5K, 10K, half marathon – oh my!
Whether you just signed up for your first race or you are a seasoned runner hitting the circuit often, we have ten race prep tips that you need to know.
“As with most things in life, running is about finding balance,” says Laura Podschun, Assistant Professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences and Director of the Florida Hospital Orthopedic Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency.
As a marathon runner and Doctor of Physical Therapy, Podschun shares her expert advice for balancing your body and mind to best prep for your next big race.
Set your goal
“Training isn’t just about running a distance; it’s about preparing your body physically and mentally to achieve a goal,” says Podschun. “The training period should be paced with a realistic and healthy plan that will create a personally rewarding and safe race experience,” she continues.
For some, they want to set a personal record, for others, they might simply want to just finish the race. Defining these goals will get you off on the right foot. Then, the real work begins.
Assess your fitness
Podschun suggests, “Understanding your current fitness level, as well as your target race date and distance, will allow you to set a training schedule that safely works.” Be realistic and honest about where you are and where you need to be so that you don’t run too hard during training or early in a race, which could cause injuries.
Check your health
“If you are new to running and exercising and have not seen your primary care doctor in a while for a general health check-up, you might want to make that appointment first,” recommends Podschun. You’ll want to confirm that you don’t have any limitations or health issues that could put you in danger by training for a race.
Set your pace
Up to a half marathon, your longest training run should be the distance of the race, but you should gradually work up to that distance. Most importantly, Podschun adds, “Don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than ten percent per week.” This will help you calculate how long you need to train to safely get to your peak race distance mileage.
Check-in with your body
Podschun points out that you shouldn’t ignore aches and pains if they are not going away. “During training, it’s common to have soreness or slight pain, but after a few days of rest, most of these harmless muscle twinges should go away.”
If you start to have a sharp pain or a chronic pain that is not resolving itself with rest, seek a medical evaluation and treatment as soon as possible. “Even with an injury, rest and physical therapy can often allow you to continue training for a race by providing other strength and conditioning exercises that keep your fitness up and allow you heal,” she explains.
“The training period is the time to find out what hydration, nutrition and running gear works best for you,” says Podschun. Once you find your perfect mix, stick with it. Podschun recommends bringing your own hydration drinks or tablets so that your body knows what to expect on race day. Even the slightest change in gear or nutrition can throw you off.
Podschun exclaims, “You want to go into a race with fresh legs!” Make sure you have an appropriate resting period by not doing your speed work or longer runs in the few days leading up to the race. Stay warmed up and well trained, but give your major muscles some rest.
Have a race day plan to arrive with plenty of time to mentally and physically prepare yourself. Podschun advises, “You don’t want to be rushing to find parking and lose your time to relax and warm up.” She continues, “Allow time to get settled, do some drills, keep your muscles warm and remind yourself of your race goal before you enter the lineup.”
Podschun warns, “When you’re running hard for several days in a row, you could still be dehydrated from prior days’ runs.” Each body is different in how much it sweats and its unique balance of water and electrolytes. Stay attuned to your body’s hydration needs, especially in the Florida heat and during longer distances runs. Drink plenty of water, and if you need it, replace electrolytes with whatever sports drink or replacement products work best for you.
You trained for months and your body is ready to get through the race physically. Finishing the race, on the other hand, boils down to your mental fitness. Podschun suggests being prepared to coach yourself through the race using whatever mental strategies keep you happy, positive and focused on reaching your goal.
Also, be gentile with yourself. If you aren’t on pace to achieve your personal record for one race, celebrate what you did accomplish and shoot for it next time. Bringing gratitude into your race creates a mind-body balance with your running, making it a more fun, healthful and fulfilling part of your life.
Podschun concludes, “Running for over 30 years and finishing over 15 marathons- I’ve run for many different reasons.” “Sometimes I’ve pushed myself to achieve major personal records, and at different times, I’ve had to let other things in my life take priority while running just for fun or as a stress reliever.” “My best advice – above all – is to align racing with your life’s balance.” “For the most joy, let running be what it should be at whatever season of life you are in.”