Training For A Race

Shannon Running


By Shannon Flanagan

It’s finally starting to look like spring, and that means if you took it light during the winter with your workouts, it’s time to turn it up a notch.  Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself motivated to start back up again. Signing up for a 5k, 10k, or half marathon race is the perfect way to jumpstart your fitness goals.  Knowing you are working for a goal, whether it is a 5k or completing a marathon, helps keep the motivation you need to maintain your fitness balance. The 5K, a 3.1-mile race, holds the No. 1 spot in popularity, the half-marathon, 13.1 miles, follows closely behind Other options include a 10K — a 6.2-mile race – and of course there is the ever-challenging 26.2-mile marathon.  The first thing to do when trying to decide what kind of run you want to take on is to look online and check out all the different races or events in your area that you would be interested in and commit.  After you commit to your race, now is the time to schedule out your workouts and your training routine. Below are some basic guidelines to follow when choosing and committing to a run:

For the casual runner looking to enter his first running race, the 5K is a natural choice.  Local 5K’s are everywhere.  Many 5K events are also charity events raising money or awareness for a good cause, and it only takes approximately 4-5 weeks to train if you’re already a runner. You should be able to run two miles comfortably before beginning a six-week training program, according to  If you are not, slow it down and follow an eight-week training program.  A six-week 5K training program alternates rest or cross-training days with running days, with 3.5 miles as the longest run before entering the race. Training to 0.4 miles longer than the actual 5K will give you the extra endurance to comfortably cross the finish line. When training, run at a pace at which you can comfortably carry on a conversation.  If you are looking to compete for time, you must add sprint training to your routine.

If running just over three miles seems a little too easy, double the length and enter a 10K. This training process takes approximately 6-8 weeks, and you should be able to comfortably run at least 2.5 miles before beginning. A typical plan requires 4-5 days of running, averaging between 17 and 22.5 miles per week, and two days of rest or cross-training. As the races get longer, so do the training runs — for a 10K, the longest run of the training period is 6.5 miles, slightly longer than the actual race. Schedule these runs on the day you have most time to spend training, such as Sunday, and go at a slow, easy pace. Training is a bit more intense during a 10K, so make sure you eat some fruit or Quest bar an hour before your run.

More and more people are signing up for half-marathons every year.  A half marathon is a challenging yet doable 13.1-mile foot race. The leap from six miles to 13 miles requires a shift in diet, as well as additional time training. Half-marathon training takes approximately 15-17 weeks, or just over four months, to complete successfully and injury-free. Before beginning the program, you should be able to comfortable run at least three miles. Like the plans for smaller races, it alternates running days with rest days and includes three days of running, one day of walking and three days of rest. The longest run, 14 miles, comes two weeks before the actual race. After that, begin cutting back on mileage, only running for 30 minutes at a time the week of the race. You will be required to train a lot more, so your body needs extra calories to maintain endurance. Focus on eating quality, whole-grain, complex carbohydrates and protein at every meal. After each long run, replenish with a 300- to 400-calorie snack. Additionally, begin experimenting with sports gels and drinks during your long runs to see which, if any, will sustain your energy the best on race day.  I prefer just drinking Gatorade or Ultima (a naturally sweetened electrolyte replenisher).  Never add anything new to your routine on race day.

For the ultimate challenge, train for the 26.2-mile marathon. This can take anywhere from 18 to 30 weeks to complete, depending on your fitness level when beginning.   Many running coaches say the key to successfully training for a marathon is continually building up the mileage of your long runs, which start at six miles and balloon to 20-21 miles approximately two weeks before the marathon. Although the weekly long runs continue to increase, a solid training program allows for rest and offers a “step-back” week every three weeks that reduces mileage to increase strength for the next increase in mileage. When training for the marathon, taking walking breaks is not only acceptable but encouraged.   It allows your body to rest slightly before getting too exhausted and causing an injury.   Another effective training strategy is to train and run the marathon with a group. Running a marathon is a difficult activity, and having a group of runners to motivate and hold you accountable can make finishing much easier.

Good luck on your run!  Any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected]