It's that time of the year again when you vow to really go the distance and run your first 5K, 10K, half marathon or even a marathon. Whether it's your first or 15th race, it's important to commit to a training plan to help avoid injury and keep you running at peak performance.
We have created this guide to help push you to the finish line of any race you set out to run.
12-20 weeks out
Time to commit
Identify a running race that you - or even better, you and your BFF or significant other - can get super excited about. Once you put down some hard cash and hit the registration button, you're officially signed up - and committed.
Make a plan
A running plan is the best insurance for keeping you injury-free when you cross the finish line. Different distances and fitness backgrounds will determind length needed for training plan. The best training plans come from reliable and credible sources. Traning can be broken down into three main areas: social groups/clubs, running coach or individual plan. For your reference, try runnersworld.com, running.about.com, teamintraining.com, meetup.com/sandiegorunning, wcroadrunners.com, cheetahcharityrunners.org/new-page, recreation.ucsd.edu/masters/running.
1-2 weeks out
Tips to gear up for crossing that finish line on a high note:
Enjoy your taper (decreased running before the big day). For many runners it's very tempting to do one more long run or try to make up for lost training right before race day - save this pent-up energy to race strong.
Nothing new right before race day. When you're at the race expo and fall in love with a new pair of running shoes, top or just want to try that new strawberry-banana-flavored gel, by all means buy it, but save it for training for your next race..
Night before race day
Watch what you eat. To ensure you can digest your food before you hit the starting line, eat your last big meal 12 to 15 hours prior to the race. Eat easily digestible foods that will pass through your system before the race. Many runners enjoy a plate of pasta with marinara sauce the night before race day. A great way to see if this is a good choice for you, is to test it out the night before a long training run.
On race morning, wake up early and eat a light breakfast two hours prior to the race, such as oatmeal or a bagel with a banana and some light almond butter, to give you the enery you need. Avoid solid foods just prior to the race, as well as fiber, which can wrek havoc on your stomach.
Now that you have a solid plan, follow it, but expect setbacks.
One common mistake runners make is to try do to too much too soon, which can lead to burnout and injuries.
It's better to start slowly and gradually in terms of adding both speed and mileage.
When life gets in the way and you miss a training day or two, don't try to make up for missed training or double up on workouts. Simply leave it behind you and move on to the next day.
When feeling pain during a run, don't try to run through it. Stop running and consult with your health professional to keep you safe.
Listening to your body is critical for all runners in terms of learning how to pace properly and avoid common running injuries.
Finally, you want to train according to your race: If the course is hilly and challenging, such as running up Torrey Pines Road, you want to be ready to hit some hills during training.
Fueling your body is critical for long-distance runners especially. The National Athletic Trainers' Association recommends drinking 500-600 mL. (17-20 ounces) of fluids two hours prior to exercise and 200-300 mL. (7-10 ounces) of fluids every 10-20 minutes during exercise.
For workouts lasting longer than 60 minutes - which will be the case during long runs in half marathon and marathon training - switch to a sports drink to replace sodium and carbohydrates. Some runners prefer consuming energy gels with water. Find out during training which fluids and foods you can stomach - literally. A sports nutritionist can offer expert advice to meet your specific needs as well.
Race day tips
Hold back. You're at the start line and your adrenaline kicks in, but don't get caught up running out too fast on race day. Run at your own pace and pick up speed later in the race. It's much more rewarding mentally and physically to pass runners later in the game than to be the one being passed.
Enjoy the experience. Look around you and take in the awesome scenery, cheer on your fellow runners, and thank the volunteers for taking time out of their day to make yours special. Finally, display good sportsmanship: Be familiar with the route, race fairly and be happy with what you were able to achieve that day - and smile for the cameras! Your finisher medal and finisher photo are waiting for you.
Post-race recovery tips
After the race, rehydrate and eat healthy to replenish lost nutrients. Take a few days off from running, or weeks, if you ran a marathon. Get a massage, relax and reward yourself with a gift. Now is the time to wear your finisher shirt and show off your running pride wherever your car takes you with a sticker that says 5K, 10K, 13.1 or 26.2.