-train instead.

Others may be surprised that they are experiencing a mental letdown or even burnout days after the race. This is quite common due in part to achieving a goal that took much time and effort to accomplish. But rather than allowing a temporary loss of motivation to sideline you, consider the following alternatives:

Run simply for fun rather than following a structured training schedule. You can maintain cardiovascular fitness by running just 30 minutes, three to four times a week. From there, a wide range of new challenges is within reach.

Perhaps you might enjoy building mileage to run a half marathon or even a marathon in the near future. Or if your goal is to run a fast 5K, you could include some speedwork to your training routine.

Even if you wish to take a short break from running, cross-train instead: lift weights, swim, or participate in spinning, aerobics, or yoga classes. There are many recreational activities and fitness-related events that provide enjoyable cardiovascular opportunities. Consider training for a sprint triathlon or a century bike ride. Learn how to kayak, hike the Palmetto Trail, sign-up to play intramural soccer, etc. The list of possibilities is extensive living here in the Lowcountry.

Still there are thousands of area runners who train year-round in all types of weather. What’s their secret? Many would agree that the key to maintaining interest and motivation is through goal setting. The following tips have proven effective in both setting and accomplishing realistic goals.

Contemplating Goals

  • Gather training information – Take a look at two or three sources of creditable information to understand the training requirements necessary to achieve the goal you are considering. Be aware of "information overload" as too much information can be confusing, contradictory, and even overwhelming.
  • Enjoy the journey and the destination – Not only must the accomplishment of the goal be personally rewarding, well worth your time and effort, but that you will find the training process equally as enjoyable.
  • Understand the time commitment – Based on the information you’ve gathered, examine your current life circumstances to be sure that you have adequate time to train during the week. Also factor in your current mileage level to assess if you have enough time in the long term to train properly to accomplish the goal.
  • Consider your natural ability – As unfair as it may seem, only a handful of athletes are destined to achieve world-class status. Genetics, the natural ability we are born with, plays a significant role in determining one's ultimate potential. And even though we may put forth our best efforts in training and racing, it’s important to be realistic when setting goals.
  • Be flexible - Build into your plan flexibility to aim for less ambitious goals if things don't pan out the way you had planned. For example, if you become sidelined due to injury, you can cross-train instead. If there isn't adequate time to train for the race you originally intended to run, either select another event a few months later or register for a shorter event that requires less preparation time.

Helpful tips for accomplishing realistic goals

  • Follow an appropriate training plan - Select a creditable training plan at your current fitness level as a roadmap to accomplish your goal. Even if you’re progressing exceptionally well, be patient and follow the advice provided.
  • Consider personal training – A coach can assist you in both setting realistic goals and designing an appropriate training plan. And the accountability component of checking in with your coach on a regular basis to report progress is a very powerful means to keep motivation high.
  • Utilize time-management principles – On a weekly basis, use a calendar or day planner to schedule training time as a high priority item among your personal and professional commitments. By doing so, you will be more likely to stay focused and committed to accomplishing your goal. If unexpected circumstances arise, simply revisit your calendar to reschedule missed workouts as soon as possible
  • Declare your goals –Recording your goals and posting them in a place you will see everyday can be highly motivating. Family members and friends are likely to be more supportive and understanding of the commitment you've made if you've informed them of your goals.
  • Establish short-term goals – When training for a big event a few months down the road, consider setting a few short-term goals to maintain your motivation. For example, if you are training for a half-marathon, schedule some short races along the way.
  • Record your progress – There are a variety of materials to record important data from your workouts (mileage, cumulative time/pace, weather conditions, comments on how you were feeling, etc.). Whether you use a commercially designed training log, a wall calendar, or an Internet site, filling in the blank spaces can be highly motivating.
  • Three tiers of goals – Set realistic goals that reflect varying levels of difficulty, with even the most challenging attainable. Using the Bridge Run as an example, give yourself three opportunities to achieve success: (1) Acceptable - To run the entire distance comfortably without injury; (2) Moderately challenging - To break one hour; (3) Very challenging - To break 50 minutes.
  • Run within your limits - Whether it be at the track or during a long run, completing a challenging workout seems easier psychologically when you are part of a group. However, to minimize your risk of injury, resist the urge to run more miles than your schedule calls for or at a pace that is much faster than your present level of conditioning.
  • Don't be compulsive – Overtraining is counter-productive to accomplishing your goals. Listen to your body and back off when your legs feel fatigued or sore. Planned rest days are essential both for keeping your risk of injury low as well as enabling you to progress to the next level of fitness.
  • Find a training partner with similar goals and abilities - While inviting someone to share your runs can be enjoyable, it's very important to keep in mind that motivation must come from within. If your training partner is unable to join you for a planned workout, run anyway.
  • Make your workouts interesting - To stay motivated throughout your training, vary your routine. For example, change your running route, the time of day you train, or run for time (estimating your pace per mile) instead of a specific distance.
  • Tweaking race day goals - A variety of factors can have a negative impact on your intended pace such warmer temperatures than expected, stomach discomfort, blisters, etc. Take these into consideration on race day, as it may be necessary to readjust your goal.
  • Use common sense! - Despite following sound training advice, an unforeseen injury can sometimes arise during your training or target race. Don't let your emotions override rational thinking by continuing on as doing so can lead to even more serious injury.
  • Reward yourself – Treat yourself to something nice such as a massage, workout clothes, weekend get-away, etc. for the accomplishment your goals.

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