Zach Bitter running in the desert


Part 3: Sticking to your New Year’s Running Resolution with Zach Bitter  



“It’s too cold.” “It’s too dark.” “I’m too tired.” 

There are plenty of excuses we can make to get ourselves out of exercising, especially during the winter months. But this year, we’re going to #MakeRoomFor our winter workouts. 

In our three-part winter running series, we’ve compiled ways to train and condition, safely run at night, and stick to that New Year’s resolution you vowed to #MakeRoomFor.  

Whether you're starting your training for the year's races early, looking ways to incorporate after-hours running, or want advice on setting realistic goals, this series has the tips and tricks to get you going and keep you going. Are you ready to Win Your Winter Running? 


01 - 24 - 2021




Sticking to Your New Year's Running Resolution 

At some point, after becoming aware of New Year’s resolutions, I began to hear negativity appear around this tradition. My first thought was, how can something so seemingly positive have a negative side? What could possibly be wrong with setting a goal and starting off fresh? After some thought, I realized that it was mostly rooted in the idea that these efforts often fail. I gave this some more thought and eventually arrived at the idea that perhaps it is not about unwillingness or failure to reach the goal, but rather that the practices tend to be narrowly focused solely on the end goal. An end goal that is often far from the start. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with lofty long-term goals. The problem that I believe most people face is that the end point is too far off and requires support along the way. 

I think we can all relate. An exciting future accomplishment drums up a fresh burst of motivation. We hit the ground running with all the good intentions to get to the end product. However, somewhere along the way, that motivation begins to wane. Our willpower to stay the course weakens. One diversion from our plan leads to another, and before we know it, it’s March, and we are further away from our goal than we were on the first of the year. 

Zach Bitter running on a treadmill during his 100-mile treadmill World Record

One Big Goal = Lots of Smaller Ones 

So, what do we do about it? I do not believe we need to abandon this tradition. What I believe works better is to structure it differently. It’s okay to get excited and pick that meaningful end goal that might take a big portion of the year to accomplish. What is often missing is all the smaller wins along the way that can keep our motivation high. All big far-reaching goals come with many steps along the way. If we look at those steps as small wins rather than hurdles to get over, we can set ourselves up for not only the big end accomplishment, but many others as we go. 

As an endurance athlete and coach, I love to set big goals at the start of the year. I also love it when people reach out to me to help them set and reach their own goals. When I sit down to plan for a goal race or event for myself or a client, it’s often four to six months away. Like I mentioned above, signing up for the event is motivating. However, early wake-up calls in the dead of winter can slowly chip away at our motivation. What we need are wins we can use to keep the motivation high. 


Small Wins Make a Big Difference 

Most endurance plans are periodized and have specific workouts that we use to build the fitness needed to accomplish our goal. By tracking fitness benchmarks, the small wins begin to present themselves. Let me share some examples... 

Let’s say you have a series of 800-meter repeats on your schedule. After your first round, you have a list of splits you were able to hit. Use this as motivation as your fitness improves to set a goal of running those splits slightly faster or accomplish one additional repeat. Doing this, rather than thinking of the 800-meter repeats as a necessary hurdle to reach your end goal, may be the ticket to keeping, and building on, your motivation. 

Secondary races or time trials can shorten the required focus time. This summer, when the temperatures were discouragingly hot, my wife Nicole wanted to prepare for a 100-mile ultramarathon in the Fall. In order to make those unforgiving hot summer days more palatable, we structured her schedule to include some 5km and half marathon time trials. This gave her a more immediate focus as we went through some of the early season speed work that is common when periodizing for a longer 100-mile endurance event. 

Zach Bitter running on a path near Phoenix, Arizona

More Writing Can Lead to More Running 

Keeping a journal or log of how I feel on days that I accomplish my running goal and comparing these days to those where I decide to sleep in can inspire new motivation. Often times, when I start the day with a solid workout session, I feel much more focused to tackle the rest of the day’s tasks. Recognizing this, versus the alternative of skipping my workout and feeling less focused, creates additional motivation to start the day right, which conveniently tends to feed into progress towards the end goal. Journaling can help find these types of traits. 


One Week at a Time 

I like to take my running plans and break them down into individual weeks. Once the weeks are divided up, I pick a meaningful “mini-goal” for each one to help give me a clear picture of what I can target in the short term. If a week is too much, I break it down to a single day, like in the third example above. 

Ironically enough, this practice also helps at the goal event. Rather than getting overly fixated on the finish, it teaches me to be better equipped to identify small benchmarks throughout the event. Focusing on chipping away at these smaller, more achievable steps that ultimately add up to a successful finish is a powerful tool. 

By structuring a plan in a way where there is a clear outline of what is needed to get to the end goal creates a template that highlights benchmark accomplishments. Rather than getting overly fixated on the end and risking missing the small wins that are built in, focus on the small wins first. Consistency with this throughout the plan will ultimately lead to the final result. 

About the Author: 

Zach Bitter is an American ultramarathon runner and endurance coach. He holds world records for the 100-mile run and 12-hour run and is a three-time National Champion (50 mile ‘12 & ‘15 100km ‘14), has competed for Team USA’s World 100km Team on three occasions, and runs his own personalized endurance training program, Zach Bitter Endurance. A Midwest native, Zach graduated from the University of Wisconsin -- Sevens Point, where he studied education and competed in cross country and track and field. He now resides in Phoenix, Arizona.