In the past couple of years, I’ve picked up running as a hobby and made it somewhat my way of life. I have run 13 races that were 5k distance, 2 half marathons, a 10k and a 12k. Every race had a different feel to it. Getting out there and having experience has taught me more than any magazine article or website ever could. You could ask a thousand runners for tips and get a thousand different answers. Why is that? Is it because we secretly have no idea what we’re doing? Sort of. There are things that are absolutely true and things that are going to be true for one person and not another. Also, I’m no expert. A few things that I’ve learned about running and training are at least good to know and may be beneficial to some.
When I started out, my husband would tell me to pump my arms harder on hills to help ease the effort. This happens to help, but I’ve learned another one on my own. To avoid improper form and hurting yourself by running on your toes, which seems natural, anticipate your foot landing like you’re running on stairs. That is, strike the center of your foot with each step. Your feet and your calves will thank you. Your hips and booty might not. This can be different for some people, but it might help to try it out. Running down a hill also can go to personal preference. I don’t hold back and let it take me instead of trying to lean back. I’ve seen people very successfully “march” their run downhill. I find my speed demon approach to be more fun and believe running should be fun.
Try out your race day ritual weeks ahead of your race. Want to do a protein shake for breakfast on race day? Great. Try it out before a few of your long runs if you’re doing a distance or your fast runs if you’re doing a speed race. Will you be having some gels, jelly beans, or chewy things on race day? Bring them with you on your practice runs. Figure out what works for you. I like my gels, but I don’t like the dessert flavored ones as much when I’m hot. I stick with fruit flavors in the heat. I also prefer to warm them up in my hand before I take them. I know that because I’ve done it time and again in practice runs to make sure I know how to do it on race day. I do the same pre-run rituals for each long run as I plan on race day. I eat the same thing and drink water the same amount of time from my start as I plan to from the race start. I do the same food, drink, warm ups, and clothes layering a couple of times. The outfit I wear to run down to the bra, headband, and the hydration belt I wear have been worn in a training run or two by the time race day arrives. This is an important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of training.
Race day and you’re standing at the start anxious about what is about to happen. Warm up, silly. You warmed up for training runs. Give those shoulders a few rolls and don’t forget to wiggle those ankles around. Take deep breaths while you still can. Remember your race day plan. Were you planning on a specific pace or finish time? Is there an option to join a pace group?
Not every race has gone as planned. Last year, my goal was to finish a 5k in less than 30 minutes. In October, I ran a race that I was convinced would be the one. It was flat and I knew the course like the back of my hand. It was also after I’d done my first half marathon, so I thought a 5k would be a piece of cake. The first mile and a half was quick and difficult. Then, the wheels fell off and I had to pull back and walk/run the remainder of the race. I didn’t beat my time. I decided my whole season goal this year would be to get a sub 30 minute 5k. The first 5k of the year was near the end of training for a half marathon. The day was rainy and warmer than it had been. I didn’t expect much of a race, but I still planned to run as hard as I could go with my bestie beside me and at least try to go for the goal. I beat my goal by a minute. We crossed the finish line at the 29 minute mark.So despite the rain and having run 11 miles a few days before and a practice 10k the day before, I actually ran a faster time than ever before. I was soaked and happy. I’m determined to beat that time if even by a few seconds sometime this year.
My next race is one mile. I figure a little speed work in my regular workouts will cover me and I can actually see what its like to just run like hell for 1 mile and see how fast I end up going. Then, I have a 5k Superhero Dash where I’ll be wearing a Captain America tank and obnoxious red, white, and blue running capris. The outfit serves dual purpose for another race on July 4th. The Dash is for a charity in St. Louis called Unlimited Play. They build playgrounds that are all-inclusive so disabled children can enjoy playtime, too. I enjoy the cause and the theme and it is a bit of a tradition now. It was my first 5k race in 2014. Last year, I learned that taking off the entire winter and not training well will lead to a miserable first race. I still had fun, but the run involved more walking than I care to admit and being passed by an older man wearing JEANS who came in ahead of me. What was worse was that I hadn’t done my best and it showed in my performance.
I can’t imagine organizing these events. I have a wardrobe that consists of many race t-shirts. I enjoy getting the shirts. Wearing one the day after often makes for a conversation topic and allows me to brag a little if I want. I think it’s fun to tell people I run and do races. I find out about races from social media, when I see that a friend has signed up, or that the running club my husband and I are part of is sponsoring one. I also do the goal races from the Fleet Feet Training Programs. I’ve noticed some races I’ve signed up for use a site called EventBrite to organize their events. If you’re an organizer you can check out their ticketing page to setup your next race. Recently, the full marathon I signed up for used that site. I will sign up for fun experiences that I’ve done before or something brand new. I also sign up for specific charities that I believe in.
It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, I was working on my first 5k race after trying running off and on for over a year before that. I trained for a half marathon over 12 weeks last summer. This summer into the fall, I’m going to spend 16 weeks training to run my first full marathon. In the time between, I’ll be running another half marathon and a few 5k races. I get to watch a group of people I’m mentoring with run their first 5k. I’ll hopefully beat my own best in both 5k and 13.1 miles. Then, I’m hoping I make it 26.2 miles without much incident in the marathon. Each run and each race is an adventure. I don’t enjoy every moment of it. I’m not always smiling when I’m done. However, I am proud of each run and each race. I push myself to better and to work harder. I learn strength, patience, and so much more.
Do you have tips for fellow runners that you’ve learned from experience? Do you set goals for yourself?