1. Build up your kilometres
I would usually advise a client to start preparing for an endurance race at least three months in advance, but the reality is that many of us will sign up for an event and then put off training until the last minute. No matter how soon you start training, my biggest tip would be to build up your kilometres gradually, particularly if you're planning on running anything more than a half marathon for the first time.
If you go ahead and run 20 or 30km in your first training sessions when your body is not used to it you may be more susceptible to injury, and you don't want to injure yourself before the run! For a beginner, aim for 5km on your distance running days when you first start training and build yourself up from there each week. For example, the first week you might run 5km, the second week 7km, the third week 9km and so on.
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2. Mix up your training
This point is going to help you if the course throws you a curve ball on the day. If you do all your training on a flat concrete surface, you are not only putting more impact on your joints, but you're only really training for one type of scenario.
I like to mix up my training between running on the road, sand and grass as it will help prepare your body for all these conditions. Also, try to incorporate hill sprints into your training week as well. As awful as hill sprints are, if you get a hill in the last few kilometres of your race, at least you've already practised on them, so it won't be too much of a shock.
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3. Know your course
Do some investigating and try to find out what hurdles you may come across on the day. Are there stairs, hills, sand or water? Having an idea of the terrain can be a huge help on the day, particularly if you are reaching breaking point.
Also, ask other runners who have participated in the race for their advice and also find out if the event is set on a date where it commonly rains. If it's often raining on race day and you are aware of it, you can mentally prepare yourself in advance rather than pull out!
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4. Don't forget about the weights room!
If you're planning on running a half marathon or marathon, then you may want to consider spending some time in the weights room. It's important to develop full body strength, particularly focusing on specific movements that will develop major muscle groups relevant to running.
Some good exercises to consider include box jumps, step ups, squats, lunges, and sled push and pulls. You can also use some isolating movements including lateral band exercises.
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5. Prepare your kit in advance
If you're planning on buying a new pair of shoes, shorts or compression clothing for running day, make sure you try them out and wear them in well before the day of the race. If you're running an endurance race for the first time, and you start to get blisters or chafing 2km in, you're going to set yourself up for a very uncomfortable time!
Also, make sure that you choose clothes and shoes that suit your needs. Just because a new fashionable running shoe is on the market, doesn't mean it's suitable for your feet. Go and get yourself professionally fitted for the correct pair of running shoes that suit your needs. Running a marathon? You may also need supplements and bladders to carry your water and electrolyte formula. Do your research in advance because you're going to want to practise running around with a bag on your back prior to race day.
Nutrition is so important for someone running an endurance race. If you don't have your nutrition sorted, you may get dehydrated mid-race, undergo fluctuations in your energy levels, and in some cases, suffer from cramps or stitches.
I've been in training for the past three months for the 250km Big Red Run in the Simpson Desert, and my priority has been to make sure I'm consuming the right types of food, including protein, wholegrain carbohydrates, fats and vegetables.
You want to make sure that you maintain constant energy levels throughout the run, so the type of food you consume both on the day and in the lead up to the event are very important. If you want to experiment with different foods and supplements, do it a few weeks ahead of the event as the last thing that you want to do is change your diet and supplements the day before, only to find that it's affected you badly.
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If you're planning on running 10km then this may not be a huge concern for you, however if you are looking to run a half marathon or more, then supplements may be helpful for you both on the day and during training. If you're training hard for the event, you need to make sure that you're recovering efficiently. Essentially, whatever you take from your body, you need to repay, so ensure that your wholefoods are in check and then consider what supplements you may need.
I use a variety of protein powders depending on what I'm training for. I like to use Refuel & Rebuild because it also contains BCAA's and Tart Cherry however on the days that I am running extreme distances, I would usually need a High Carb formula as I need extra energy to recover. Ultra Muscleze magnesium formula is brilliant for recovery and Ubiquinol is great for promoting energy, particularly because your Ubiquinol levels naturally deplete during exercise.
On the day of the race, if you're running a marathon you may consider carrying gels for a quick energy hit. I also always carry two bladders, one for water and one which has IsoWhey Sports Electrolyte Formula and magnesium to help me rehydrate as quickly as possible. This is especially important given the 250km Big Red Run is in the desert!
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8. Enlist a friend
If you're a first time runner, then getting a friend involved can be a great way to motivate yourself. You can set training dates, go pre-race shopping together and get excited about the run together. I have some friends who realised that all of their catchups were based around wine! They decided to start training for the Sydney Running Festival so they can catch up while doing something good for their health. This was great because they both have desk jobs, so they're often sedentary. Now training has become a social activity.
9. Stick to your own pace
As much as you want to speed up to run with the leaders of the pack, this could be what ruins you. Sprinting ahead in the early stages of an endurance race can burn your energy too fast, so I suggest becoming familiar with your own pace prior to race day.
There are a few ways of doing this; for starters you can listen to the music you trained to and try to keep in time with the beat. Secondly, you can use one of the many running apps that measure your pace and tell you how far you've run. If you know that you average 1km every 5.30min, and your app is telling you that you are at 1km every 4:50min in the first 2km of your marathon, then you may want to consider slowing down until later in the race.
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10. Choose your music wisely
Part of the fun of doing an endurance race is choosing new music to listen to during the journey. I really enjoy this part of my running preparation, however, there have been times when I have chosen songs that I think are lively, but didn't realise that they have a two minute soft intro before the song gets to the action. Trust me, this is really annoying! Always test your music out in advance so this doesn't happen to you.
I compete in these types of events all the time and I've been testing different recovery methods for a few years now and I love compression sportswear! I often wear my Skins leggings or bike pants while I'm running to boost circulation, but they're also great to wear following training to help facilitate the recovery process. You will see a lot of athletes wearing compression gear during their warm ups to get their blood flowing and muscles warmed up quickly. too.
It's important to minimise muscular and skeletal imbalances prior to doing an endurance event. For example, if your hamstrings are weak so your quads have to do most of the work, it can lead to injury, you may get stiff hip flexors, and everything will generally become quite uncomfortable after a few kilometres!
Use a foam roller (if you can) to help roll out any tightness in your muscles, and if you're seriously training, consider seeing a sports physio or massage therapist a few days before the event. Note: getting a massage the day before an event is not advisable. It can lead to a lot of pain.
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13. Set a goal
Goal setting and rewards is always a great way to help you stick to the plan. If your goal is to simply finish the race, perhaps you can set a reward for yourself such as getting a new pair of running shoes or a massage. Your rewards don't need to be materialistic, but it usually works for me!
Andrew 'Pap' Papadopoulos is an elite endurance athlete, the owner/operator of Battle Fit Australia, the IsoWhey Sports Ambassador and he a star of Search4Hurt Season 2. Andrew's passion to fight his limits has led him to compete in physically grueling challenges including; The North Face 100km run, GeoQuest 48hr adventure race and the True Grit 24hr Obstacle Race.