In the world of distance running, whether you are a beginner or elite runner, it is still intimidating at times to get out there and be prepared for the duration of the run. As a few people messaged and asked me recently about the runs themselves and how to be prepared, I felt compelled to share a few things since I still consider myself a distance runner work in progress.
- Never compare yourself to any other runners. Running is a physical sport, but I have learned over the past two years and 4 half marathons that I have completed to date, that distance running is more about mental than physical after a certain point. When I got back into running almost two years ago, I began slowly and just for me but when I got back into the racing aspect (mind you it was small 5k races) I was quickly compelled to feel competitive about my time and finishes instead of concentrating on the quality of my run. For me, racing for time is my number one nemesis and something that I feel is counter productive to my quality runs.
- Always be prepared for anything. On race day, weather is your biggest competition, whether the rain, cold or extreme heat. As a runner you need to be prepared for anything. Make sure you look at the weather the week leading up to the race (don’t obsess about it) especially for those races you will be traveling to from your hometown. Make sure that you have extra hydration, warm clothing for cold weather, rain gear if the forecast calls for storms and the race goes on, wicking gear for those extra hot race days and most of all bring some wipes or toilet paper. You never know when you may have to make a pit stop on race day.
- Stick with what you know. When we train for races, or at least when I train for races, I try to simulate race day for my long-run days. I especially make sure to do this the two long runs before race day. I wear the hydration gear that I will use, I eat the fuel that I will use during the race and a lot of the time I will even wear the planned outfit for the race to make sure it withstands the run without irritation or malfunction which could be a race day killer. Recently, before my race in Atlanta, I deviated from this self-imposed rule and opted not to bring my two extra hydration bottles on my belt that I specifically bought for training and the race. The result, I ran out of my own carry water on mile 10 with 3.1 to go. I had to stop at every bottle necked hydration station for the next 3 miles when I could have continued to concentrate on my form and staying in my run mentally without feeling defeated.
- Train for the terrain. The biggest thing I have learned is figure out what you feel your biggest weakness is and concentrate on that in the weeks leading up to race day. For me, that weakness used to be the hilly races, though Atlanta proved to be no joke, I pushed through 10 miles of uphill and was very proud of my performance even though I had to walk at mile 11. But these days, for me, the flat runs seems to be so mutinous. I loathe them actually and detest the thought of a race that I am signed up for that has minimal hills to challenge me. But in the runner world, it seems, hills help you mentally. For what comes up must go down and you have an extreme challenge and a downhill reward. Sometimes those hills go on and on for a while, but eventually they will come to a decline. With long flat routes, you have time to get bored and start thinking more which leads to I want to quit thoughts. So for those and just the mental training for anything, I say train for the terrain! I plan to start focusing on the long flat routes soon so that I can get my mindset right for those races that call for a quick and flat course.
- Figure out why you run. A lot of people run for different reason and causes. I run for many reasons and causes myself. I run to overcome the fact that I have what could turn into a debilitating disease that attacks my immune system, but I also run for a beautiful little girl who struggles with many issues, doesn’t speak and is on the Autism Spectrum. I run to be healthier and happier and I run for the runner cliché that though we pay a lot of money for our gear and race entries, it’s darn sure cheaper than therapy! It takes some runners a long time to figure this out and along their journey of running they may find themselves staying on the Novice track or pushing to train and become an Elite. Whatever your reason, make sure that you figure out your path for you and never compare yourself to another runner. It is ok to have a mentor or a runner idol, but be you and run with heart.
Are you just starting out on your running journey or are you a seasoned distance runner? What do you find helps you through distance running/racing that you feel is important for those seeking advice? I’d love to hear your thoughts too!