It’s that time of the year, the days get longer and the weather gets warmer. Springtime is in full effect and with that brings about a very special time, race season! This is the time where many runners new and seasoned will be eager to chase their goals and compete in a variety of races from 5k to 100 milers. The sport of running is growing fast, and maybe you have ran a few races before and want to brush up on some tips, or maybe you are completely new to the world of running and are exploring the best way to get to the starting line of a race, either way you have come to the right place. We are going to talk about how to train for your first race, from the couch all the way to the finish line.
So you’ve signed up for your first race, now what?
Initially you want to think about your training schedule and how much time per week you can devote to doing so. One common thing I have noticed is people like to train distance, and make plans to run x amount of distance on any given training day. The first tip I will give is subjective and highly dependent on a person’s preference, but in my coaching I teach training by time and not distance. Off the bat you may ask why, I can’t train the distance of my race in the time I have available per day? The best way for me to explain how this works is for me to tell you a story about my son, Jacob Thatcher.
Naturally my family has been engaged in the outdoors from a very young age, so when my son was 10 years old he came to me and said “dad I wanna run the marathon” (St. George Marathon) of course my response was “are you serious?” to which he responded a very firm “yes dad”. I was pretty nervous for him to do this at first as any father would be but I told him I would create a training program for him that would work, and that would allow him to run a marathon. He was always a very active kid but not so much a runner, it was typically mountain biking and hiking and things like that. The St. George Marathon was in October and we began training in March. The program that we followed was this, 30 minutes every other day with 1 day of rest. We ran around the neighborhood which was just a flat road neighborhood and we did that for a week and then on Saturdays we began incorporating trail running/hiking as well. We started off the same, just 30 minutes a day but on the trails. Eventually we were doing 30 minutes a day every day with our 1 day of rest but we were alternating between hard and easy days, and what I mean by that is the same amount of time but more energy exerted during those 30 minutes on hard days. The hard days would be more of a steady pace compared to the easy days. I would monitor his effort by his breathing and his ability to talk, and so what I would do is talk to him and he could talk to me without his breathing being affected then that was an easy day. But if he could only answer 4 or 5 words like “Yeah I’m doing good dad” then taking a breath, I knew that was a hard day for him. So no heart rate monitors, no mileage, just time. Eventually each Saturday, we started taking the time up from 30 minutes, to 45 minutes, to an hour, and so on in increments of 15 to increase the time. Towards the start of the marathon we ended up doing 30 minutes per day, and up to 5 hour run/walk routines on Saturdays which was more of a hike with a small amount of running.
Don’t worry, we will come back to how my son did in the actual marathon later, but that is the first tip and my personal suggestion, train your run time and as you get used to that time you can begin to gradually take the time up which naturally will increase your distance without actually thinking about it.
You’ve got your training program you’ve been following, how do you amp up performance?
Your next focus is going to then be on your eating and drinking cycle. You can read how to create great nutrition cycles or hydration cycles by clicking the links I provided from previous blogs. I won’t touch too much on this blog on how to create those cycles but more the importance of having them by taking you back to my son and what we were doing as he trained and participated in his first marathon.
As race day approached it was critical that I got him on the eating and drinking cycle during our runs. I had him carry his own water and nutrition and every 30 minutes I would have him eat a packet of gel. So on race day we had planned to avoid all of the aid stations by carrying what we needed with us, my son told me he wanted to break 4 hours so we also knew the pace we needed to keep in order to do so. From the start what we would do is run 15 minutes and walk for 1 minute, every time we would walk I would have him sip from his water bottle. Like most people when they do their first race, they tend to get excited and try to speed up from the start and I had to slow him down a little bit. With our run/walk routine and nutrition and hydration cycles we reached the half marathon point in 2 hours and 4 minutes, almost right on time. I looked at him and told him “you’re doing really good, we are almost right on time but if we increase our pace just slightly then you are going to break 4 hours”, very excitedly he said “dad I can do it I don’t want to walk anymore, no more walking.” I remember how amazing it was during the second half as we continued on, we stopped walking but of course continued our hydration and nutrition cycles and the last 6 miles of the race people were really falling apart. They were hitting the wall and Jacob was passing them like they were going backwards at 10 years old. In fact, the last little bit I was struggling to keep up with him because he was so excited, his energy levels were high, he had no injuries, he never hit the wall and ended up running his first marathon in 3 hours and 54 minutes. He ran the second half of his race 10 minutes faster than his first half which is called reverse splits.
We were able to run with that strategy because we took care of his eating and hydrating cycles and never changed that routine mid race. Setting and learning these routines can be a make or break factor in a race and utilizing them during training will help to make them into habits that translate to better performance during your first race.
With so much information around, how do I know what is crucial to utilize as I prepare?
I think that people can get too complex at times. For beginners, try to take a more simple approach, set your cycles and train by time. Doing your training like this, you will begin to see the results you’re looking for. Remember to take those easy days during your training and you can read about the importance of active recovery from Endurance Athlete Ian Sharman on a previous blog. On those days when you are running with someone you need to be able to carry on a conversation, if you can’t do so on an easy day that is your indicator that you are going too hard and need to pull back a bit. I think the importance of simplicity comes from the fact that as a beginner the level of performance you need to bring to the table isn’t the same as some of the more elite athletes, and that is completely okay because there is more required of them which often times to someone starting out and that is reading a longer list of race needs, can be quite daunting.
The major takeaway to getting you from the couch to the finish line.
Our cross country students won state championships 4 years straight and I still keep them on a very similar training practice to the one I have shared today. So remember there are results in simplicity. Choose to get more complex when you are comfortable and most of all have fun; that is the main reason why we do this. Welcome to the great community of running, I am excited to hear about each of your own adventures and how you train for your first race.
I would like to hear some other tips and practices during entry or adept level running. Comment below the types of training routines you do.