James Slade finished his first marathon already knowing when and where he would be lining up at the start of his next event. Having spent months working to improve his fitness, Mr. Slade knew that having a new goal on the horizon would keep his training momentum going.
"You have to have a plan because you've done all that work to get all that fitness and it's a shame to throw all that away," says the 51-year-old college instructor from Winnipeg.
It is easy for many runners, especially beginners, to focus exclusively on the race they are preparing for and not give any thought to what they will do after they've crossed the finish line. Having a post-race plan, however, will help keep them motivated and continue to train as they pursue their next goal. Without such a plan, it is all too easy to flounder, staying on the couch when they could be out on the road.
"You have to figure out what's next," says Lara Penno, a Vancouver-based personal trainer and running coach. Ideally, runners will have both a long-term goal, such as another marathon six months down the road, and a short-term goal, such as a 10-kilometre race a few months after their last event.
"It's always good to have little milestones along the way to work towards, to keep you motivated and keep you on track," she says.
Of course, it is also crucial to rest after a race in order to avoid injury and mental exhaustion. Ms. Penno recommends resting for two weeks following a half-marathon and three to four weeks for a full marathon, with only light exercise. During that time, however, runners should think about what they did well and what they could have improved on from their race, which can also motivate them as they head to their next event.
"Having a solid recovery plan is very important," she says.
It is essential, however, to get down to planning your next goal as soon as possible after that period of rest and reflection, says Alison Turcotte, race director for next year's Mississauga Marathon.
"Not more than a week after, you have to set your new goal," she says. "If you go more than a week, you start going, 'Uh, I'm not into it any more.' It's necessary to make a new goal."
If you've completed a marathon, your next goal doesn't have to be another 42-km event. Nor does it mean you have to move up to the full marathon if you just finished a half. It's simply a matter of having a goal that will motivate you, Ms. Turcotte says.
"You don't have to have a longer goal. You don't even have to have a faster goal. It's really important though, because it's such an individual sport, you want to be working towards something," she says.
It doesn't take long for all the fitness benefits a runner has built up over weeks or months of training to begin to disappear.
"In a couple of weeks you can undo what you've done," Ms. Turcotte says. "You want to keep your cardio up, and you want to keep on running, keep getting outside, keep liking it."
After participating in enough events, training for most runners eventually becomes second nature, says Ken Parker, founder and coach of the Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team. But those who are just starting out can't assume that once they finish their first event they will get back out training with the same duration and intensity. As Mr. Parker points out, it was the goal of completing that race that prompted that training in the first place. That is why it is so important to establish a new goal.
"A lot of people get so focused on the event itself and then it ends and it's kind of like, 'What do I do next?' " Mr. Parker says. "It's a shame in the case of somebody who trains for an event and focuses on it and changes their lifestyle, and then the event comes and goes and no matter whether it was a good experience or a bad one they stop cold turkey and lose all of that benefit."
Mr. Parker recommends picking a destination race as a new goal to stay motivated.
"You may want to say, 'Okay, after this race I'm going to go to some other city where I'm going to race another race but I'm going to have the chance to travel and see somewhere nice,' " he says.
That may be the push some runners need, but it is certainly not necessary to keep the momentum going, Mr. Parker says.
What's essential is to establish a new goal, whatever it may be, says Vince Perdue, founder of the Sudbury Rocks running club, in Sudbury, Ont.
"Some of my guys are absolutely focused on the event at hand, especially the newbies, and then they didn't have a plan and have a raison d'être for carrying on after that. So they get a little de-focused and all of a sudden they're sitting on the couch at home looking at a race on the TV instead of being out there," he says.
"Now that you've achieved something that maybe you'd never thought you could do, you got there, and you need to have a plan beyond that."