Considering starting to train for your first running race? Or perhaps you’re already signed up and looking for some tips and tricks from those that have done it before? First off, CONGRATULATIONS! It takes a lot of guts to enter yourself in a race and I can tell you from experience that it is definitely worth it. Whether it’s a 1 mile, 5k, or Half-Marathon, pushing yourself to your own personal limits is an accomplishment in itself.
But before you lace up your sneaks and hit the starting line, check out these 5 things I learned throughout the years of running and triathlon races.
- Listen to your body. No matter what training plan you’re following, it’s essential that you listen to your body and adjust as needed. Four years ago as a student at Arizona State University, I was determined to follow my coach’s plan word-for-word while training for Collegiate Triathlon Nationals. When my knee started aching a few weeks out from the competition, I pushed past it, worried I wouldn’t be in top shape for the race. Well, guess what? Halfway through the actual triathlon, my knee gave out with a searing pain. Determinedly, I finished the race, literally hobbling over the finish an hour past my expected finish. Turns out I had seriously injured my IT Band causing internal bleeding in my right knee (the sports doctor said she’d never seen an IT Band injury that bad). After a couple months and hundreds of dollars in physical therapy, I learned the hard way that I should have listened to all the signs my body was giving me, starting with the initial pain and especially when it became serious during the race. Nobody wins by “toughing it out,” you’ll likely only hurt yourself further.
- Visualize the race beforehand. It sounds silly, but leading sports psychologists have found that visualizing your race can increase your mental toughness. So set some time out the night before to quietly imagine yourself going through the entire race from start to finish. You’d be surprised how much easier it will be the next day since you’ve already ‘done it’ before.
- Give your training a purpose. Decide to dedicate each training run and the actual race to a something that’s meaningful to you besides your own fitness. I’ve found that when you attach your hard work to selfless cause, you will be less likely to skip out on workouts or give up when the going gets tough. For me, it’s a sort of praying and sacrificial dedication to a cause. And you can choose absolutely anything you want from a charity or even because you want to inspire your children to be active. You don’t have to fundraise money or even ever tell anyone what your cause is (although by all means you certainly can if you’d like). At a minimum, YOU will know and that’s what matters.
- Find some training buddies! When the going gets tough and the alarm clock is wailing at 5am, having some friends to train with will really be a lifesaver! Not only do they make workouts more fun and social, but they also keep you accountable to follow through with scheduled runs. Don’t have people in your area? Make a facebook group and post your runs and encouragement to share with everyone. In person? Celebrate training milestones with a post-workout snack like frozen yogurt. Either way, having friends to motivate you and keep you accountable will help you reach your goals faster.
- Commit to the race. It happens to all of us: we are going strong on our training plan when all of a sudden life just HAPPENS. A child gets sick, work gets crazy, motivation mysteriously plunges – whatever it is, somehow you find yourself a month behind training and a week away from the race. Unless you are injured, commit to do the race no matter what. Even if you have to drop down the pace or walk for part (or all) of it, make yourself get out there and complete it. Remember that just being there is already a success! It will feel great to cross the line and know you did what you set out to do. Allowing yourself to quit will only make it easier to quit or not even start the second time around. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for the reason you established before training (see #3). Take a deep breath, get on the race line, and go kick ass.
Trot 4 Tots, East Lansing, Michigan – June 2015
YMCA Run thru the Rapids 5k, Grand Rapids, Michigan – October 2015
Turkey Trot, Canton, Michigan – November 2015
Ann Arbor Half-Marathon, Ann Arbor, Michigan – April 2016