Ready to chase down your dream of running a race and cross it off your bucket wish list? Let’s start with picking the right race for you. There are many race options including different race distance and race types. It is important to pick the race that best matches your fitness potential so you can have fun but still challenge yourself with an achievable goal.
The most common race distances are 5k (3.1 miles), 5 miles, 10k (6.2 miles), half-marathon (13.1 miles), and full marathon (26.2 miles). There are a bunch of different race distances but these are the most common. The longer the race distance the more training time you will need to prepare and the longer your recovery time will be able before you are ready for your next race. It is less complicated to prepare for a 5K race compared to a full marathon. If you want to tackle a marathon you ideally should be able to run 3 miles and your total weekly miles should be at least 10 miles and have at least a year of running experience. Many people who were not at those fitness levels have successfully completed a marathon. The odds of getting injured and not finishing the marathon goes up the less prepared you body. Even if you are lucky enough to finish the marathon using a rushed training plan, you will probably be in so much pain for the week after the marathon you won’t be able to enjoy your accomplishment. If you feel lucky you can try a six month “couch to marathon” plan, just know you are crazy.
Depending on your fitness level and how hard you race the distance will determine how soon you can target another race. If you take it very easy and use a casual running pace during the race you can do another race much faster. If you give it your best possible effort and completely exhaust your body, you are most likely going to need more time to recover. This is why most people only do one or maybe two marathons a year. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but if you aren’t smart and blindly chase after races while disregarding your body telling you to recover more and race less you will likely get rewarded with an injury which isn’t fun . Be smart and choose wisely.
5K – Short & Fast (3.1 up to 5 mile races)
Don’t be fooled with 5Ks. Just because they are a shorter distance does not make them easier. These races are more about keeping up a fast pace while suffering the painful burn as your muscles hit their lactose acid threshold. Many people training for a marathon will add a few 5K races into their training schedule to break up the monotony of long training runs and encourage themselves by seeing their 5K race time improve as their fitness increases. If you racing a 5K it is best if you build in a rest day after your race. Continuously running hard each day can deplete your glycogen reserves in your body and make you slower.
10Ks & Half Marathons – Enjoyable (6.2 up to 13.1 Mile Races)
These races are enjoyable running challenges. They will pressure you and test your fitness without the painful lactose overload of 5Ks or the crazy endurance needed for full marathons. It is so popular that most marathons have added a half marathon option and Nike has switched their full marathon race series to this more popular distance range. It is possible to do a half marathon every weekend, we call that full marathon training. To train for a full marathon you will be doing at least 13 miles every week for at least two months. If you are racing a half marathon and giving it maximum effort you should be careful to space out your races. Limit yourself to one hard effort race about every 3-6 weeks. We don’t want to burn ourselves out.
Full Marathons – Discover Yourself (26.2 Mile challenge)
First let’s clarify something – to be called a marathon, the race course needs to be 26.2 miles long and that is a very long distance. Giving your best effort for 26.2 miles is crazy. Remember how I said half marathons are enjoyable? You might enjoy certain parts of a marathon but it is definitely not enjoyable. It is a crucible that will put you through many different feelings and emotions. Marathons are more of a mental challenge than a physical one. If you are mentally tough enough to power through to the finish line you will be rewarded knowing that for the rest of your life you can call yourself a marathon finisher!
You should only do one or two marathons a year for maximum results. If you don’t care about your finish time you can do more marathons each year. Marathons and the many months of training take a big toll on your body and you should respect that physical toll.
Even races that are the same distance on the same terrain can be very different depending on the specific course route. Just think about running a marathon on the roads through the flat cornfields of Iowa during the winter compared to running a marathon up and down the hilly & crowded streets of San Francisco during the summer. Those are very different races. Think about what you would like before choosing a race so you can find the best match for your dream race experience.You will want to be smart and pick the right race type for you. There are actually many different types of races. The most common is road races. These are running races that take place on the road (which have hopefully been closed off to oncoming cars J or paved running paths. There are also trail races. These are races that follow unpaved paths. Trail races are often on dirt, grass, or gravel. Trail races tend to be easier on the feet because dirt is softer than pavement but and this is important to remember – trail races can be much more challenging because they are rarely smooth and unobstructed. You will have to dodge some roots, rocks, slippery leaves and other obstacles that mother nature left behind for you plus the trails can be narrow making passing other racers harder. Even though the trail races tend to be easier on your feet you will more likely be able to have a faster finish on the road races because you won’t be worried about tripping over a tree root. There are now also obstacle races like mud runs, warrior challenges and color runs. These runs tend to be less about racing and more a group outing. Often you will come upon bottlenecks where you will end up standing around for a few minutes till it is your turn to pass through the obstacle or experience and continue on your way.
When picking a race, be honest with yourself. Consider what is your current physical fitness level. Are you currently running or working out? Do you have an active job or a sedentary desk job? How much time each week can you train? How many weeks do you have to prepare for your race? Does your body often become sick or injured? Talking with an experienced coach can help you pick the right race to target for now and possibly wait to do your dream race. Sometimes it is smarter to first target a shorter race and use that as a stepping stone to your dream race. Your dream race should be a great experience for you so let’s make sure you are prepared for it in the best possible way so you can truly savor your dream race.