Fall is the perfect time to start or make new running goals. Whether you want to finish your first 5K or beat your personal best in a marathon, the best time to do it is now. The cooler weather makes running more pleasurable, but you will also find yourself running further and even faster.

Joy Murphy, of Enjoy Fitness Jacksonville, offers a few tips to help get you started on reaching and finishing those running goals this fall.

Change Up Your Norm

You won’t get better by sticking to the same routine. If you’re training for a road race, try mixing in some bridges, trails or intervals on the track. The dynamic terrain will help you build strength and endurance. “This variety will help give your joints a break from the asphalt as well as a break from the monotony,” Murphy said.

Be Consistent

Murphy stresses that consistency is key to becoming a better runner. “You should be running or run/walking three to four times a week for at least four to six weeks.” Ever heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit?  You can’t expect to reach your goals by running only once or twice a week. “You are more likely to get injured or have a bad experience at a race,” Murphy said about running sporadically.

Follow a Personalized Program

The key is to find a program that’s individualized. Many coaches can arrange specific workouts to fit in your lifestyle, said Murphy, who encourages runners to seek out a gait analysis or join group workouts. “This will guarantee you have good running form and help you meet others training for the same races.” Can’t afford a personal coach? Some places like 1st Place Sports and Jacksonville Running Company offer classes and clinics for a small fee.

Introduce Strength and Cross Training

Your end goal might be to finish a race, but don’t expect to get there with just running. Murphy suggests introducing some strength training to your program to help prevent injuries and increase metabolism. “So many endurance athletes skip the weights because they are unsure of what to do or feel they do not need it,” she said.  “Cross training will give your body a break from the high impact of running while continuing to build endurance.”

Roll and Recover

Recovery is the most importance part of training, said Murphy about the high impact of running. “Muscles need to recover so they can build.” So, aside from regular rest, Murphy suggests foam rolling to loosen up tight muscles and increase blood circulation. On top of that, getting enough sleep is vital to recovery. “It is best to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night so your body can recover and do it all over again!”

Fuel and Hydrate

Like for any sport, it’s imperative that you fuel your body correctly with a balanced diet. Murphy recommends eating three to five meals a day, making sure to include a carbohydrate, protein and fat. “All 3 macro nutrients have a purpose so it is best to get all 3 in each of your meals,” she said. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water!

Running Events in Jacksonville

Here are few running events happening right here in Jacksonville.

Mandarin 5k/10k — November 8
McKenzie’s Run 5k — November 22
Subaru 6k/Half Marathon — November 27
Gingerbread Man Dash 5k — December 6 in St. Augustine
Jingle Bell Run 5k — December 20
The Last Gasp Cross Country Race — December 21
Jacksonville Bank Marathon — December 28
New Years Rockin 5K — January 3
DONNA Marathon Weekend (5K/13.1/26.2/RELAY) – February 13-15
Source: Joy Murphy (AFAA & Premier Certified Personal Trainer, Level 1 USA Triathlon Coach, Level 1 Track & Field Coach, TRX Certified)