Running is more popular than ever, and people are pounding the pavement for a variety of reasons, whether they’re trying to drop a few pounds, build their social circle, or even support their mental health. One thing is certain: this sport is fun and it offers a variety of benefits for people of all fitness levels!
It’s no wonder, then, that so many people find themselves training for a race at some point during the year. Whether you’re running your very first 5k or lacing up for your tenth marathon, there are a lot of factors to consider when training for a race. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the best training tips for running farther, faster, or both have nothing to do with running. In actuality, what you do before, between, and after you run plays as much a role in your success as the exercise itself. In addition to putting one foot in front of the other, try these tips:
Set a goal. Even if you’re only competing against yourself, you should begin with the end in mind. Consistent, incremental training is the key to reaching your goals of running longer races and improving your pace without suffering injuries or burnout.
One goal-setting strategy is simply to set a date and a distance. A quick Google search with how many weeks you have and the type of race you’re running will yield dozens of workout plans that include running schedules, rest days, and nutrition tips. Just be sure the source of the plan is a reputable one.
You can also pick and register for a race. You can find short races like fun runs, color runs, and charity 5ks just about anywhere. If you’re looking for a longer race like a half marathon, marathon, or triathlon, you may need to look at bigger cities. If you can’t find a race nearby or within your target time frame, you can even go virtual. After you register, a virtual race can be run anywhere, including on a treadmill. On “race day,” you time yourself, submit your results, and they send your medal in the mail.
Gear up. One of the great things about running is that you don’t need a lot of fancy gear to do it. That said, good shoes are necessary to protect your joints and absorb some of the extra force you subject them to when you run. The right shoe can also help increase your speed and endurance by providing the proper balance of cushioning, stability, and durability.
The pair you choose doesn’t have to be expensive or cutting edge, but shoes should fit well. Many higher-end shoe stores have experts on hand to help you pick the shoes that are right for you. They’ll ask you lots of questions about your fitness level, your training plan, and past or current injuries. They may also analyze your gait and measure your foot to ensure a proper fit.
Fuel your body. Micronutrients, macronutrients, carbohydrates, protein, calories, ratios: the “rules” of running nutrition can seem complicated and overwhelming. In reality, most runners figure out their optimal diet through trial and error. Even so, there is one general rule everyone training for a race should remember: eat more healthy food more often.
The more you run, the more energy you need. Replace the calories you burn with carbohydrates like fruit and vegetables, protein like lean meat and beans, and healthy fats like avocado and nuts. Eating small portions every few hours will keep you feeling full and boost your metabolism. Other than that, you just have to listen to your body. Running on an empty stomach may prevent stomach upset for some runners while making others feel sluggish. Make changes to your diet as required until you find what works for you.
Don’t just run. It might sound counterintuitive, but running alone isn’t the best way to prepare for a race. Cross-training has lots of benefits for a runner’s body and mind, including injury prevention. Rest is important, as it gives your body time to recuperate, preventing overuse. But you don’t have to sit still. Activities like weight-lifting, swimming, yoga, and cycling work different muscles and improve your overall fitness, which in turn improves your running fitness. That’s why runners who cross-train are generally faster, more powerful, and fatigue less easily. As an added bonus, cross-training makes the transition from running-only events to multi-sport events quicker and easier.
Be flexible! No amount of planning can prepare you for everything you’ll encounter while training for a race. Unplanned illness, injury, work and family commitments may make you miss some training. So, expect the unexpected, and give yourself some grace. Get back to your training as soon as you can, but don’t skip ahead in an attempt to make up time. Simply adjust your expectations accordingly, and know that each challenge you face along the way will make reaching your goal that much sweeter.
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