Successful runners are meticulous about all aspects of their training. They follow strict routines for optimal nutrition, hydration, recovery, active recovery, strength and conditioning, massage therapy, foam rolling, stretching, and a hundred other things. But, the single most important thing that successful runners do is run with purpose.

You don’t need to follow a training plan to be a good runner. I have a 35-year-old friend named Jamie who’s a decent (20:00) 5K runner. He simply runs 3.5 miles Monday through Friday. His goal is to increase his average weekly pace during racing season, and then he hibernates each winter before starting all over again.

Not surprisingly, he makes decent gains in the first half of the racing season as his body initially adapts to the demands of training, and then plateaus during the second half. Runners need diversity in their workouts. Long runs to improve cardiovascular efficiency, short runs to improve speed, tempo runs to improve stamina, and hill workouts to improve strength and running form.

On any given day, competitive runners should know exactly what their training run involves (warm-up, duration/distance, effort, cool-down) and how it’s going to help them reach their long-term running goals. Running with purpose leads to improved mental discipline, more successful workouts, and a higher level of overall commitment. It’s how good runners become great runners.

Start with your goals. What motivates you? Do you want to run a faster 5K? Do you want to run your first marathon? Dream big and write down a handful of running goals before picking one. Be specific. For example, I want to run 3:10:00 in the New York City Marathon on November 1, 2015 to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2017.

With a specific goal in mind, it’s time to find your ideal training plan. Choose a plan that fits your schedule, your ability, and your timeline. Once you commit, you have to trust the plan.

Life gets in the way sometimes, and that’s okay. But, stick to your training plan the best you can. Run each workout with purpose and passion. You’ll soon discover how great it feels to achieve your goals and run like a champion.

Thoughts?