Neil Featherby: Set yourself a goal... and enjoy!

The start of the New Year's Day family fun run at Cromer. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The start of the New Year's Day family fun run at Cromer a year ago - hopefully we can all enjoy a run again soon - Credit: Denise Bradley

 I am pretty sure that this time last year I wrote something along the lines of another year behind us and now let’s kick-start the new year in style with goals and objectives to keep us motivated and stay on track.  

As we all now know, statements like that really did turn out to have a lot of depth and meaning, what with Covid and its consequences being just a few weeks away at the time. We all had to make changes and adapt, that’s for sure, but for so many people, they really did discover just how valuable exercise is for mind and body.   

Now, going into 2021, all I can say is that whilst we are all wondering when this unpleasant situation is going to end, we all have to try and remain as positive as we can. 

Whilst it might be hard to set any really decisive goals when it comes to perhaps training for a big race or event during the next few weeks or months, there are, of course, lots of other challenges out there for us - completing a virtual challenge or a personal goal, such as a set number of runs and miles throughout January.  

Stanley Clarke, 15, in the lead as he avoids the high tide waves over the wall during the New Year's

This is running fun! - Credit: Denise Bradley

Challenges and goal-setting really are very important when it comes to keeping our minds focused and motivated.    

As mentioned last week, years ago, January or February would invariably mean an early-season marathon for me, so I always had something to get my teeth into and even when there wasn’t a new year marathon, there were always plenty of races around which would have been part of my carefully-detailed programme, which would have then been geared towards a spring marathon. 

Whilst my goal nowadays is to just try and keep my running streak of 39-plus years - having run every single day since September 1, 1981 - going, this alone gives me my own personal reason to stay focused. 

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At Sportlink, we always like to entice people to set goals and take part in challenges, particularly at this time of year. 

We are currently organising three Virtual Challenges, with one being to complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles during January for the beginner or for those who already have a decent fitness background, either a double or quadruple marathon spread across the 31 days of the month. Hopefully these challenges will give people the motivation to get started or just remotivate those who may have lost some of their mojo over the Christmas festivities. 

Needless to say there are stacks of other super challenges out there, which might be as simple as our 26-2 miler right up to running the length of the country from Land’s End to John O’Groats. And whilst they are currently Virtual, these events are still a great way to focus our minds on a goal. 

Advice for the beginner: For anyone who is now planning a new year fitness campaign and wants to use exercise and particularly running as a challenge, I really must point out that apart from making sure they have good footwear, any new exercise programme will also require a very careful approach, especially for those who may not have exercised for a number of years. The biggest cause of failure is more often than not down to people getting too excited and impatient where they then end up doing too much too soon, leading to mental burn-out or physical injury. 

Providing you are healthy and all your working parts are in reasonably good order, then brisk walking, jogging and of course running is a great way to get fit - this is also where the couch to 5k programme is an excellent and possibly the best way for a beginner to start out. The reason this programme is so successful is because it follows a gradual approach whilst allowing for a gradual adaptation to all the new stresses which are being applied and placed upon the body. 

However, and going back to my earlier mention of good footwear, I have lost count of how many times over the years we have seen people coming into Sportlink desperately looking for a good shoe to get them back on the road again after getting hurt through not only doing too much, but after digging out an old pair of trainers which they perhaps had years ago and which were, in truth, no longer up to the job. If anything, beginners should have a better shoe than what someone like myself, who has been running for years, might have - it helps protect their bones, joints and muscles during the early phase of working towards becoming a more seasoned runner. 

Start out as you mean to go on, get the right kit and then most importantly be consistent whilst being patient too. I will always tell a newbie runner that it is better to do a little less than they are capable of during the first few weeks as it will not only keep them hungry and looking forward to the next session, but also reduce the risk of injury. Even the most experienced runners know just how demoralising an injury can be, so always best to err on the side of caution. 

Good luck, happy new year to everyone and remember, exercise really can be medicine for the mind as well as our bodies. 

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