Long story short
Back in 2007 I had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in the Relay Marathon Vienna, sent by the company where I used to work. It was my FIRST race and longest run EVER! Funny enough, I finished 16 km as a 1st leg in 01:42:31. Not proud of the time, but hey, still a Finisher! :)
Did I have a training plan, you ask??? Hell no! The only thing I had back then was the determination and ambition to get to the 2nd leg for the hand-off, especially given that I had to prove them all wrong (with a few exceptions, most of the guys were betting on my failure!). How could I let that happen?! :) NEVER!
To tell you the truth, I took up running a month before the race, a month in which I trained 3 times a week with the rest of the team. It may have been crazy, however, I still remember that my longest run before the race was 10k. The race itself was very challenging, but the landscape and supporters cheering us made up for all the pain I had to put up with.
And this is how it all started … my LOVE for running!
8 years later
After 8 years of running regularly for fun – no training plans whatsoever – I realized that if I wanted to keep the LOVE fresh and alive, I had to start racing.
But being ‘mature’ enough – I even followed a course about nutrition and fitness at the Romanian Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness back in 2011 in Bucharest (where I used to live for nearly 10 years), I realized that this time I need a ‘smart’ plan.
Unlike many beginners – they first sign up for a race which is a great motivator to keep them going – I did it my way – started training and picked up a race only when I’d feel confident.
Regardless of the side of the battle you are in, you need to start training and visualizing your first race. You should think about the race once in a while on your long runs, especially if you are worried about being nervous.
6 months before the race
So I created myself a training schedule and I did my best to stick to it. Here is a sneak peek at what my weekly plan would look like:
Monday, Day 1 – I’d sometimes go for a short run, maintaining a comfortable pace (for instance, 7km at 6’00″ average pace), or on a bike (45 mins). Or you can go to your favorite class at the gym, or simply run on the treadmill. The possibilities are endless, really.
Tuesday, Day 2 – I’d go to the Body-Pump class at the gym (one of the few that I like) and try with every month to push through pain and overcome my limits by adding more weights (better ask the teacher when and how to do it).
Wednesday, Day 3 – I’d go for a long run (as we’re all different, you get to decide the distance; for instance, it could be 8km, 10km or 13km), at a very comfortable pace so that I could hold a conversation (I don’t mind talking to myself now and then). If that’s still too much for you – still huffing and puffing – then slow down (obviously, you’re running too fast!) and STOP worrying about the speed. Usually, speed comes with tons of practice and intervals, so just focus on finishing the distance you have in mind. I’d recommend you walk a few minutes after every run. That way, you’re more likely to feel comfortable with your run.
Thursday, Day 4 – Recovery day! Some people say that you shouldn’t exercise at all on your rest day, some others recommend you do at least a non-impact activity like stretching at home, yoga, swimming, walking. I for one prefer to take my bike out and enjoy the surroundings.
Friday, Day 5 – Body-Pump class again. Incorporate cross-training into your routine, it can help boost your endurance (I promise you that!). Now, what I DON’T do is to lift weights the day before a long run. I prefer to keep all the strength I need for a long and hardcore run.
Saturday, Day 6 – The first month of the training is about getting into the right routine and getting used to following a plan. So, you could either go out for a fun run with others or do your favorite thing, even if that means long walks, cycling (yes, again, why not?!), or football (I used to love playing football in high school).
Sunday, Day 7 – I’d go for another long run – over 10 km but a bit faster than on Monday. Though 6 months later a long run would mean 18km in 1h30mins.
A few tips before the race
You should definitely make plans for the BIG day, especially if it’s your first one like:
#1 Make sure you have the right gear
Invest in good running shoes PLEASE! A good pair of running shoes will also make you feel lighter as you run, and a reason for this is because of how well they adapt to the shape of your feet. These days, many running specialty stores provide in-store tests which show you what type of running shoes best fit you.
Also, take the season into consideration. For instance, if your race is going to be next Spring, start training from now but make sure you are going to wear the right equipment.
#2 Find out more details about your race
Let’s say that your race is a bit hilly, then you should try to run sometimes on hills, just so you get used to it.
#3 Stay hydrated
I know that when going out for a 10km run, most of us don’t need water, however, my recommendation to you is that you should start drinking water during training runs. That way you’ll be able to drink while running on your race day.
#4 Pay attention to what you eat
Now is the time for experiments (NOT on the race day!). So if I were you, I’d at least try using different foods during the training to make sure which one you like (for the race day) and how much you need to eat. I usually consume carbohydrates (I love pasta, rice, quinoa), proteins especially from the legumes like chickpeas, lentils, beans, and dairy products (I also eat chicken, fish, beef but not every day) and LOTS of veggies and fruits. All of them (even grapes). In case you missed the other half of the story, here it is – How to Fuel Your First Half-Marathon
#5 Rest before the race
This one is very important as your muscles build strength as you rest. So don’t be afraid to take 2 days off from your training before the race.
After the race
One of you guys asked me the other day on Google+ how I got my 18km training run from 2h down to 1h30mins. Honestly, I only recently started doing intervals.
What does that mean, you ask? So I’d break – let’s say my long run – into thirds. On the first third, I’d try to run at slower than my goal race pace. When I reach the second third of my run, I’d run a bit faster. In the final third, I usually make sure that I run as fast as I can (faster than my race goal). I learned that these interval runs teach my body how to divide its reserves.
Some other times, I’d combine my runs with workouts like stairs (lots of them), pushups, tricep dips, inclined pushups. Whatever you do, if you also want to make progress but still keep it fun too, then variety is key.
It’s not luck, it’s not that my body is different or stronger than others. It’s confidence. Many hours spent out running, strength-training and something that all runners have in common – LOVE for running!
The best goal for your first race should be to just finish with a BIG smile on your face. If you don’t set a time goal as I did (remember that I wanted to finish my first half-marathon in 1h45mins), you’re very likely to NOT ruin your ‘glorious moment’. Because, let’s face it, it is!
If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask.