The Thought Processes, Planning Aspects, and Mental Preparation You Undergo When Training to Run a Race

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

There's nothing like the adrenaline you feel at the starting line...

It’s finally summer and everyone’s in full outdoor exercise swing. Haven’t you noticed the steady stream of runners outside your windows? It’s not solely because it’s nice outside, though… it’s also race season. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I could find a 5K to run every weekend within a 50-mile radius, heck a 30-mile radius, if I wanted to. (Hm… possible challenge for next summer?!?) Since I didn’t get in my thrill of racing two months ago at the River Bank (still frustrated about that), I’ve been itching to run a race again. More like, I am hardcore craving it. Reading Runner’s World and seeing all of these amazing success stories about cancer survivors who have run marathons only adds fuel to my competitive fire.

So it’s early July, it’s becoming hot outside, and it’s the middle of summer—how does one decide which race to run and then go about training for it? This is a question I’ve struggled with myself and have had a few of my friends ask me about.

First you have to look at when and where the race is and whether or not you have enough time to properly train for it. I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has a lot of local races. One every few weeks, basically. It’s awesome. So for example, one race that I’m considering running is two and a half weeks away. I have pretty good cardio and strength fitness, so running something short that soon shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re new to running a race, say a 5K to start, you want at least 4 weeks to train, and that’s if you’re physically fit and have some running experience to begin with. If you’re pretty new to everything, especially running, you’re going to want to give yourself at least 8-12 weeks to prepare for a 5K.

Distance and terrain are next. How far is the race? Are you running on the road? Sidewalk? A trail? Is it hilly? Pretty flat? A healthy mix of both? Take a look at the course map and figure it out. My example: The distance is 4.1 miles (an odd distance) and it’s a trail run ending in a quarter mile of stairs. Both the trail part and the stairs part are things I’m not used to. How do you train for those in 2 weeks!?

That’s the next part: How you train for what you sign up for. If it’s a 5K, you can run 2-4 days a week and be in pretty good shape, even if you’re newer to running. Running takes a big toll on your body (though it’s great fun, I promise!), so you shouldn’t run every day. You just need to vary your distances anywhere from 1 to 4 miles. I would suggest pushing your pace during the shorter distances and learning how to set a steady pace during the longer distances.

But what if it IS a trail race, like my example? Well… run some trails then! Or grass. Or a bunch of different surfaces. Run hills. Push the limits during a few runs by throwing everything at yourself: hills, sidewalks, roads, trails, stairs. This will give your body a totally different workout, not to mention prepare you for the obstacles during the race. For stair training, this is where some minor strength training, hill runs, and stair runs come into place. You want to do squats and lunges with some light weight—enough to feel the burn, but not too much to where you’re completed fatigued for days after. Do a variety of squats and lunges to target your entire lower body. You also need to run some hills. Getting used to running on inclines will be helpful in preparing your brain, lungs, arms, torso, and legs to climb. Vary the size of the hills, lengths, and your speed. And last, of course, you need to prepare by doing some stair work. Run up a flight and then walk down. Run up then run down. Run up two at a time then walk down. Run up two at a time then run down.

Cross-training, stretching, and rest is next. If you’re a regular exerciser running your first shorter-distance race (a 5K), I would suggest running 3 days a week and cross-training 2 or 3 days a week. Cross-training includes walking, cycling (spinning), elliptical machine, swimming, and anything else cardio-y. I would limit HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to a minimum—once a week max while training, and none at least a week prior to your race. You also need to do some light resistance training to keep your body strong. Bodyweight exercises are perfect. Do a day of circuits: pushups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, planks, tricep dips, and balancing exercises. This will target your core the most, which is essential in keeping yourself upright and strong when you start to fatigue during a race. When it comes to rest days, make sure you give yourself 1 or 2 days a week to rest. I still like to take a walk or play on the beach, but don’t worry about getting a run in or anything too tiring. And always, always stretch after exercising while in training. This was and is my biggest problem still and I can say from experience that it’s a necessity!


Women’s Health has a whole page dedicated to running for weight loss, but it’s just a good hodge-podge of running info in general. Check it out here.  


So… will I run the trail race? Or will I run the 5K the week after? Maybe both? Or maybe just the 10K at the end of the month. I still don’t know but I’ll keep you all posted!


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