How to Prepare for a Race
Training for a run is fun, exhilarating—and if you’re a newcomer, potentially daunting. It may be a race, but Crozer-Keystone Health System’s sports medicine specialists recommend, above all, taking it slow.
That starts with knowing your own medical history and level of fitness. Anyone who’s planning to start running and might have risk factors or a family history for heart disease should be seen by a primary care physician or sports medicine doctor before they start.
It’s also important to choose a race that’s manageable for your own fitness level—sticking with a mile run or 5K if you’re just starting out and avoiding highly competitive, intense events like muddy obstacle runs unless you’re efficiently cross-trained.
Warm Up and Cool Down
Warming-up, whether it’s a brisk walk or stretching, is essential before doing any kind of run. Try about five to ten minutes. Plan to spend some time stretching major muscle groups such as quads, calves and hamstrings. You can also do some core work such as crunches or planks, which will help you to maintain your running form. Allow the same amount of time to cool down after the run with a walk and more stretching if needed.
Build a Plan
Create a training plan that allows for a gradual build of endurance and speed - increasing by no more than 10 percent of either your distance or speed each week. Start with the distance that you’re comfortable with and don’t overdo it. Build up your endurance over weeks and not days.
In general, stay within your target heart rate range (220 minus your age x 0.7) when training and keep a pace where you can maintain a conversation. If you’re just starting out, it may be beneficial to take a recovery day or cross-train between runs with activities like biking or swimming.
Wear layers in the cold weather and strip them off as your body heats up, taking care to protect against frostbite on the ears and nose. If traveling to a higher altitude for a race, be sure to give yourself time to acclimate.
Be advised that one running shoe does not fit all, especially when it comes to running. Pay attention to finding the proper footwear. Too often, people with high arches or flat feet are wearing the wrong kind of shoe and they end up with stress fractures and overuse injuries. If you have high arches you need low-construct, soft shoes, and if you have flat feet, you’re going to need motion-control running shoes.
Eat Right and Stay Hydrated
Don’t eat a big meal before a run, and limit intake to light, easily digestible carbohydrates. However, make sure you get adequate protein during the rest of the day when you’re training.
Always make sure you are well hydrated, and even more so in hot weather. You should never exercise in the middle of a 95-degree, 95-percent humidity day. Go first thing in the morning or when the sun has gone down.
When you finally get to that starting line, take a deep breath and stay calm. Have a goal pace in mind and try not to go too fast too soon. It’s much better to start slower and finish stronger.