Training for Your First Race: An 8 Week-Plan

This race training program can have almost any runner ready in a couple of months.

From the WebMD Archives

Training for a race, even your first race, is not hard if you have the tools in hand to do it right.

WebMD consulted the experts and collected tips on training for a race, as well as a training schedule to help you prepare for your first 10K (6.2 mile) run. Our race training plan can get almost any runner ready in a few weeks.

1. Training for a Race: Have a Goal

"A goal can be how much by when," says Julie Isphording, former Olympic runner and organizer of Cincinnati's historic Thanksgiving Day Race. "It could be running a 10K by March, or getting into that little black dress by March. Maybe it's even an old picture of yourself that you're trying to resemble again."

Goals motivate you to train, says Bruce Gross, a Road Runner's Club of America (RRCA) certified running coach and Power Bar Team Elite sponsored athlete in Potomac, Md.

2. Training for a Race: Gear Up

The first step in training for a race is to get comfortable, properly fitted running shoes. Go to a running specialty store to assure proper fit, Gross advises. Most specialty stores will have a treadmill or a place you can actually run and try out the shoes. Wear the clothes you'll be running in (including the socks) to try out new sneakers. And be sure to get your foot measured, because as we age, our feet grow. You may not have the same foot size you did the last time you bought athletic shoes.

When you run, you should dress in layers, depending on the weather and time of year, And throw away the cotton, Gross advises. There's plenty of good, high-tech gear (made of fabrics like Dri-Fit and Cool-Max) that will keep you more comfortable during training and on race day.

"Cotton gets wet and heavy," says Gross. It can also keep you cold, because it doesn't wick away the sweat.

You don't have to have a lot of expensive running gear, just one or two of the right things.

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3. Training for a Race: Match Time of Day

If you're going to run a morning race, train in the morning.

According to Jesse Pittsley, PhD, a former high school and college racer, your body adapts to the time you generally exercise. Because Pittsley always practiced at 3 p.m. while in school, for example, his body would begin to get jittery at 2:30, anticipating his run.

If your race will be in the morning and you can't train at that time during the week, be sure to schedule your weekend runs for that time.

Also, if you're not a morning person, don't choose a race with a 7 a.m. start.

"If getting up in the morning and having to run really hard is tough, you don't want do a race then," Pittsley points out.

4. Training for a Race: Know Your Race

Get familiar with the course you will run, and train accordingly. If the course is hilly, train on hills or you could end up with a calf problem. If it's a trail race, practice trail running, since trail courses are much more unstable than those made of asphalt.

"Your race environment determines a lot of your training environment," says Pittsley.

Besides knowing the course -- and perhaps even running it, if it's accessible -- it's a good idea to know the general conditions of the race. Try to determine what the temperature is likely to be when you run, how many runners there will be, and where the water stations are.

5. Training for a Race: Stick to the Program

Develop a race training schedule of your own, or use the schedule below - and stick to it.

"If you do the mileage and the workouts, you'll be successful," says Gross.

Many people skip the practice runs but if you do that, you will suffer on race day. You won't be prepared, and it will take more of a toll on your body.

6. Training for a Race: Cross Train

Just because you're training for a race, says Julie Isphording, "don't become one-dimensional. Cross training and doing other things like light weight lifting, swimming, yoga, Pilates or other functional training on your off days is very important."

Cross training days allow your running muscles a chance to recover.

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7. Training for a Race: Eat Healthfully

Nourish your body, says Isphording. You are working out more, so you'll need to consume more calories to repair muscle and build strength.

But choose the right foods. Don't fill up on empty calories. Opt for complex carbohydrates and proteins and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Listen to your body, Isphording adds.

"You'll start to crave (fruits and vegetables) as you put these extra demands on the body," she says.

8. Training for a Race: Find Support

It's always easier to train if you have a running buddy. When you have a partner, there's less of a chance of letting the demands of life get in the way of training, says Isphording. Your running buddy will help get you out the door on the days when you don't even feel like putting on your running shoes.

