In life, we move at our own pace. The same can be said for how we approach athletics, especially when it comes to racing. With a variety of athletic abilities, it’s no surprise we all can’t come in first place. And, for the masses who don’t, sometimes hitting a Personal Record (PR), just crossing the finish line or simply participating for pure enjoyment is equally satisfying.
With running, much can be gained from the sport. Whether competing in foot races on roads or trails or in triathlons, some people race to gain endurance, some for the sake of keeping trim, some aim for speed, mileage or both, and sometimes just getting outside and completing the distance, no matter how long it takes is enough, too. And, although each athlete’s approach may be different, the ultimate goal of racing is to succeed.
Get Up And Go
Tom Dueber, owner and general manager of Canyon Personal Training and Fitness in Longmont, says every racer has to start somewhere. Whether novice or veteran, there are many factors to consider for any type of race. Dueber says adequately preparing for a race comes down to a few major topics:
- Pick the right race for you
- Select a training program
- Integrate mental tactics into your training to get you through mileage and mental walls
- Prepare and wear appropriate sports gear/equipment
- Visit the race website to learn about details, directions and tips
With these factors coming into play when training and racing, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, nervous or just plain lost because there is so much information to digest. However, seeking advice from people in the racing industry, athletic friends, professionals, learning more from a variety of reputable websites, books or figuring out what works for you as you go will help you to feel sufficiently prepared on race day. As it’s said, “knowledge is power,” and the adage applies for race training, too.
Because we’re all beginners at some point, it’s not recommended to expect that you will place in the top-tier of your age category on race day. Although ambitious goals can be encouraging, you don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment. Dueber suggests starting with attainable goals and listening to your gut to increase your confidence and excitement about the process and final results.
“Choose a race right for you,” he says. “Set realistic expectations. For instance, if you are going to do a foot race and have never raced before, start with a shorter race, such as a 5k, and work your way up to bigger events.”
Once you select your race, register, mark it in your calendar, make an announcement or place the date in a spot you’ll see it often to keep high levels of motivation. Doing so will help keep you on-track. Sometimes, enlisting friends or close-ones to join in the training, race or both can be a great way to stay accountable, excited and encouraged, especially when motivation is running short.
“I definitely recommend a training buddy,” Dueber says. “I would look for someone in about the same place as you in their race career. I would also pick someone you get along with because you are going to be spending a lot of time together.”
If a training buddy feels right for you, be careful to select someone who is close to your athletic level, as you don’t want to be discouraged each time you train with a pace too fast or slow and not enough or too much mileage, as training in a safe and healthy way should be fundamental for you. Additionally, choose someone who will be a positive influence on your training and vice versa.
Train Your Way
With training regimes, there’s so much information available online, in books or by word-of-mouth, and it can be tricky to figure out what works best for your body, as what works for one person may not for the next. Generally, racers learn what works by trying a variety of things and seeing how their body responds as time goes on and more races are tallied. However, Dueber suggests following an expert-created training plan to ensure you’ll train safely, while meeting all mileage, nutritional and health musts.
“You need to put your body in the best possible position to complete the race and avoid injury. Increasing cardiovascular endurance and over-all strength is the best way to avoid injury and enjoy your first racing experience,” Dueber says. “I recommend a training program that focuses on diet, strength-training and cardiovascular activity specific to the type of race you plan to complete.”
Heeding the advice of a training program put together for you by a professional can be beneficial, as their job is to provide a step-by-step plan that gradually works up to the race in a safe and healthy way. Although not essential, it may take a lot of the stress and worry out of the equation. And, following a specific training program will likely increase the chances of a successful outcome, as well as helping to keep your body injury-free.
Although great in theory, we lead busy lives, and it’s easy to make excuses to not train. So, keeping up with a consistent training schedule can be tough. But, it’s possible to stay motivated, even when training is the last thing you want to do.
“Give yourself enough time to see results, at least 12 to 16 weeks prior to race day, and set little goals for each week,” Dueber says. “Hit those goals and you will tend to stay more motivated. Make sure you have a good cheerleader. It may be a friend, trainer, coach, training buddy, spouse or your children, but find that person that is encouraging and will not let you stop.”
Physical training is an obvious necessity for racing, however, so is mental endurance. Hitting mental roadblocks can happen. Sometimes we’re our worst enemies, and you can get bogged-down.
For mental preparation, there’s no one quote, mantra or way of thinking that works best for each person. So, throughout your training, it’s important to figure out what resonates with you. Try out a variety of things and see what sticks. Identify what thoughts will keep you going in the moments you want to give up.
And, if you do hit a mental block, refocus by thinking about all the reasons why you committed to the race in the first place. Changing your attitude from negative thoughts to positive will help distract and get you back on track.
“I personally have found the best way to prepare for a sport is to briefly analyze each training or ‘practice’ day after you are done. Mentally go over what went well and what went poorly, and decide what steps you are going to take the next training session to improve performance,” Dueber says. “Analyze it, make a plan, and move on.”
Ready, Set, Go
OK, you’ve trained, the race is approaching, and now you’re not sure what to wear or what to expect the day of. In reality, those are the simplest of the racing factors. On the day of the race, it’s best to wear reliable gear. The last thing you want is to not feel comfortable in what you’re wearing. Try your gear out prior to race-day to ensure it fits and feels right, and make sure your shoes are broken in.
What you plan to wear is also largely determined by weather. Check the weather report, as you don’t want to show up with not enough or too much gear. Also, it’s recommended to prepare the night before so you’re not rushing around the morning of. You want to head to your race with the least amount of stress possible and save all energy to blow through the finish line.
To ease any unnecessary stress, do your race-specific research. Most races provide all race details on their website. There, you can look at course maps, tips, start times, rules and regulations, where to park, where to warm-up, etc. And, if any questions arise that aren’t answered on the website, looking at this information in advance will give you time to contact the race organizers for answers.
“If you have never done a race before, race day is fun. You will be able to feel the energy at the start line. There will be all sorts of distractions with people and vendors and any number of events going on in the background. But, you need to stay focused on the race” Dueber says.
Remember why you’re racing. Prepare, relax, and have fun – Crossing the finish line is always cause for celebration.
By Dominique Del Grosso