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So you want to race....


Friday, November 30, 2012

Whether you want to race a short race or a longer race, the results of your endeavour will all come down to your training and race preparation. How you train and how much you train will differ depending on the distance. A 5k requires a different type of training than a half marathon as does a 10k or a full marathon. Whether your goal is simply to finish, or to hit a specific time goal, you have to train properly. For the 5k, it's pretty simple - if you just want to finish, run several times a week for 3 or 4 miles and you should be fine. If you want to set a time goal then you will want to add intervals.

What got me to writing this particular blog entry, however, has nothing to do with 5k's or 10k's. It has to do specifically with half marathons, which alot of runners aspire to but seem ill prepared for. I have raced many half marathons and completed 3 this year alone, setting a PR in each of those races. The REASON I am writing this is because some runners seem to believe that the HM is simply an extension of the shorter races and that they can continue with lower mileage and have a successful race. It isn't important what your goal for the HM is, but that perception will leave you with a bad race and possibly injured.

If you want to run your first HM and your goal is simply to "finish the race", that is fine, but some runners believe they can run 10 miles per week and then show up on race day and be good. They can't. They may finish the race, but then again the odds are that they will be far slower than they anticipated and will be on the course much longer than anticipated or they simply won't finish at all.

AT A MINIMUM, training for a HM should include a base mileage of 25 miles per week with a long run that equals the distance of the race - and that is absolutely bare bones training - no speed work, no tempos, just mileage. And that is if your goal is simply to say you finished. But shouldn't the runner want to finish feeling strong - with a feeling that not only did he or she accomplish the goal of racing the HM but also that they actually defeated the race. After all, racing is all about racing against ourselves and our own expectations. If I go into a race (as I did in September) with the goal of finishing with a 6:45 pace and I then finish with a 6:56 pace, then I'll be disappointed, despite the fact that I set a PR - I didn't reach my goal. In that case, it was a matter of not eating properly before the race (I believe). I'll find out in February.

If you want to race the HM and want to feel GREAT at the end, then you need to do more than the bare minimum. Base mileage should be in the mid 30's or higher - more is better but only to a point, depending on how good a shape you are in. I took the period between training for two HM's to increase my base mileage which is now around 50 miles per week. I WILL hit the 6:45 mark in my next race and part of my strategy for doing so involves higher mileage.

If you want to set a specific time goal for your HM then you are looking at an entirely different type of training. Besides increasing your base, you will also need to work in tempo runs and intervals or fartleks to work on your fast twitch fibers. You will want to EXCEED race distance by at least a couple of miles on each of your long runs and because of the additional strain on your body from added miles, as well as more difficult workouts, you will want to work in a "light" week, where you run fewer miles and don't do tempos/intervals so that the muscles can heal while you do easy runs at whatever pace your legs feel comfortable at. There are many good plans out there for the HM but they all require solid base mileage - the most important key next to proper nutrition for a successful race - no matter what the distance. I'll keep up the high mileage, the long tempos and the intervals for 10k's and 5k's as well but I'll structure them differently for the distance I am racing.

So, this is why I wrote this blog post. I want YOU to have a successful HM and I want to stress that the best chance you have for that to happen is by having solid base mileage that is high enough for the race you are intending to race. Please don't go into a half marathon with a 10 or 12 mile per week base and the intention of simply finishing, expecting that you will feel good coming out the other end. You may well be able to, but the odds are against you.

Good luck and keep running!
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