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7 Tips to Prepare for Long-Distance Races

runners in marathon

U.S. Army photo / Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy

In this Article:

  • Start small and build your endurance.
  • Rest in between runs to give your muscles time to recover.
  • Wear the right gear.

So you’ve signed up for a 15K, half-marathon, or maybe even a full marathon, but now what?  Prepping for long-distance races doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are seven tips to get you ready to run.

1. Start small

Start with shorter distances and work your way up to your goal distance. Register for shorter races like 5Ks and 10Ks to stay motivated, keep track of your progress, and set a race pace.

2. Build up your endurance

One of the most common causes of injury is increasing weekly mileage too much, too soon. Build your weekly mileage over time, running three to five times per week. Do a long run every seven to 10 days so your body can adjust gradually to long distances. Practice intervals and tempo runs to increase your cardio capacity.

3. Mimic the course

Most races will provide an elevation chart so you can see how hilly the course will be. Run on hills or flat ground, similar to the course you plan to race. That way you’ll be using the same muscles as the ones you will use on race day. If you live in a flat area and are preparing for a hilly race, you can train on a treadmill and alter the incline throughout your run. If you don’t have access to a treadmill, run on stairways or find a hill in your neighborhood and do hill sprints. Try to run at the same time of day as the start of your race to get used to it.

4. Run, rest, recover, repeat

Rest in between runs to give your muscles a chance to recover and allow your body to adapt. Do dynamic stretches before and static stretches after each run to reduce your risk of injury. Snack on fruits to boost your immune system and relax by doing something you enjoy so you can relieve stress. Maintain a regular sleep schedule of seven to eight hours each night and optimize your sleep space to get better quality sleep.

5. Wear appropriate gear

It’s important to have the right shoes for running. Train in the shoes and socks you will be wearing when you race so you don’t develop blisters or get sore feet on race day. Experts recommend not running in cotton T-shirts, which can trap heat in; choose a high-performance polyester or nylon instead. Practice in your race outfit a couple of times to make sure it doesn’t irritate you.

6. Fuel right

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drinking water is critical for performance and recovery. Calculate how much you should be drinking with this hydration calculator. If you don’t run with fluids, place bottles of the sports drink or energy gels along your training route. Eat a balanced dinner that includes carbohydrates and lean protein the night before the race and avoid any alcohol. The morning of the race, eat something that’ll be easy to digest like a bagel or toast with a banana, or a sports bar.

7. Perfect your race week routine

Go with what you know – stick to your usual meals, shoes, and running gear. Making a major change in the days leading up to the race can knock you off your game. You may also want to consider tapering your running routine the week of the race. Depending on the length of your race, experts recommend cutting back your mileage by up to 60 percent the week of the race.

Bonus tips: Work on your running form and stop shin splints before they happen. On race day, give yourself time to use the bathroom and warm up before getting to the starting line.

Good luck! On your mark, get set, go!

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