Trail runners are used to setting goals: you sign up for a race, put in the hard work throughout a training period, and (hopefully) celebrate your accomplishment as you cross the finish line.
This year, rather than focusing on a single race, take a moment to step back and think about your trail running experience as a whole. How do you want to grow as a trail runner?
From conquering new distances to shaking up your status quo to running a streak (no, not that kind), there are lots of ways to take your trail running to the next level this year. Whichever goal you pick, the satisfaction of achieving it will taste almost as satisfying as that post-race banana at the finish line.
Try a New Distance
If you’re like most trail runners, chances are you have a favorite distance, one that you consider fun, comfortable, and just challenging enough to push you out the door even when the weather is sub-par. Whether you’re a sucker for 5Ks or a glutton for 50 milers, it’s time to mix things up by trying a new distance.
While jumping from 5K to 50 miles might be a little ambitious, don’t be afraid to sign up for a race that’s a step up from what you’re used to. If you’ve gotten comfortable with the 25K distance, maybe a 50k is in the cards for this year.
This works the other way around, too: if you’re a mid-pack long-distance runner, you could choose a race that’s a shorter distance and try pushing it to see if you can finish closer to the front. You’ll find it’s a completely different kind of challenge, but just as rewarding.
Explore a New Backyard
The world is full of crazy, varied terrain just begging to be explored. This year, pick a travel destination that is known for amazing trails, ideally in a setting that is completely different than the one you’re used to. For instance, if you live by the beach, try a trip to the mountains. Used to running in the cold? Head somewhere hot!
Whether you have your heart set on a destination race, you’re planning on joining a multi-day trail running camp abroad, or you simply want to explore the trails on your regular vacation off-time—the choice is yours. Just pick somewhere that makes your heart beat a little faster and experience running in a new locale.
Switch Your Training Techniques
When was the last time you switched up your trail running technique? If you can’t remember when you last did a hill sprint or you can’t seem to improve your downhill agility, it’s time to try something different.
Maybe what you need is a new training plan, a trail running coach, or signing up for a trail running clinic. Alternatively, you might focus on your off-the-trail conditioning by putting in some time at the gym or investing in regular massages.
Confront Your Weaknesses
Few of us have mastered every aspect of trail running and though you can often lean into your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses, it is obviously beneficial to improve on the areas that are holding you back. Make this year the one that you tackle your weakest points head on. It won’t be fun at first, but the long-term rewards are well worth the short-term discomfort.
Trail running tends to be an individual sport, with long hours spent alone on solo runs. While it can be nice to get lost in your own head, there’s a whole community of like-minded runners waiting for you to join them. Join a running group, a local meet up, or just connect with a friend and let someone else lead your run for a change. Aside from making friends, you might also discover new trails in your own backyard.
Set a Streak
There’s a reason that 30-day challenges are so popular: they’re tough enough to make you curse yourself for starting in the first place, but they also have a knack for making you remember why you fell in love with trail running in the first place.
A running streak of any length will force you to try new routes, commit to runs you might otherwise skip due to bad weather, and renew your sense of appreciation for everything your body is capable of doing. This one is more fun to do with a friend – not only will you have a companion to join you on some of your runs, but you’ll hold one another accountable to the long-term goal.