This is it: the first year you’re going to compete in a marathon, half-marathon, or 10k. Or maybe, to you, the term “big race” refers to anything longer than your usual half-mile around the park. Or maybe you’re a seasoned pro, and this is the year you’ll run your best time yet. Whatever your goals for this upcoming athletic season, there’s no doubt that you can accomplish them—provided you start early, train right, and take good care of your body.
Your number one priority while training? Stay healthy. It’s hard enough for runners to stay well-hydrated and uninjured during their day-to-day runs; long-distance training presents even more of a challenge. Here are 7 tips that will help you stay healthy, energized, and eager all the way to the finish line.
Before you do anything else, make sure you’ve given yourself adequate time to prepare. If you’re training for a marathon, conventional wisdom states that you should start running at least a year prior—this is not a race to attempt if you’re just starting out. If you’ve never run a big race before, consider running a few short ones first to get a feel for the sport.
Build your training slowly.
The number one cause of most athletic injuries can be summarized in four words: too much, too soon. It’s important to build your training slowly, easing up your mileage by no more than 10% a week. The number of weeks you’ll be training depends on the type of race you’re running. For a marathon, you should be training for 10-20 weeks, eventually building up your mileage up to about 20 miles a run. (No need to worry about the other 6 miles: most runners rely on adrenaline to push them through the final stretch on race day.)
Slow your roll.
This might go without saying, but you should be running at a relaxed, even pace. If you couldn’t carry on a casual conversation, you’re going too fast. Remember, one of your goals while training is to teach your body to slowly burn fat into fuel over a long period of time. Nice and easy does the trick, especially in your first few weeks.
Schedule recovery days
As tempting as it is to run every day, it’s important to take a rest every so often. Studies have shown that runners who train for 3-4 days a week perform just as well as those who train every single day, with much less risk for injuries and burnout. One case that studied runners in the Furman First marathon program found that 70% of runners were able to improve their times on just 3 runs a week. Taking a rest day or two won’t damage your performance in the long run—it’ll just give your body more time to heal.
Eat your carbs
Carbs are well-known for being great fuel for long, hard workouts, so make sure you’re getting them in. It’s not necessary to take in the sugar and starches of a big plate of spaghetti; fruits and vegetables are carbs, too, and many sports drinks offer a carbohydrate-packed alternative to a heavy meal. Eat your carbs as quickly as possible after long workouts, in order to replenish the depleted glycogen in your leg muscles.
Prep the week beforehand
The week before the race, start to significantly taper off your mileage so that your body will be rested and ready for race day. Don’t forget hydration: drink a big glass of water every morning and night so your vascular system will be good to go. If you’re planning to wear a hydration belt or backpack, you should already be accustomed to it by race day. The same goes for whatever you’re planning to eat–whether protein bars, energy chews, or energy gels. Don’t try anything new that you haven’t already done during your training.
Hit the ground running
On the day of the race, arrive to the course early, take a selfie, and celebrate the fact that all your hard work has finally paid off! Regardless of whether you finish first or last, you successfully trained for a big race—and that’s not something everyone can do.
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