How to Prepare for a Road Race! 2 mile to 10k
So maybe you are thinking about running a road race but don’t know where to start. Here I will give you some tips to set you in the right direction and hopefully avoid making common mistakes when running or training for a road race!
Establish goals for yourself: While everyone’s goals vary, they are essential and keep you accountable throughout your training progress. Goals can be for example “to finish the race” or “to run a fast time”. It is also a good idea to have multiple goals for the same race, one being an ultimate goal for the perfect day that can serve the purpose to push yourself and another that is conservative and highly attainable.
Acquire the appropriate footwear: Running with the wrong shoes are a good way to give yourself an injury. Go to your local running shoe store and get advice on the best-fit shoe for you. If you can’t afford or are not willing to buy expensive/ top of the line running shoes, go to a sport store or discount store that carries running shoes with adequate support. Current research shows that the most important factor in buying a running shoe is not necessarily based off the amount of pronation or supination you have, it’s if the shoe feels comfortable while you are running. If the shoe feels clunky or not right while you are running then it will most likely lead to deviations in your running stride. Therefore, if possible, try running with the shoes before buying them! However, avoid shoes that are not designed for running or are too soft and have little support, as those can also lead to more injuries in most people.
Begin training months before your race: While it depends on the length of your race (and how serious you are to run a personal best or just want to complete the race and have fun), it’s highly recommended to start a running program a few months before your race. A general guideline for most people is to start training at least 3-4 months before a half marathon, 2-3 months before a 10k and around 1-2 months before a 5k or 2 mile. Again, these ranges can vary depending on your goals for your race.
If you’re relatively new to running, start your training with walking, progress to walk-jogging and eventually to longer and longer runs. I will not get into detail with training as there are whole books dedicated for this topic. Start with a run or a walk 2-3 times a week and increase your mileage slowly. Most importantly: Listen to your body! If you are having pain that is not going away with a warm up and is getting worse as you run, STOP AND REST, ice for 15 minutes a few times a day. Know the difference between muscle soreness and injury, soreness will get better as you warm up and stretch, whereas an injury will most of the time get worse with training. It is best to catch an injury early. Most running injuries are because your body has not had enough time to recover and heal tissue properly prior to beginning your next run (There are several other factors like, running technique, weak stabilizing muscle etc.).
In the last few months before your race you should be doing roughly 2 workouts a week where you run faster than you would run on a normal run. Good workouts to do are intervals at your goal race pace for a shorter distance for example basic 5k workouts: (1-2 mile warm up with dynamic stretches), 3 times 1 mile at goal race pace with 2 minutes rest in-between, 5-6 times 800meters at goal race pace, focusing on good running form and relaxed upper body. Lastly, end with a cool down jog which leads us into our next category.
Warm up and cool down: You should warmup properly before every run and workout. Warm ups increase circulation and improve pliability of muscles, lubricate your joints, gets your heart rate and respiration up to prepare to for your run. A good warm up can involve running through several quick exercises that warm up muscles and joints that you will use while running. For example: 20 air squats, 20 bridges or hip thrusts, 10 side lying leg lifts, 10 calf raises, walking on your heels. This should be followed by a quick stretch through each joints range of motion. For example: Calf stretch, quad stretch, hamstring stretch, glute stretch, ankle circles, back stretch etc. Stretches before runs or workouts should not be held for long periods of time (less than 10 seconds). Static stretches held for a long time will cause your muscles to be less responsive and too elongated.
Warming up before a hard work out or race should include a warm up jog at an easy pace (around 5-10 minutes) prior to any major stretching. This should be followed by dynamic stretches and running mechanic drills (I will elaborate in another article). After the race or workout, cool down with a light jog for 5-10 minutes. After running, your muscles will feel tight, this is where we need to perform static stretches of all major muscle groups to restore and improve our muscle length and joint flexibility.
