In the nine years since I graduated from college i've found that there are four keys to staying in good running shape.
1) Run with a group at least twice a week.
2) Find cool races to run.
3) Have goals.
4) Plan your training around these cool races and your goals.
It's pretty simple - but, when i've strayed from any of these goals my motivation drops big time.
It's also important to sprinkle some less important races in your training for the "big race."
For instance - this is my schedule for races up until Boston:
1/25 - very tentatively the Miami half-marathon. Either way I'm planning on running 12-13 miles that day at marathon race pace.
2/7 - USATF XC championship - with it being in Maryland this year there is really no excuse.
2/21 - Club Challenge 10 miler - I'm planning on treating this as a workout - but, I must beat my time from last year.
3/21 - National half-marathon in DC - This will be my main tune-up for Boston. My time here will give me a good idea of what I should shoot for on 4/20.
4/4 - I haven't found a race yet - but, I need to run 15 miles at marathon pace that weekend. Let me know if anybody has any suggestions.
Longer term plans: I've decided that I don't want to run a marathon more often than every 18 months - with goal races every 6 months.
Fall of 2009 I'm looking at maybe the Twin Cities 10 miler which is the same day as the Twin Cities Marathon.
Spring of 2010 I'd like to run some fast 5k/10k's on the track/road (Carlsbad 5000, random college track races). Making it into Penn would be my dream goal that spring.
Fall of 2010 - run a marathon on a fast course - maybe go back to Chicago or run the Steamtown marathon in my wife's hometown. And up my mileage 20% from what I'm planning for Boston.
Past that point who knows - but, I would like to run a few marathons in Europe (Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Rotterdam). I haven't completely ruled out an ultra - but, i don't think it's my thing. My zone seems to be from 5k-half marathon - with 10k-10 mile being my special sweet spot. I would probably be happier and more comfortable just running those shorter races - but, running isn't about being comfortable - it's about being comfortable about being uncomfortable.