Best Steps for Getting Ready to Run a Road Race

Plan for your water needs, build your mileage slowly

girl running on concrete

You might think that getting ready to run a road race means getting in the best physical shape necessary to finish the course. But there’s a lot more to running a race: You have to plan.

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Hydration and increasing your running miles slowly during training can play key roles in your performance on race day, says sports health expert Laura Goldberg, MD.

Make a plan for water

Water is important to the body at all times, but it’s especially important in warm weather because it keeps your body from overheating. Practice hydrating yourself before, during and after long runs so that you’ll be prepared on race day, Dr. Goldberg says.

When you exercise, your muscles generate heat. Your body needs to get rid of that heat to maintain a normal temperature. The main way the body discards heat in warm weather is through sweat. As sweat evaporates, it cools the tissues beneath. Lots of sweating reduces the body’s water level, and this loss of fluid affects normal bodily functions.

Thirst is a good indication of dehydration for beginner runners or those who run at a slower pace. If this is you, start drinking water when you start feeling thirsty.

For more experienced or faster runners, the best way to avoid dehydration is to drink enough fluid to minimize the loss of body weight during the race. The goal is to  avoid over-drinking water and weight gain. To correctly calculate how much hydration you need, weigh yourself before and after an hour-long run during training. The difference in weight is roughly your hourly sweat rate. That is the amount you should try to drink for every hour of your race.

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In addition, you should pay close attention to the weather in the weeks leading up to the race. Have several clothing options available so that you are comfortable on long runs. Also, take time to think about what you will eat on race day and the days leading up to it.

Building your mileage

The key to finishing any road race without hurting yourself is proper training, Dr. Goldberg says.

“One person’s 5K may be another person’s marathon, so it’s really a matter of increasing your training and making sure you have enough of a base,” Dr. Goldberg says. “Make sure that you’ve built up your miles so you can handle what you’re training for.”

It is critical that you schedule enough time to properly prepare for your race, Dr. Goldberg says. First, you have to establish your base mileage, which is the average number of miles you log every week, then add 10 percent each week until your mileage aligns with the road race’s length, Dr. Goldberg says. You can expect to take at least two to three months to build your base mileage.

“The rule of thumb is that you should not build your mileage more than 10 percent a week,” she says. ”So depending on your base mileage and the length of the race, getting up to 26 miles is going to take a lot longer than getting up to 13 miles or six miles.”

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For many runners, making the decision to train for a race can feel like a big step. You will need commitment and determination to get through the training, Dr. Goldberg says.

At the same time, you’ll be joining the growing numbers of people who are participating in road races. A recent study found that participation in the 100 largest road races in the United States grew 77 percent during the past 14 years.

“Training for a distance race is a great way to get fit,” Dr. Goldberg says. “The amount of running required to train for the race, no matter how fast your time in actually running the race, will leave you aerobically fit, toned and full of motivation for your next challenge. So if getting fitter is an important target for you, this is a great way to do it.”

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