Running season is here, and many of us have our sights set on race goals to help us meet our fitness objectives. Whether you’re a beginner planning to train for your first 5K or an avid runner with a goal of challenging yourself in an obstacle race, the right training strategy, footwear, and mindset can make your experience a positive one.

Depending on your goals, whether they be physique or event oriented, there are different training styles you should adhere to in order to be as successful as possible. We’re going to take a look at four of the most common racing types and exactly how you’ll need to prepare yourself physically and mentally so both your body and mind are up for the challenge.

5 to 10K

This distance range is perfect for those who are working toward their first running race and also for the seasoned short-distance runner trying to attain their personal best. Some great advantages of these distances are that they can be less taxing on the joints, provide a great cardio complement to regular gym workouts, and do not require as much time to train for. If your end goal involves a race, the weekly time requirement is manageable enough for most people’s hectic schedules. The exercise benefits of training for a 5 or 10K are numerous, from stress and weight management to improving running pace and aerobic conditioning. Training for shorter distances can also be quite transferable to many sports that require good cardiovascular conditioning and endurance.

Your Action Plan

Training for your first 10K can be done in as little as eight to 10 weeks, and a 5K in just a little over half the time. At the beginner level, try dedicating three days per week to your conditioning with the first couple of weeks involving a walk/run program as you progress your distance. Getting into the halfway point of your program, you should be doing much more running than walking.

Many running programs, regardless of the distance of your goal race, are effective with a regimen of three to four days per week focusing on recovery, tempo, speed, and distance. Here is an example of a 10K program based on a modest three days per week — just be sure to cross train by incorporating other types of activity into your schedule in addition to these runs.

Weeks 1–4: Build joint tolerance and base-level conditioning

• Start by alternating a four- to eight-minute jog with a one-minute walk for 20 to 30 minutes.

• By the end of week four, you should be able to sustain a 10 minute jog with a one-minute walk for four rounds (a total of 43 minutes).

Weeks 5–10: Distance, speed, and pacing (no more walking)

• Once per week, perform distance training, wherein you maintain a steady pace for about five to six kilometres (for a 5K). For a 10K, increase by 15 per cent each week until you reach 10 kilometres.

• Do Fartlek training (a.k.a. tempo training) once per week to help build your race pace. Alternate between two to five minutes of sprinting and two of recovery.

• Do sprint training another day each week. For example, six to 10 hill sprints with recovery in between.

Marathon and Ultra Marathon

For those who love to get lost in their stride, 42K races (marathons) and beyond (ultras) are great to achieve that exhilarating feeling of enduring a distance that many can only travel by car. Races of these distances can be the perfect “destination” races, providing you with even more of a reason to travel the world while you stay fit. For many, these races tend to be bucket list events for runners that mark milestone fitness experiences. Additionally, for the avid distance runner, taking part in the same race annually offers a way to always track your improvement on a predictable course with the goal of trying to attain your personal best.

Your Action Plan

A typical marathon training program to prepare for 42 kilometres of continual running will take you through a cycle that lasts anywhere between 16 and 20 weeks. The duration really depends on your mileage, experience, age, adaptation to running, and, of course, life demands. Keep in mind the time allocation to training and recovery is much greater in marathons and ultras than it is for 5Ks and 10Ks. The idea with a 16- to 20-week program is to progressively build up your distance and running economy while enhancing your run pace and leaving enough time to taper off before the big event, if you choose to do one. A typical marathon training program will have you running three days per week minimum, with the recommendation of cross training on other days (strength training, yoga, biking, swimming, etc.). Keep the same format of including at least one day dedicated to building distance and two others where you work on tempo (pacing) and speed intervals. Beginner to intermediate runners should build up to around 80 kilometres per week over the course of the four months leading up to a race. For a first-time marathon goal, you should be able to run about eight to ten kilometres before starting a 16-week training program, as typically your first long run is about that length. This is approximately how you should structure your four-month training period leading up to your race, especially if you are new to these distances.

