How to Prepare for Your First Race
Let me start by saying that this post does contain a sponsored link but, all views are as always my own. While I’m being honest I must also confess that while I generally try to use my own photos, I look terrible when I run, or go near a pair of shorts, so most of the photos in this post are from stock sites.
I know a lot of you are doing a couch to 5k at the moment and I think it’s brilliant. I absolutely loved the program and I’m so glad I did it. However, I know a lot of people struggle once they’ve completed it. You can easily lose purpose with no formal plan in place and nothing to aim for. To combat this I signed up for a 10k race which forced me to keep on progressing. When that race was over I completely stopped.
We’re entering race season now. Between April and October, there are loads of 5k, 10k and half marathons you can sign up for. I’m considering a 10k race for life in July so you can all get ready to sponsor me! I really do recommend just signing yourself up even if you don’t feel ready. Having a firm target is fantastic motivation and on race day the atmosphere is so good that you’ll have a great day even if you end up walking most of it.
With this in mind, I wanted to share with you some of my tips on preparing for your first race both physically and emotionally. I think for many having the confidence to do it is as difficult as the physical preparations.
Build Up Slowly
Don’t try and jump from 5k to 10k in a few weeks. Take it slowly. I think the recommendation (of someone who can run?!) is to only add 10% to your distance every week while you are training. So, if you are running 3 days a week, from 5k, add an extra 0.5 the next week and so on. You want to keep pushing yourself, but not too hard that you risk injury or burnout.
I’m currently working on adding hills to my training, which are great for building up strength and stamina. If you enjoyed the intervals of the c25k program, keep going by adding some sprint intervals to your runs. Basically, you need to push yourself to progress but also to stop yourself getting bored.
One of the best ways to become a better runner is to improve your all-over strength. Cross training doesn’t need to be weights or anything specific, you can do whatever you enjoy. I love Pilates and swimming. I find both improve my core strength, posture and stamina.
Get Some Rest
It’s important not to push yourself so hard. Your muscles need time to recover. I personally aim for either three runs and one Pilates a week, or two and two. Sometimes I follow an easier run with some light yoga but I never do more than four days exercise a week.
In the week running up to a race, I’d do even less. By that point there isn’t much you can do to improve your condition, so focus on making sure you are well rested and going in without any aches and pains. When we did our 10k I ran a 10k maybe 2-3 weeks before just to make sure it wouldn’t kill me. Then the week before the race I stuck to one 5k and some light Pilates with nothing in the two days before.
Run with Friends
If you are nervous about running do it in a group. If you are anything like me you’ll be terrified before but then once you’ve started the fear will vanish and it just feels like a training run. Beforehand I’d told Jo she had to stay with me. When we started, I was actually more than happy for her to run ahead and leave me on my own. I felt less pressure to keep up and just enjoyed going at my own pace.
Dress the Part
Have fun in the preparation. If you are running in a group having t-shirts printed is a great idea. This adds some fun, makes you feel more like a team and makes it easier to spot each other on the day. Me and Jo attempted to make our own. It was not overly successful and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it for a large group. I highly recommend a bulk t-shirt printing service like the one at printsome to make sure you get a professional job without the stress.
Set a Goal
It doesn’t have to be a big goal. You’re probably not going to win your first race. But, at times you’ll feel exhausted and it’s a great idea to have a target to keep you going. Mine was not to walk. I didn’t care about my time too much but I wanted to know that I hadn’t walked at all. Don’t get me wrong there were times when I could have probably walked faster, but I ran the whole way.
On the Day
Make sure you eat, but a healthy sensible breakfast and don’t drink too much in the hour before or you’ll need a wee half way round! Most races I find are early in the day which means you don’t get the chance to get nervous.
When it comes to the final preparation make sure you warm up. I’m terrible at warming up. Having done the c25k I think a warm up is a 5minute walk. If you are running any further than a 5k or trying to push yourself to hit a goal I’d do some simple stretches too. Other people will be doing some so don’t worry about looking silly!
Whether you are running to raise money, to push yourself or just to see what you can do, the most important thing is to enjoy it. When it’s over try to keep walking for a little or do some stretches to cool down. Then spend the rest of the day relaxing. You will feel like you’ve been severely beaten then next day so let yourself have a few days off to recover.