By mid-July, you likely have either (a) started training for your fall race, (b) will soon start training for a fall race, or (c) considering registering for a fall race.
Race specific training may start 12-20 weeks out from race day, but the actionable steps you take before you begin actually training for a race can impact how you feel, how well you train, and how much you enjoy your fall race training. Of course, whether or not you do these won’t break your training or cause you to miss your race goals, but these 5 things to do before you start training for your fall race will set you on the right track for happy and healthy running.
1. Develop a plan for your fueling and hydration.
Fueling and hydration can make or break your long runs (which are the most important runs in a marathon or half marathon training plan).
Fueling and hydration comes down to much more than following the formula printed on the back of your GU packet. Just like you should follow a training plan individualized to your needs (whether by you or a coach), you need to develop a fueling and hydration strategy for your training and racing that works best for you.
There are several factors to consider: how experienced you are at the race distance, your average pace on long runs, how sensitive your stomach is, the temperature and humidity, and your dietary preferences.
More experienced runners may even consider different strategies such as training low/racing high, glycogen depletion runs, and race simulation runs to optimize their fueling strategy for race day.
There’s an overwhelming amount of often conflicting information out there on fueling and hydration, which is why I put together this Master Your Fueling and Hydration e-course! Once you register you start immediately and receive one email per week over the course of 6 weeks. The e-course covers everything from hydration and electrolytes to fueling for every type of workout to how to develop a specific and individual race day fueling strategy.
2. Lift heavy weights.
Or, at the very least, do some strength training two or three times per week.
Strength training accomplishes three things during the base phase for runners. First, it reduces your risk of injury by eliminating strength imbalances and strengthening your musculoskeletal foundation. Since injury can often occur when you increase mileage and/or intensity – which is exactly what you do when you begin training for your fall race – you want to minimize your injury risk as much as possible before training.
Second, strength training improves your running economy. By adding in plyometrics or running drills, focusing on typically weak areas for runners such as the hamstring and glutes, and strengthening your core, you will find that you have better form and can run faster at the same effort than before.
Third, strength training jump starts your metabolism back up. It’s normal and healthy to gain some weight between races, because you can’t maintain that lean and strong racing weight all the time. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be racing weight! Strength training will boost your metabolism without requiring you to cut calories – and let’s be honest, we runners love to eat, so why not strength train and keep enjoying our food?
Why heavy weights? A 2011 study in the Journal of Sports Sciences concluded that heavy weight lifting was the most effective form of strength training for improving muscular strength, running economy, and muscular activation (i.e. neuromuscular fitness) while also increasing their VO2max and endurance.
Plus, you won’t be as motivated to start lifting heavy weights (or really, any weights) during those high mileage weeks of marathon training, so start the habit and adapt your body to it now when your running is not as demanding on your body.
3. Hit the hills.
Whether you focused on base building to prepare your body for higher mileage or simply enjoyed a time of less running, the off season usually includes more easy runs than anything else. As it should – you can’t push and push through hard interval and tempo workouts year-round.
But don’t jumping immediately into the first 12 x 400 track workout or 5 mile tempo run listed on your training plan, Instead, ease your body into the impact and physiological (and honestly, mental) stress of hard running with some gentler, shorter, effort-based speed workouts (such as one of these early season speed workouts).
In particular, hill running offers an ideal workout for preparing your body for harder running without falling into the injury trap of too-much-too-soon. Uphill running actually decreases the impact on your joints, muscles, and bones, so hill repeats will give you the same physiological benefits as flat ground sprints but without the wear and tear. Try one of these hill workouts for runners to get started with hill running.
After a few weeks of hill running, you’ll find that your paces will surprise you when you transition into speed work on flat terrain.
4. Hire a coach.
Training for a marathon or half marathon can be a bit overwhelming. How many miles should you run each week? What workouts are the most effective? Is your goal realistic? How long should your longest run before the race be?
A running coach removes all of the guesswork for you and customizes your training to your goals, current fitness, schedule, injury history, specific race, and more. For example, a running coach will know how to specifically train someone aiming for a sub-1:45 half marathon or their first marathon, which requires different training than for someone running a 2:30 half or their fifth marathon. A cookie cutter training plan does not take that into account.
Ideally, you want to contact a running coach a couple weeks before you actually start training, so that you can make sure you found the right coach for you. Your coach will also need time to develop a training plan individually created for you.
Learn more about my individualized virtual coaching services here!
5. Have fun!
Training for a marathon or half marathon requires commitment. While you want to maintain a solid base of running fitness before you begin adding in hard workouts and long runs for training, let yourself enjoy your time off from training.
Be a little more lax in your nutrition than during training and indulge in the foods you will minimize because of nutrition or a sensitive stomach. Have that second glass of wine on Friday night since you don’t have long runs yet on the weekend. Stay up late binge-watching Netflix one night.
If you cut yourself some slack and let yourself just enjoy those simple pleasures, you will find it much easier to turn down that margarita with chips or late night Netflix binge during your 12-20 weeks of training. Willpower is a muscle, and like how you give your muscles an off-season from training, give your willpower a bit of a break.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should swing to the opposite side of things and over-indulge, gain an unhealthy amount of weight, and neglect your health. Just give yourself a little bit of wiggle room and enjoy the seasons of training each in their own right.
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
What do you do to prepare for training for a race?
What’s your current favorite indulgence?
Have you started training or registering for a fall race?