9. Training for a Race: Run Safe

If you are running after dark, wear reflective clothing and run in well-lighted areas as much as possible. Run on indoor or lighted tracks if you can.

10. Training for a Race: Be Sure to Rest

Rest days are as important as training days, according to Isphording and Gross.

"Your muscles build strength as you rest," says Isphording. "Without recovery days, you will not improve."

That includes getting extra sleep, Gross points out.

"It is recommended to get one extra minute of sleep per night per mile run during the week," he says. So, for example, if you run 15 miles a week, you need an extra 15 minutes of sleep each night.

"Your body is more tired, and you need more sleep time to recover," Gross says.

11. Training for a Race: Consider the Season

For a first race, Pittsley always suggests training in a warmer temperature than you'll be running in. It is easier to run when the temperature is low, and if you train in cooler weather, you may not be prepared when race day comes.

"I always encourage people to start running in summer and train for a fall race," he says. "It's very difficult to go up in temperatures when training."

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12. Training for a Race: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

In the winter months, you may not feel as thirsty, but your body is losing water during exercise.

"Properly hydrate during practice and training runs," says Gross. He recommends using electrolyte replacement drinks to spur the repair process of the muscles while training.

Pittsley advises new runners to practice drinking water during training runs, so they'll learn how to drink and run on race day. Whether you'll have to get used to carrying a water bottle or grabbing a cup and drinking on the run, it's a good idea to feel comfortable with the process ahead of time.

13. Training for a Race: Don't Forget to Stretch

After a run, when your muscles are warm, be sure to stretch.

During training, you are working your body harder than you do regularly, says Gross, so you have a higher risk of injury. Stretching can help keep you limber and injury-free for race day.

14. Training for a Race: Celebrate You

Don't forget to pat yourself on the back.

"Wallow in your greatest right away -- don't wait," says Isphording.

"Look for the small miracles. Be proud of that extra 10 minutes you stayed out. It's important that you celebrate your successes every day."

Beginner 10K Race Training Schedule

(This is the 8-week schedule designed by Isphording for the 97th annual Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati. To read more about this schedule, go to Thanksgivingdayrace.com)

Weeks to Race

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thurs

Fri

Sat

Sun

Total

miles

8

Strength and stretch *

2.5 mile run

30 min cross

train

2 mile run + strength

Rest

40 min cross

train

3 mile run

7.5

7

Strength and stretch

2.5 mile run

30 min cross

train

2 mile run + strength

Rest

40 min cross

train

3.5 mile run

8

6

Strength and stretch

2.5 mile run

35 min cross

train

2 mile run + strength

Rest

50 min cross

train

4 mile run

8.5

5

Strength and stretch

3 mile run

35 min cross

train

2 mile run + strength

Rest

50 min cross

train

4 mile run

9

4

Strength and stretch

3 mile run

40 min cross

train

2 mile run + strength

Rest

60 min cross

train

4.5 mile run

9.5

3

Strength and stretch

3 mile run

40 min cross

train

2 mile run

Rest

Rest or 60 min cross train

5 mile run

10

2

Strength and stretch

3 mile run

45 min cross

train

2 mile run + strength

Rest

5.5 mile run

rest

10.5

1

3 mile run

Rest

Rest

10K race day

Rest

  • Strengthening is defined as light weight lifting or resistance work with higher repetitions. Stretching should be done when muscles are warm
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD on February 01, 2007

Sources

Published Feb. 1, 2007.

SOURCES: Julie Isphording, producer and host, health and fitness radio talk show; organizer, Thanksgiving Day race, Cincinnati, Ohio. Jesse Pittsley, PhD, exercise physiologist; director of exercise science, Winston-Salem State University; president, American Society of Exercise Physiologists. Bruce Gross, Road Runner's Club of America (RRCA) certified running coach; Power Bar Team Elite sponsored athlete, Potomac, Md.

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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