Tips to Train for a Road Race

By Michael Lasalandra
BIDMC Correspondent
The popularity of road races has soared in the United States. The number of organized races, including 5K, 10K, half marathons and marathons, has doubled in just a few years to more than 8,000.
With that in mind, you may be thinking of joining the ranks of race participants.
But how does one prepare to run a road race?
The most important first steps may be mental, according to Dr. Joseph DeAngelis, orthopaedic surgeon and Director of Sports Medicine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and a marathoner who will be running Boston this year.
“You have to be organized,” he says. “No matter if you are running a 5K or a marathon, you must know what race you are going to run and why you are running in it.”
For example, you may want to run a race simply for the satisfaction of doing it and being able to finish.
“Being a marathon finisher may make you happy and proud and that is valuable,” he says.
Others will run to honor someone who has passed away or to raise money for a favorite charity.
Either way, “understand your motivation.”
Otherwise, it will be difficult to invest the time, energy and resources necessary to compete in a race, particularly a marathon, which takes about four months of training involving more than 200 hours, he says.
The second step is to determine up front how you define success, according to DeAngelis.
“Is it simply finishing? Is it finishing in a certain time?” he says. “Once you know what success is for you, then you can devise a plan and stick to it.”
Of course, training for a 5K or 10K race is going to be different than training for a marathon or even a half marathon. Each one has its own recommended training regimen.
In general, though, it is important not to run every day, DeAngelis stresses.
“It’s just the opposite,” he says. “My rule of thumb is to run no more than four days a week.
For one thing, it is difficult for the body to endure the impact of that much pavement pounding, he says. “If you feel you have to work out every day, find other things like swimming, rowing, or yoga.”
If you are planning to run a marathon, you will not ever want to practice by running the full 26.2 miles. “Never complete more than 20 or 22 miles and do that just once,” DeAngelis says.
Build up the distance slowly over time, which should be between 16 and 20 weeks, he says.
If you are going to run a shorter race, such as a 5K, you probably won’t want to do the entire distance at once for a while.
“Shorter distance races are easier to train for, but if you have never run 3.1 miles (5K), it is going to be a big deal. There are programs designed to help people who are not runners to begin their running careers,” he says. “You start by walking around the block. A competitive runner won’t have any trouble, but if you’ve never run one mile, 3.1 miles is going to take some work.”
So devise a plan — there are plenty of places to find specific workout programs for each type of race — and stick to it.
At the same time, DeAngelis recommends eating a healthy diet. While he doesn’t offer specifics, he suggests more natural foods, ones that contain fewer ingredients.
“Just because you are burning calories does not give you a license to eat junk,” he says.
As far as stretching is concerned, DeAngelis says it is a myth that stretching can help prevent injuries. “Just because you stretch doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt,” he says.
However, stretching and massage can improve tissue health, he says. “Healthy tissue means a healthier you,” he adds.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.