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Take Your First Steps Toward Running a Road Race

Sticking to a schedule will ensure you are doing what you need to do to prepare and act as positive reinforcement once you see the miles you are logging.

Editor's note: This is the first of a bimonthly column on fitness.

I want to try to run a road race. What is a good distance to run and how long should I train for?

First of all, I commend you for having a fitness goal! Committing to a race is a great way to get in shape, raise money for a cause, meet new friends, and shake off the winter blues. Running has become increasingly popular and no matter what the distance, a rewarding experience. For a novice runner starting out, a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) road race would be an ideal distance to choose for your race debut.

Most healthy individuals who have an active lifestyle will be able to complete a 5K with little to none training. For others, it will take a little bit of work. If you are reasonably healthy with no physical limitations, I recommend adopting an eight-week training schedule (click on "gallery" then "pdf" to see the grid attached) to properly prepare for the big day. It is a step-by-step guide to help you get to the starting line in one piece!

Pick your race. 5K’s are easy to find. “Running season” is typically summer to fall, however, 5K’s are of the few races that are held year round. Perhaps you want to choose a race that is in your hometown or one that raises money for a charity that is important to you? Connecticut hosts 5K’s nearly every weekend and I recommend the website www.hitekracing.com for the most current race calendar.  Once you have identified the race you plan to run, work backwards eight weeks and choose a start date.

Register for the race.  Commit to the date! I know it seems scary and you are wondering if you should take the “wait and see” approach, but trust me. Once you have a finite date, it will keep you focused and on schedule. Goals are obtainable when they are measurable. Sticking to a schedule will ensure that you are doing what you need to do to prepare, but also act as positive reinforcement once you see the miles you are logging on those legs.

Start running! Ninety percent of race training is just getting to the starting line.  If you train properly and stay injury-free, this will be a non-issue. Follow the schedule, put the work in, and you will be fine. You might even surprise yourself!

Listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to modify the schedule and repeat a few weeks if you feel that you are not ready to move on. The number one reason that novice runners quit is because they become tired too soon. The important thing to remember is to start off where you are, not where you would like to be. It is called training for a reason. The runs are there to prepare you for race day, not torture you. If at any time you cannot continue running, it’s OK to walk. Just get the miles in, it doesn’t matter how you do it! If you feel that you are becoming tired too quickly, try starting off at a slower pace and maintaining that for a longer duration.

OK, now what? You’ve trained for eight weeks and race day is approaching.  Being well-prepared on the big day will help cut some of those race day jitters. Below are a few tips for a fun and stress-free race.

• Lie out all of your clothes, socks, sneakers and accessories the night before. If you pre-registered then you will have a bib with your race number on and maybe a D-tag (time device). Pin the bib to your shirt, affix the tag to your racing shoes, and even print out directions to the start line. Pre-race jitters will inevitably result in your forgetting something (gasp!), so make use of this night to make everything easier on yourself race day.

• Eat a good breakfast two hours prior to the start time. Your pre-race meal is the fuel for the race and you wouldn’t put 87 octane gas in high performance car, would you? Remember to stay away from fiber, which can cause major gastrointestinal distress while you’re out on the course. Stick with easy-to-digest foods such as toast with peanut butter, smoothies, banana, energy bars, etc. Play with different foods while you are training and find something that is tried and true for your body. 

• Hydrate. Most nutritionists maintain that 16 ounces of water two to three hours before race time is enough fluid to maintain hydration. You want to give your body enough time to process fluids and adequately monitor hydration status by examining your urine (wait, what?). Yes, your urine is the quickest and easiest feedback to test your hydration. Clear or pale yellow urine is a good sign, whereas dark urine in small quantities indicates that you probably need more water. On the contrary, a major mistake in novice runners is over-hydration. If it’s clear, then stop drinking! There is nothing worse than running with a full bladder.

• Breathe! Sometimes runners forget to breathe. I know, crazy, right? Remind yourself to breathe enough. Novice runners all too often breathe incorrectly, meaning that they take short shallow breaths just to fill their lungs, which inevitably causing cramping, lightheadedness and fatigue. Picture a baby sleeping, how the belly rises and falls. If you mimic “belly breathing” while you are running, you can avoid runners cramping or “stitches” (sharp pains in your ribs). 

• Have fun! You have one advantage over the seasoned runner in that this is your first time! You should have no expectations except just to finish. Go out slow, listen to your body, and trust the training that you have done. If you have to walk, then walk! Nobody is judging you except yourself.  Nothing compares to the feeling of crossing the finish line for the first time, so get up, get out there, and come back to me when you are ready for that 10K!

Upcoming area road races

April 2

East Haddam Community Lions April Fools Race 10.5M/5K, 10 a.m. (860) 324-7893
3rd Annual April Fool's Backwards Mile and 5K Run/Walk 1M/5K, 8:30 a.m., Essex

1st Garnet and Gold Charity Run 5K, 11 a.m., Middletown

April 10

YMCA Camp Ingersoll Kick'n Off Road Duathlon & Kids Duathlon 2R/6B/2R, 9 a.m., Portland, (860) 343-6204

April 16

Spring Ahead Trail Race 5K, 10:30 a.m., Moodus
Genesis Adventure Racing Series 25 miles, 10 a.m., Haddam, (203) 232-9615

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