Beginner’s Guide: Seven Tips for How to Start Racing

How to Start Racing

It’s fall, which means racing season is upon us! The Chicago Marathon was this last weekend, the New York City Marathon is coming up soon, and several other races are happening all over the country. The Chicago Marathon certainly gave me a racing bug, and my own half marathon is quickly approaching.

 How to Start Racing

Many new runners sign up for races as a motivation to start running. This is a great way to get into the sport – races are fun to participate in and it is inspiring to see other runners. However, you want to begin racing with caution, especially if you are new to running. If you have never run before and start training for a full or half marathon, you risk injury from the sudden increase in mileage. You may also have a bad race experience due to not being optimally trained and quit running – which is not the result you want.

Here are seven tips for new runners on how to start racing!

  1. Build your base. Many training plans, whether for a 5K or a marathon, assume that you have a base of anywhere from 10-20 miles per week. If possible, start running at an easy pace a few times a week several months before you start training for your race. You can use the run-walk method and run for time if that is easier than running a specific distance. This will allow your body to get used to running before you start adding on mileage and possibly adding in speed work. You lower your risk of injury by building a base. This isn’t just a concept for new runners: competitive recreational racers and elite runners will work on building up easy mileage in the time between a race and the next training cycle.
  2. Get a good pair of running shoes. The difference a pair of shoes can make! As you train for a race you will spend more and more time running each week. The right pair of shoes keeps your feet comfortable on a run and aids in the prevention of injury. Runner’s World has an extensive shoe guide on their website. Your local running store is a great place to find a good pair of shoes; many stores even let you test out shoes for a few runs and return them if they don’t work.
  3. Pick a plan that’s right for you. What works for your best friend may not work for you! Consider what your goals are, how many weeks you want to train, how many days a week you want to run, and what fitness level your are currently at. A good plan is one that you can stick to throughout the whole training cycle.
  4. Focus on finishing. If you are new to racing, don’t get caught up in time goals. Focus on getting across the finishing line and enjoying the experience. You will have plenty of opportunities in the future to race for a specific time goal. Not pushing for a time goal will also allow you to listen to your body and keeping your effort right during the race. No matter what time you finish in, you still will celebrate finishing – that in itself is a huge accomplishment.
  5. Start with the 5K and work your way up. It is tempting to start with a big race like a half or full marathon, especially if a lot of your friends are running that distance. If you are a new runner, though, you want to start with shorter races. Each race is a challenge in its own way, so don’t think of the 5K as something only beginners do.  (Read this article from elite runner Lauren Fleshman on why the 5K is awesome). However, starting at the 5K or even 10K will allow you to safely work your way up to the longer distances that are harder on your body. Training for a 5K or 10K will allow you to experience a training cycle without the fatigue and race without needing a long recovery period afterwards. After you have done a 5K or preferably a 10K, then you can start training for a half marathon; and after the half marathon, then you can set your sights to the marathon if you want!
  6. Don’t compare yourself to others. There is always going to be someone faster than you, so don’t judge yourself by how others run. Running is a sport in which you compete against yourself. Run your best race, not a race against the other runners.
  7. Do something other than run. Cross-training offers remarkable benefits for runners, so incorporate some sort of cross-training into your training. Cross-training includes several low-impact activities and helps strengthen the body while also giving you a bit of a break from pounding the pavement. Do yoga to keep your muscles feeling limber, Pilates to build core strength, strength train to keep your muscles strong, or swim to build additional endurance. Your body and your mind will thank you!

Runners, what worked for you when you first started racing?

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