You’ve registered for the race. Now comes the crucially important next step. Figuring out your training. Beginner runners and experienced racers alike, all must undertake some type of training in order to have a successful race day. The methods you use to prepare can vary greatly from those of others, but no one is crossing that finish line feeling good, without first putting in the work. And the work begins well before race day.
Whatever the distance of your race, you absolutely must begin your training many weeks prior to. In general, the greater the race distance, the greater the amount of time needed to prepare your body for tackling that race. Similarly, the greater the goal, whether it be running for a specific time, a PR or BQ, the greater the need for extended preparation.
Physical preparation, unlike your college English paper assignment, is not something you can cram for. There’s no Cliff’s Notes for half or marathon training. You can’t cut corners or rush the process. Simply put your body takes time to adapt. These changes happen on a cellular level. It is physiological.
Physiological changes, which are kick started through the process of adapting to an exercise stimulus, are not something that happen instantly. We are not like Popeye with a can of spinach. Doing push-ups one morning will not make my biceps any bigger that evening. They won’t grow any bigger by the next morning either. What will grow my biceps is working consistently over time. That means doing push-ups not just once, but twice per week for at least 3-4 weeks. Those weeks cumulatively result in a larger bicep. That’s change we can readily see.
So what about running fitness? This might not always be evident on the outside, but running consistently three times per week for at least 3-4 weeks does several things. It builds your aerobic engine, it increases your running economy, and it increases your endurance. What does that mean exactly? It means through consistent training over time your heart actually enlarges and your lungs become better at diverting oxygen to your working muscles via red blood cells. It means your body becomes more efficient, learning how to best store, use and burn the energy needed to keep going. It means your muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments become conditioned to the demands and strain.
When you undertake training properly, the body you start with on day 1 week 1, is not the one that shows up on race day. You will be transformed on the inside, if not also on the outside. That’s why training is so important and that’s also why advance planning and lead time are the best way to ensure success.
So don’t just sign up and leave the rest to chance. Count your weeks and make a plan. Or find a coach who can help you. Because change and success are possible. If you train for it.
General Training Guidelines
<5k, and 5k through 10k: 6 to 8 weeks
Half marathon: 12 to 16 weeks
Marathon to Ultra: 20 to 24 weeks
Factors that significantly influence/alter this timeline:
If you’re brand new to running and racing
If you’re brand new to that specific race distance
If you’ve recently suffered an injury
If you’ve been on an extended hiatus from running or exercise
If you have many races in close succession