The week before the race
Hopefully by now you have done some training leading up to the race. Most of the hard work is behind you so don’t stress and enjoy it! The following tips will help you get the most out of your training and prepare for your race.
Get familiar with the course: Simple enough, if you have the chance to walk, jog or run the course before the race day, do it. Find the start and finish line before your race. Just about every road race will post a race course map on their website. This will reduce any confusion or getting lost on the course. Most runs these days are pretty well marked and have volunteers pointing you in the right direction. However, I have personally had races that were not well marked and the volunteers were not in their place. This left me frustrated and running a little extra distance and not running the time that I wanted.
Eat well but don’t change too much: It’s a good idea to avoid heavy fatty meals days before your race. Try eating primarily complex carbohydrates like pasta, rice or other grains and fruits vegetables a couple days before your race. This will maximize your glycogen stores, your body’s preferred source of energy during most races. However, avoid changing too much. Don’t try new types of food the day before or the day of the race. Eat a meal that you know won’t upset your stomach, this requires practice and replicating a race day scenario on one of your workouts. Trying a beet smoothie 2 hours before your race may send you to the bathroom early.
Replicate race day workout: Hopefully you have done some training leading up to this point. If you are looking to run a personal best, then doing a workout 3-5 days before your race under similar conditions, is a good idea. Try starting your workout around the time of the day the race is. Practice your breakfast routine, warm up routine just as you plan to do on race day. Do a workout that is similar in distance and intensity of your race but slightly easier (primarily for 2 mile-10k races, not applicable to half marathons or marathons).
Rest the day before: Do some light walking and stretching but avoid doing too much on your feet the day before your race. Plan your week ahead so you don’t have to run too many errands or do yard work. Relax, don’t worry about your race, watch a movie or your favorite tv show to keep you mind off. Stay hydrated by sipping water throughout the day. Eat 3-5 small to moderate meals of primarily complex carbohydrates but don’t try to eat an entire box of pasta as this may upset your stomach. Your body can only store so much carbohydrates as glycogen so excessive amounts is not beneficial.
Day of the race
Dress warm with multiple layers: Most road races are run in the morning and unless we are in the middle of summer, it is likely to be chilly! Make sure to bring multiple layers that can be removed easily. Warm up with your sweats on until you have a light sweat. Don’t wear so much that you become drenched in sweat, save that for the race. Keep warm as long as possible before removing your sweats so you keep your muscles warm. Dress light for the race and don’t wear too much!
Eat 3 hours before your race: Eat a relatively light meal that is easily digestible and that you are familiar with and which you hopefully tried before a workout as mentioned before. Drink a glass of water in the morning then sip water for the 2 ½ hours before your race. Avoid drinking too much in the 30 minutes before you race to prevent needing to have the urge to use the facilities!
Register for the race early: Avoid waiting in long lines to register, get to the venue early to register so you don’t find yourself rushing around before the start. Register online or the day before if possible!
Start slow: Start the race slower than you think you should. This will help to avoid burning out! Keep an even pace so you can finish strong at the end of the race.
Enjoy it!: You made it, enjoy the atmosphere and don’t forget to have fun!
Ben Fox, PT, DPT graduated from Fresno State with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2017. Ben enjoys being active. He is passionate about physical activity – he was a decorated track athlete at Sanger High School and also competed at the collegiate level at Fresno State. He is a self-declared Track & Field nerd. When not at work he can be found pursuing pretty much any activity outdoors or involved in various sports! Ben’s wife Annemarie is also very active and is a collegiate track and field athlete. Ben has a passion for many activities including travelling, camping, hiking, triathlon training, golf, tennis, beach volleyball, cycling and running. Ben is a skillful and focused Physical Therapist and is motivated by finding the right combination of Physical Therapy treatment to find a solution to his patient’s symptoms. He is driven by seeing improvements in the quality of life of his patients. A quirky thing about Ben? True to his declaration of being a track and Field nerd, at one point in High School he had ALL track records memorized! He claims to still know half of them.