If you have ever trained for a race then you know it’s so much more than just putting miles in. Depending on the distance you are training for, it can also require you to be mentally ready. There is a quote that I love. “Run the first two-thirds of the race with your head and the last third with your heart.” – Unknown
When I was training for my first marathon I was told to expect to run 2 races. The first 32 km’s and the final 10 km’s. Sometime during the race it becomes about what you want. You draw from the countless hours of training, you reach down deep within you to draw the strength that you need to complete it. It is no longer just physical, you need your mind (right thinking) and heart (the will) to get through.
Every race distance requires preparation, and I believe to prepare you need to set some goals. Is it a specific time you want to come in under? Are you running it with friends and just for fun? Are you doing a new distance and just want to complete it upright and smiling? The first step is to decide what you want to achieve from the race you just signed up for.
Then, get a schedule. Whether you join a run clinic, pick up a good book or find a schedule online, you need to plan for it. My favourite race distance is the marathon. It’s a 16 week schedule, running 4-5 times a week. I’m pretty consistent and usually run 5 days a week with Mondays and Fridays off. My long run is on the weekend and I add to the distance every week.
It’s not enough to have a schedule, though. You need to make a commitment to stick to the schedule. Sometimes you have to plan life around your runs, or plan your run around your life but if you do not put a priority on your training runs, life does get in the way. You have to decide it is important. I am blessed to have my family’s full support. Once you start training for a half-marathon or marathon the time commitment can be taxing for some. For some people, getting up in the morning before their families are awake is the best time to get a run in. Others do it on their lunch hours. The long run can be the most challenging as you can be out running for hours! The key is figuring out what works best for you (and your family). In addition to my schedule, I plan when I’m going for my run. I look a week ahead and plan it accordingly. So if someone has an appointment or there is a family commitment coming up, I’m not surprised by this and my run gets done.
It’s not just about the running. If you want to do well, it should also be about nutrition. Some people figure that running allows them to eat anything they want. But for myself, the more I run, the more focused I become on fuelling my body with food that serves a purpose. It doesn’t happen overnight but you can learn how food can support you and aid you by providing energy and also helping you with recovery.
The mind also plays a vital role in running a race. During training runs, using visualization can help prepare your mind for the race. How do you want race day to go? What are your ideal running conditions? Can you visualize your friends and family members cheering for you? Self-talk is also very useful. When you are on a long run and everything about it is awful, remind yourself why you are doing this. Remember the feeling you will have after getting it done, or knowing the sense of accomplishment that you will have for sticking to it and not giving up. It’s helpful to write down some favourite quotes, your reason why you want to accomplish this running goal/race. When you are out on a run if everything about it is perfect, write down what was so perfect about it. Draw on that memory when things get hard.
I think for everyone, the race is about completing it. As you evolve as a runner you begin to set different goals. At least for myself, I set a few goals for each race. Regardless, I think you need to be proud of every race, no matter the outcome. If you trained, committed to the training process and gave it your best on race day, then you need to celebrate that. We cannot control a lot of things on race day, but we can give it our best.
I am nowhere near the runner that I was when I first started out. I started out walking by participating in a 60Km walk for breast cancer. Eventually, walking turned into running. From there my girlfriend invited me to run a 5K. I enjoyed running and loved to challenge myself. I started out just completing the events and I would raise $ for a cause and take in the experience. Then 5K’s turned into 10K’s, and eventually I was running half-marathons. Most of the time I trained on my own. I seriously loved the challenge physically and mentally. I felt accomplished when I set a goal to run a race, trained for it and completed it.
It was during my first marathon training that I decided to go out of my comfort zone and join a run club. As my runs were getting longer and longer, I was wanting company in part to help distract from the long run but also for safety reasons. I wanted to run along the river and other more isolated areas. Joining the Running Room for their free running clinics allowed me to make new friends and learn from the experiences of others. It also connected me to a running community to share my love for running.
I’ve learned that when you commit to your training, you need to trust in that training. My very first marathon was out of town and I forgot my marathon bag! I ended up running the marathon with all new gear (yes, every runners nightmare). You can read more about that here: Forgotten Marathon Bag
You can do everything right, you can eat properly, train properly and still race day can be unpredictable. I’ve learned that it’s good to set goals and push yourself for a personal best or a bigger distance. In the end though, you need to be proud of all the moments, of the journey to get to the start line. During the race, take in the moments, learn from what the day offers you.
I’ve learned to be thankful that I get to run. I’m constantly challenging myself with new goals and race distances. I’m about to run my first Ultra (50K) on June 20th. I’ve also learned to accept that every race offers a new experience. Even if I do not get a pb, I can be proud of the day because of the choices I made either leading up to the race OR during the race itself.
In my last race I had the opportunity to finish with a pb (although it was a tough race). Instead I chose to run in with a friend who was struggling, because in the end that seemed to be more important. I walked away proud of my decision. If you’d like to read about my last race experience you can read it here: Ottawa Race Weekend
How about you? Are you training for your first race? Have you set specific goals for yourself? If you’ve been running for a while, how have you evolved as a runner?