Rookie Runner’s Guide to Prepping for Your First Race

Prepping for a long distance run can seem daunting to even an experienced runner. So if you’ve just committed to doing a 5K, 10K, half marathon or any kind of run that challenges you, race preparation can seem exhausting before you even start.

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But don’t give up just yet! Like most things, once you’re equipped with knowledge and a running program that works for you, you’ll be well on your way to completing your first race. Consider me your virtual running coach for the next few months. I’ll focus on training for a half marathon, since prepping for that can be applied to shorter races as well. We’re going to break down our program into three main blocks (Phase 1, 2 and 3). This week, we’ll tackle Phase 1 — how to step up your workouts and learn to eat like a runner.
Increase Your Aerobic Capacity
During Phase 1, your approach will be more general and focus on building an aerobic base, as well as beginning your strength and conditioning program.

Typically you train for a half marathon for about 6 months and you break down your training into smaller training periods using a method called ‘periodization.’ In each phase, you’ll focus on specific goals with your training becoming progressively more race- specific. Throughout your training you’ll manipulate your workouts to increase your aerobic capacity, your lactic threshold and your running economy. There are three main factors to take into consideration when training in this way: frequency (how often), duration (how long) and intensity (how hard). And these factors will change in relation to each other to meet the goals of each training phase.

Remember that a long distance run is an aerobic sport and that building a solid aerobic base will be the foundation for any successful race. During phase 1 your frequency of workouts will be lower, averaging on 3-5 per week. The duration of your workouts will be longer and the intensity will be less. As a general rule, your workout intensity (speed) and duration will have an inverse relationship. We will measure by time rather than by distance and during the build phase we’ll focus on gradually increasing the duration of your runs. If you’re completely new to running, it’s perfectly acceptable to begin by running and finish up by walking. Start with two 25-minute runs and one 35-minute run and gradually increase the time of each by about 10 percent each week (e.g. up your 25-minute runs to 27-28 minutes and your 35-minute runs to 38-39 minutes).

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Start a Strength & Conditioning Program
During Phase 1, your resistance workouts will focus primarily on strength and endurance. During the first 4 weeks, your conditioning workouts will consist of full body workouts that focus on muscular endurance, strength and correcting any muscle imbalances. Focus on higher repetitions with lower weights, (2-3 sets with 15-20 repetitions). During the last 4 weeks of Phase 1, transition to using heavier weights and fewer repetitions (3-4 sets of 5-8 repetitions). The focus of these workouts is on conditioning prime mover muscles, such as your quadriceps while also strengthening antagonist muscles, such as your adductors. This will help prevent future injuries. You’ll also emphasize core strength and full body integration, choosing complex multi-joint exercises over single joint exercises.

You’ll spend three weeks building and take the third week for rest and active recovery such as long walks and yoga. After a week of recovery you’ll continue with your program for another 3 weeks of work and 1 week recovery to finish out Phase 1.
Change Your Eating Habits
Nutrition will play a key role in your performance, and can be confusing when beginning a new training program. You’re likely to feel hungrier as your body expends more energy. While you may need to consume more calories to support your workouts, it’s important to consume the right amount of calories and not over estimate how many calories you actually need.  Nutrient timing will also play a vital role. Consider eating complex carbohydrates such as grains, breads or vegetables hours before a run and saving simple carbohydrates like a banana or an orange for after your run to aid in recovery.

Focus on eating leaner proteins to avoid excess fat while maintaining lean muscle tissue. A diet high in vitamins and minerals will also be important to keep your bones and connective tissues strong and healthy. A diet rich in green leafy vegetables is a great way to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients.

Most importantly, listen to your body, be patient with yourself and enjoy your new fitness journey. Getting started is the hardest part!  For the first two weeks committing yourself to getting out and moving is the best thing you can do. Set a schedule for yourself and take measures to hold yourself accountable. Consider running with a partner or joining a running club to stay on track. Feel good, challenge yourself and take pleasure in each day’s improvements.

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In the next article, Coach Jen will cover Phase 2 where you’ll continue to build endurance while adding in high intensity to improve speed, lactic threshold and recovery. She’ll provide a proper strength and conditioning program, which will focus on injury prevention and recovery sport specific movements. She’ll also highlight certain nutritional considerations.

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Jennifer Lutz is a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. She’s a regular contributor to, writing fitness-related posts geared toward helping women live healthier, happier lives. She trains private clients around New York City and at Equinox Fitness and has recently returned to school to get her doctorate in physical therapy from Columbia University. Follow her on Twitter at @JLutzFitness.