Q: How do I set a Goal as a Rookie?

Dear Lauren,

I have been running now for three months.  I am a retired professional athlete (not runner), so getting into pretty serious running was a nice change and pretty manageable.  However, I am of course progressing slowly, which is also fine with me.  When I started, my fastest mile was around 7:40.  Now, three months later I am around 6:30 miles.  Just wondering what a normal timeframe is for improving my time.  Shaving off 30 sec.?  A min.?  I run 5 days a week, both trails and track.  I know it’s hard to say without knowing me, but any ballpark figure would be cool.  Thanks!

Wanting to Improve



Wanting to Improve

It appears you have a natural talent if you are running 6:30 mile pace after 3 months!  My guess is that you come from an endurance sport like cycling rather than, say, golf :).  Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you want to improve your mile time, and you don’t know what a reasonable goal is.

Being wired like a professional athlete, goal setting is part of your gig, but in a brand new sport, goals are tough to figure out.  You have no real reference, no idea what you are capable of.

I have two recommendations for you to consider.  You don’t need to do both, pick your fave:

  1. Enter a road mile, or a 5k road race.  You can look up performance equivalents for the mile based on your 5k.  Or you can go out the first mile of a 5k with a pack and drop out at the mile!  Being a natural competitor, having a pack around you will help you get a real baseline time for the mile, making it easier to set up goals to progress in the future.
  2. Set up regular time trials for yourself.  When you plateau, you know you will need to start doing specific training to get better.  But for now you just want to know what you are capable of!

Lets say you decide to do the time trails, even though they are more of a pain in the ass.  Pick a day of the week to use as your measuring stick, say…Saturdays.  Go to the track and do the following:  warmup properly (e.g. 2 mile jog, a couple light stretches and 4x100m grass strides.) Then run a mile on the track aiming for a 6:15 nice and even (93 second lap average).  cool down a couple laps.

Then the next week, do the same warmup and do 8 x 1 lap with 60-90 seconds rest at the pace you want to try to hit the following week, (say…90 seconds).

If that goes well, the next week go back to the track and you can be confident trying to run 90 second laps (the pace you practiced the week before) for four straight laps for your next 1 mile time trial.

Continue alternating weeks: one week you do the 8×400 at a goal pace, and the next week you put four laps back to back in your one mile time trial.

If you find that you can’t hit 8×400 at a particular pace with only the 60-90 seconds rest, than you are bumping up against your natural plateau for the amount of training you have done, and further improvement will require more patience and training.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you could run in the 5:30-5:50 range within 4-6 weeks given your background and current training load.  Let me know what you decide to do!