Weeks 1–4: Establishing base conditioning

• Complete one long run per week and try to avoid increasing your weekly mileage more than 10 per cent week to week.

Weeks 5–10: Running economy and pacing

• Cadence is critical to maximise running economy and to lower stress on the joints and feet. Aim for around 90 steps per minute. (That’s 180 steps per minute if counting both feet.)

Weeks 10–16: Taper and recovery

• Make a point of decreasing mileage by 15 per cent three weeks prior to your race; for example, if you are running 80 kilometres per week, drop your mileage by around twelve kilometres.

• Reduce your long-run distance by 50 per cent two weeks prior to your marathon.

Interval Running

Not only is this a key component in any competitive running program, but interval training is also a great way to build power, speed, and burn a ton of calories for the beginner and advanced runner alike. Interval running can come in the form of track workouts, flat interval street runs, or hill repeats. Much of this depends on what you’re training for and what you have access to. If you are training on hills, you will be elevating the demand on your body and you will benefit from additional strength gains in the back of your legs and glutes due to the muscular requirement of going upward.

Your Action Plan

Choose a hill in your neighbourhood with a grade of approximately six to eight per cent (you can get a feel for what that is by trying it on the treadmill and setting that same grade). Beginners should keep to five or fewer repetitions of hill sprints at a submaximal pace for about 20 seconds each. The length of the hill really depends on what your race goals are and your current level of fitness. This can be incorporated one to two times per week with at least two days of rest between sessions.

 As you become comfortable with your technique and sets, begin increasing your intervals by two each session per week until you attain around 10 to 12 reps each interval-training day.

Trail/Obstacle Racing

One of the largest-growing areas in event racing is the realm of obstacle courses. These races are generally geared to those who are not new to running, although you don’t have to be a seasoned runner to experience an obstacle race. Your level of experience and running ability will dictate the length of obstacle race you train to compete in. One of the great draws for these types of events is the “fun factor” and competitive nature that doesn’t rely solely on your running ability. Events like the Tough Mudder allow for a team experience, while others like the Spartan Race are usually completed as individuals. The commonality in these races is that you are surrounded by hundreds of others for a unique competition that is truly multi-faceted. Due to the nature of obstacle races, the training regimen tends to be quite broad, as you prepare your body (and mind) to adapt to numerous conditions that are somewhat unpredictable.

 With trail running and obstacle racing, the terrain can range from grassy hills and rocky routes to forest trails, river crossings, and muddy paths. The demand this terrain places on your joint stabilisers, leg muscles, balance, and mental focus is far greater than in pavement running. It is important to incorporate single-legged movements in your training routine as well as exercises that have a demand for balance during quick and agile movement.

Your Action Plan

Your training plan should incorporate distance running, interval running, and full-body strength training that is completed in a circuit approach with minimal rest. Aim for a routine of five to six days per week with two to three strength circuits, one hill interval day (trail is best), and one to two longer runs of 10-plus kilometres (again, try it on the trail) to build your distance based on the total length of the race you choose to do.

 Strength circuits should be based on full-body functional movements involving both the upper and lower body with minimal rest between exercises. To increase your intensity and track your progression, keep track of what weight you used and the time taken to complete your circuits. These strength days will not only help with building muscular strength and endurance, but will also increase your anaerobic capacity, which will come in handy on race day.

Sample Obstacle Race Strength Circuit

Complete each of the following exercises and its reps with good form in the most time-efficient manner possible (i.e. quickly but correctly). Move to the next exercise immediately. Once you complete the final exercise, take two minutes to rest before going back for a second round. Keep track of your time and challenge yourself to beat it. If you want to advance further and for longer races, try adding a third round of this sequence.

• 30 box jumps or jump squats

• 25 kettlebell swings

• 20 chest-to-ground burpees

• 15 reverse lunges (holding weight overhead with straight arms)

• 10 pull-ups

• 5 suicide sprints

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