No matter the distance–5K, 10K, half-marathon, or full–the process of mentally and physically preparing for race day can be confusing and intimidating.
The struggle to manage all the variables of training, like how you should build the program, how to eat during the program, and even how to breathe during runs takes a whole lot of trial and error.
In this article, I've broken down 3 key aspects of training for your first race.
1. There is no better preparation for running than actually getting your feet moving.
I have coached a lot of clients, from beginners straight off the couch to experienced runners, and though my plan might be different depending on the individual, the method is still the same...get your ass up and get going.
The second you decide to sign up for a race is the moment you need to start training, mentally and physically. You'll want to begin as early as possible for the best results. The key is to build layers and miles on your body over time to allow for proper adaptations to occur in your CNS, your muscle development, and your metabolism.
I recommend interval training as a starting point. Intervals are used in multiple disciplines, including CrossFit, and have shown to increase both anaerobic and aerobic potential.
For the first-time runner who is going out for a 5K, I would begin with 3 training sessions per week. The training sessions would include progressive interval training, beginning with 5 X 5:00 running periods with a 3:00 walking period between sets. I would then progress to 4 X 8:00 periods with 3:00 walking rest sets. One day per week I would integrate 3 X 400m sprint/run with 2:00 rest periods. Not only does the timing structure have infinite scalability but mixing in sprint intervals will build mental strength, muscle development and, as a bonus, will burn a lot of calories.
2. Breathing is an art. It's the second most important training element when it comes to training for your first race.
Though you breathe without thinking, it's what most beginner runners find the hardest to control. Breathing drives muscle function. The better the intake of O2 into the bloodstream, the more our mitochondria (powerhouses) inside the cells are able to process ATP and keep you moving on the course.
New runners or athletes for that matter tend to breath fast and shallow in the beginning. Fast breathing indicates to the body that it's under duress, therefore things go kind of haywire. Shallow breathing usually stems from the body being very tense.
The key to breathing practice is to begin by taking DEEP inhales and VERY large exhales during the warm-up or before you press play. We have all heard of 'belly' breathing, drawing the diaphragm down towards the stomach creating the maximum amount of O2 draw into the lungs. This type of breathing needs to be practiced not just in sessions but while you are walking around in your daily routines.
Deliberate breathing during your day will translate into deep breathing during your run sessions. The more O2 you can draw in, the more your capillaries will fill with vital oxygen for cells, and the more elasticity you will gain throughout the chest and back. I really like the process of nose breathing on the inhale and exhaling hard through the mouth. You will notice that nose breathing fills the lungs whereas mouth breathing tightens the neck and upper sternum.
TRY IT RIGHT NOW!
3. Be the tortoise, not the hare.
On race day you will see many folks JAMMING out of the starting line... Let 'em go. Chances are you will catch up to them by mile two. An important thing to remember on your first run is that 'this is YOUR race, no-one else's'. Just like you should not change anything in your nutrition on race day, the same goes for your running tempo.
If you have been training 5-minute running periods and 1-minute walking periods, do that. Your body will know what to expect, your mind will stay in control and you will dominate. Don't be that person who blows out of the start chute and then is held up at the second water station and needs medical help.
Another thing is to be prepared. Get the right clothing and shoes. Scope out the course, if possible, before the event. Know where the hills are, know landmarks, get comfortable before you even hear the starting gun.
I love the enthusiasm of everyone who is getting out there this year and trying new things. Just by signing up, you are doing something that most will never have the courage to do. Be proud, be your self and be positive. Keep pushing hard and be the best version of yourself possible!