New runners working toward their first mile have plenty in common with experienced runners looking to hit an Olympic qualifying time: You’re on the same playing field when it comes to facing down a New Year’s running resolution.
There will be great days and really depleting ones. There will be days when you are so confident that you consider upping the ante and days when you question what possessed you to chase a goal at all.
So this month, we’re speaking with experts about how to have your best — and healthiest — year of running. Last week, we talked to Yera Patel, a physical therapist at NYU Langone Health, and Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist in Denver.
These conversations have been edited and condensed.
Q&A with Justin Ross, clinical psychologist
Q: How should people approach New Year’s running resolutions from a mental standpoint?
A: When we set goals, we often look at that outcome. We see pictures of people crossing the Boston Marathon finish line, and it looks amazing, and we want to do that, too. But what we don’t see are the hours and miles and inclement weather and all the challenges that take place in the months and years along the way.
A lot of the day in, day out is not going to be glamorous. And it’s not all going to go according to the plan. It’s OK to have flexibility and deviation. We can get set on outcome goals, but we need to align the goals with performance standards to get there.
Q: How do you advise athletes to handle those difficult moments?
A: When you are staring down a big, hairy new goal, you need to know there are going to be challenges along the way. Plan for how you are going to achieve your goal and how you will encounter those barriers when — not if — they occur.
Sometimes we need to take a bite-size approach to whatever the task is. So if you are staring down a long run, instead of focusing on miles, say, “I’m just going to put on my shoes and see how I feel.” The word “just” can be very important.
Then, “I’m just going to get outside and see how I feel,” and “I’m just going to run 1 mile and see how I feel.”
When we take that one bite, it helps. We surprise ourselves and end up completing the entire workout.
Q: How do you build these mental muscles?
A: We often don’t think about our mind being trainable, but it’s as trainable as our body. Every single run every single day, we can spend five to 10 minutes working on some mental skill — that could be intentional control or focus or mental toughness or grit or self-talk.
Q: What should you do when you fall short of a daily goal?
A: Give yourself the ability to recognize that running consistently — hitting the majority of the mileage, getting mentally tough — will land you in a position to realize your goals.
Missing a workout is disappointing, but you have to have a bigger framework. A missed workout does not mean your goal is out of reach.
Q: Let’s say I set a big goal that’s already seeming impossible. How do I reframe my resolutions?
A: We all need to have courage to realign our goals as we go along. I love the idea of monthly goals over yearly goals because it permits flexibility and adaptation. Reappraise what’s appropriate, how your schedule looks and what’s required so you can set up your month of February.
Q&A with Yera Patel, physical therapist
Q: What kind of injuries do you see at the beginning of the year?
A: It’s a new year and people are extra motivated, so runners will just go out there and run for long distances. The biggest thing we see across the board — whether it’s a seasoned runner or a new runner — are the overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries can happen for multiple reasons. Sometimes it’s nutritional reasons, sometimes it’s the lack of strength and flexibility, but more often than not it’s a matter of their training programming.
Q: How should runners approach their training to avoid overuse injuries?
A: Programming is the most important thing. It can be so disappointing for someone when they get excited about running and then they get something like a bone stress injury, what’s colloquially referred to as shin splints. So make sure it’s a gradual plan that has diversity.
Talk to someone who has done it before, or look online for a plan that has variety on a week-to-week basis. Instead of just running long distances, do hill training, speed training, strength training and cross-training.
Q: What would you recommend for someone just getting started with strength training?
A: We suggest a lot of unilateral work — that is, a lot of single-leg work. You want to work the glutes and quads. Really working in a single-leg capacity translates to bounding from one leg to the next.
Cross-training is also really huge. At least once a week you should be resting or doing some sort of cross-training, which could be cycling, swimming or low-impact work.
Q: How do you know when you’ve crossed a line past tolerable pain?
A: It really depends on the injury. We use a symptom-based model, so if you have zero to 2 out of 10 on a pain scale, that’s a safe range, but if you find you are inching above a 2, that’s a different story.
It also depends if it’s a matter or tendinopathy or tendinosis — overuse injuries — or a bone stress injury.
Q: Are running injuries inevitable?
A: Running is unfairly demonized. It’s demanding on the body, but in many ways it’s a functional task: You are running for the bus; you are running for your kids. It’s a functional thing, and it can be done safely, but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the strength.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.