Hitting the Ground Running: 7 Training Best Practices for Your First Race
Updated: Nov 14
Preparing for your first 5K, 10K, half marathon or other competitive race requires dedication, commitment and smart training. As a certified personal trainer in Long Beach, I've created customized plans to get clients race ready for over 20 years. By preparing properly and working smarter we can transform what can otherwise be an arduous process into a love of the 'journey.'
Follow these 7 best practices to make sure your first time at the starting line is a success:
1. Build a Base: Increase Weekly Mileage Over 12-16 Weeks
The first step is developing an endurance base. Slowly build up your weekly mileage over 12-16 weeks leading up to race day. Increase your long run by 1-2 miles each week. Aim to peak at 20-25 miles for a half marathon or 30-40 miles for a full marathon. Going too far, too fast raises injury risk. Take rest days as needed.
Incorporate one long run, one tempo/speed workout, one hill repeat workout and several easy runs each week. Spread these out so you're not doing hard efforts back-to-back. Include cross-training like swimming or cycling on some easy days.
2. Add Speed Work: Tempo Runs, Intervals and Fartleks
Once your base fitness improves, add in one tempo run, interval session or fartlek workout per week. Fartlek, which translates to “speed play” in Swedish, is similar to interval training. Tempo runs are 20-40 minutes at your goal race pace. Intervals are shorter repeats (400m to 1 mile) with recovery jogging in between. Fartleks mix surges of speed with easy running.
These sessions build speed, efficiency and mental toughness. They teach your body to race. Do them on flat courses or tracks. Start with 2-3 miles at tempo pace or 6-8 intervals and increase duration over time. Don't do speed work more than once or twice a week to prevent overtraining or injury.
3. Practice Race Pace: Confidence from Familiarity
A key workout is running 3-5 miles at your exact goal race pace 2-3 times in the month before your race. This familiarizes your body with the physiological demands of that pace. It builds mental confidence knowing you can sustain it. Start by running 1-2 miles at race pace in the middle of an easy run and progress to longer durations.
4. Course Knowledge: Train on the Actual Route
If possible, train on the race course to experience the terrain and mimic race day. Learn the placement of water stations and landmarks. Analyze the elevations - where are the hills? Visualize how you'll break up the course into manageable mental chunks. This reduces surprises on race day.
5. Proper Gear & Race Simulation: Test Everything in Training
Don't wear or use anything new on race day! Thoroughly test shoes, apparel, fuel belts, GPS watches, supplements (like gels) during your training runs first. Their performance on long runs now prevents problems later.
Do some training runs setting everything up just like it will be on race day. Eat the same pre-run breakfast. Pack the same gear and fluids. This mental rehearsal helps make race day feel familiar.
6. Recover Properly: Stay Injury-Free
Proper rest and recovery on your off days is crucial to stay injury-free and absorb the training. Schedule at least 1-2 rest days per week depending on your training load. On these days, focus on active recovery techniques like easy walking, gentle yoga, foam rolling, sports massage, contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold water immersion), and icing sore muscles. Refuel with nutrient-dense whole foods. Early nights of quality sleep are key - aim for 8-10 hours. Don't underestimate how important off days are for both your body and mind to bounce back stronger.
7. Taper Two Weeks Out: Reduce Volume to Increase Fitness
Begin tapering your training about 2 weeks pre-race. Cut your weekly mileage by 25-40% while keeping intensity the same. This rest allows your body to fully absorb the training and super compensate. You'll feel energized race week.
Get plenty of sleep, hydrate well, and avoid hard training during the taper. Stick to your same nourishing diet. Lightly stretch and do shakeouts (1-2 easy miles) to stay loose. Trust in your fitness - the hard work is done!
Need assistance designing a personalized race training plan? Are you looking for Long Beach personal training or a Long Beach personal trainer?
Contact me for a free personal training session here: https://www.longbeachtrainer.com/contact
Workouts & Fitness Tips @justinrothpt