2021 running goals

2021 spelled out with the Ordinary Runner logo in the middle

New year, new running goals

On Friday the 1st of January 2021, the world woke up feeling a little different. 2020 is behind us. For some it was the worst year of their lives. For almost everyone it was a year of change and challenge. It’s certainly the strangest period in recent history. And it’s one we’ll struggle to forget.

As ever, the new year offers new hope. Although only another day, we see the 1st of January as the time to cast off the previous year and set course for a better version of ourselves. For 2021, that hope is more profound than ever.

We resolve, make goals and set targets for the year ahead. And it’s important that we do – whether for exercise or any other part of life. Goals offer us meaning, ambition and motivation. They frame our achievements and give measure to our success. Potentially more than ever, they provide context against a backdrop of uncertainty.

When it comes to running, our goals can be the difference between lacing up and languishing in bed. Picture the frosty morning, when poking a toe from under the cover comes with the threat of frostbite. On such awful days, what else drags you from toasty sheets onto icy streets?

A woman running in the snow towards people sledging
Image by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

Okay, some people need no motivation beyond the joy of running, but they’re surely the minority. Most of us rely on something bigger than the run itself. And our goals are often that thing.

Old “new goals”

Cast your mind back to January 1st, 2020. How many races had you signed up to? How many parkruns had you targeted? What PBs were you going to beat? Those icy streets were paved with such potential. And only your own limitations stood in the way.

Footprints in a snow-covered pavement
Image by Marius Spita on Unsplash

This time last year I was training for the Worthing Half Marathon, set for early February. Unfortunately, it was victim to a different ‘C’. In this case, Storm Ciara blew out the race. Having already been postponed twice, first to October 2020, then again to February 2021, it has now been pushed back to February 2022 (although, it must be said, with no communication from the organisers).

Aside from the never-happening half, the Worthing 10k took its usual place on my 2020 race calendar. As did the Lancing College 10k, in what would have been an exciting first for me. Added to these were a smattering of West Sussex Fun Run League races. This ever-popular series saw only a single event in 2020 – the Hangover 5, on the 1st January. This year’s iteration is already an early 2021 victim of COVID-19.

Then there’s parkrun. Lovely, lovely parkrun. I ran my 51st on the 1st January 2020, with eyes set on finishing my 75th by the year’s end. That way, all going well, I’d achieve 100 before 2022 rolled around. Of the 25 I targeted, I achieved only six by mid-March. It wasn’t the best start, but I’d allowed for half marathon training to disrupt my plans. What I hadn’t anticipated was a complete suspension of parkrun across the UK. At this rate I won’t see 100 until… well, who knows – parkrun doesn’t even feature in my 2021 goals.

New “new goals”

In fact, races (I know, parkrun isn’t a race, but I’m lumping it in there for simplicity) don’t feature at all in my new running goals. If any of my favourite races happen this year, I’ll run them. In the meantime, I’ve reassessed what I mean by running goals. Out go the races, PBs and new parkrun t-shirts. In their place sit different ambitions, ones that allow for another year of disruption, uncertainty and many cancelled events.

What I also considered, as I set goals for this potentially precedented year, is that nothing is certain. The only constant we can rely on is the lack of consistency. Change is inevitable and any targets we set, whether running or otherwise, should allow for that.

This doesn’t mean predicting the unpredictable – that would be foolish. It means preparing to adjust goals according to what’s happening around us. And not to get too despondent if we don’t meet those goals because of factors outside our control.

Running track and running coach
Image by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

After all, we’re setting our own goals – as Ordinary Runners, it’s unlikely there’s a coach telling us what to do. Sure, we aim for progress, but that doesn’t mean unrealistic targets. It also doesn’t mean being set in our ways. In fact, if anything, we should be as flexible as possible to give ourselves the best chance to succeed.

My running goals

This year I have a singular goal, with some supplementary goals to help me get there. My sole aim, in place of races, PBs and all the normal-times things, is to cover more miles than last year. It’s a simple target that should be achievable, injuries-permitting.

Last year I managed 599.4 miles (I track in KMs and only just realised I missed 600 miles by so little – damnit!). This year I’m aiming for 1,000km (621 miles). Only 35km further than I achieved in 2020. That’s less than an average of 3km each month. I think I can manage that.

Alongside my distance goal, I plan to do more strength and stretching, as well as working on my mental wellbeing. After toying with the Bring Sally Up Challenge during last year’s lockdown, I managed sporadic bouts of strength and stretching, along with some Zoom-based yoga. I’m planning more regular and more structured sessions this year.

Woman practising yoga near a waterfall in Puerto Rico
Image by Nathalie LV on Unsplash

And that’s it. No other running goals for this year. I could make my supplementary goals more measurable, but the danger is that I’d miss too many targets and lose interest (I know me well). Instead, I’ll keep them as nominal goals. An ambition to be better, rather than a rod for my own back. That way, as I meander through the coming months, my motivation can meander with me.

What about you? Have you set any running goals for 2021? Share your thoughts below.