With the cool fall weather arriving, we’re welcoming the return of race training season! This means that you can go back to cheering on your fellow runners at the finish line or even try participating in some races yourself.
We speak to Coach Clare Zecher for her expert insight into how to ease back into running with the return of race training season, whether you’re a seasoned professional or are completely new to the sport. We also discuss how to choose the best race for you and how your nutrition plays an important role in your performance.
Choosing your first (or next) race
With the return of race training season, when you decide that you want to sign up for a race how do you know which one is the right one for you? “Picking the perfect distance for your first (or next) race depends on your goals and your experience,” says Coach Clare. She suggests leveling up from your previous races, such as doing a 10k if you’ve previously completed a 5k and doing a full marathon if you’ve done a half marathon. If this is your first race, then look at competing in a 5k or a walker.
A big part of your decision will come from your why. Coach Clare suggests asking yourself if you want to complete the race or compete in it. “Some athletes may find that they can train and are competitive at a 5K distance, but not a marathon. Even still, they may want the challenge of completing a marathon, which is a massive accomplishment!” she says. Why you’re choosing to participate in a race is also pivotal in determining which one you should do.
Regardless of which race you choose though, you need to ensure that you can commit to steady and consistent training for that race. A full marathon will take more training time than a 5k, for example. Coach Clare states, “If you want to compete, then focus on racing one distance until you have mastered it, then give it all you’ve got.”
Getting back into training
Coach Clare emphasizes a tailored approach to training, especially with the return of race training after lockdown. With lockdowns affecting people’s ability to train, it’s really important to consider how you were able to train or if you were able to at all, when it comes to preparing for the race training season.
If you’re someone who was fortunate to have trained throughout these periods, then as Coach Clare states, “These athletes can begin race specific training and should have a solid base underneath them already.”
If you weren’t able to train throughout the past year, that doesn’t mean you’re behind with the return of race training. It just means that while you’re easing back into training, you need to take baby steps. “For those that had an 18 month hiatus, or simply want to train to run, start with time on your feet,” says Coach Clare. For a total beginner, this may mean starting with just walking. Walk around your block or do a lap around the track. Then, slowly increase your walking time by about 10%, as she suggests. Build your way up to 30-minute walks, 4-5 times a week.
As you begin to get comfortable with just moving, start to integrate little bits of running time into your walks. It doesn’t have to be much, just 15 seconds here and there, before slowly increasing it to 30 seconds and then one minute and so forth. As you continue to get better, so will your strength and confidence to enter race season.
Intermediate and upwards
If you’re at an intermediate level and ready to start training with jogging/running, Coach Clare suggests a run such as:
- Warm up – 5 min walk
- Light jog – 30 sec, alternated with walking – 2 min
- Repeat 4-5 more times
- Then, cool down – 5 min walk
The key is to “Be honest with where you are at today, and what you can reasonably do training wise without adding more stress to your life.” Coach Clare also stresses the importance of being medically cleared by your local GP before embarking on training.
In addition, she emphasizes taking the time to warm up and cool down properly, not to mention, doing daily mobility work. “While they may not seem as important as they aren’t the ‘main activity’, skipping them leads to more injuries and limitations in performance.” This is particularly important with the return of race training if you haven’t trained in a while as your body needs that extra time to prepare itself but should be done whether you’re a beginner or athlete.
What should my nutrition look like?
When it comes to preparing for the return of race training, it isn’t just your fitness that’s important. Your nutrition plays a pivotal role in your performance. There are basic guidelines that athletes should cover, such as eating three healthy meals a day and staying hydrated with enough water and electrolytes.
Training for specific races may slightly change what your diet looks like though. For example, for athletes who “are running speed intervals, long runs, and/or more than 3 hours a week, then they may need to supplement their training for the most positive physiological response (muscle repair and positive metabolic changes),” advises Coach Clare. “Most runners at this higher amount can pre-fuel a workout 90 minutes prior with a banana and a yogurt, half an energy bar like a Picky Bar (this is absolutely not the time to eat a protein bar!), or ½ a small peanut butter sandwich. After their workout, the same foods work, but adding in a hydration drink or water will help replace all the water your body lost during the workout.”
To assist in replenishing your body, Coach Clare suggests having a drink with sodium in it but with no more than 40-60 calories per 16 ounce at most. “Some hydration options would include a packet of Liquid I.V. (lemon lime with no caffeine) or Nuun Instant mixed in 16-32 ounces.”
Go at your own pace
When it comes to the return of race training, it’s important that you go at your own pace. Be honest with where you are and where you want to go and take reasonable, actionable steps to get there. This could mean starting from the very beginning and working on walking a few times a week to integrate jogging into your walks or re-evaluating your diet to get the best out of your performance. Every step, no matter how small, counts.