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How Do I Train for a Running Race?

Everything you need to know to train for your next event.  Be that training for a 5k, 10k or marathon, trail run, or ultra-marathon races.

Are you eager to conquer your first running race or looking to improve your performance in an upcoming race? Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned runner, preparation is the key to your success. Welcome to the ultimate guide on "Training for a Running Race."

Designed to help you cross that finish line with flying colours. As a running coach, I'm here to provide you with the knowledge and insights you need to achieve your running goals. In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover a wide array of topics to equip you with everything you need to prepare for your race and training plan. Each section will offer valuable information and tips, and you can dive deeper into each topic by clicking on the provided links.

Goal Setting for Running Races

Setting effective goals for races and training is crucial to achieving success. When establishing goals for a running race, it's important to understand the three interconnected types of goals: outcome goals (e.g., achieving a specific race time), performance goals (e.g., improving running capabilities), and process goals (e.g., committing to regular training activities).

Focusing solely on outcome goals can be compared to embarking on a journey without a map, often leading to unmet objectives. Emphasizing "Process not outcome" aligns with the practices of top athletes and has been supported by scientific studies, with a 2022 review highlighting that process goals yield significant performance improvements. To reach your running goals, it's recommended to prioritise process goals and build a plan for excellence as a continuous journey.

Setting clear and achievable goals is the cornerstone of any successful training program. In this section, we'll discuss the importance of goal setting, how to establish realistic objectives, and strategies to stay motivated throughout your training journey. Discover the art of Goal Setting for Runners.

Planning Your Training Year

This piece dives into planning your racing year after a period of disruptions in schedules. It talks about figuring out why you love racing and which races matter most to you. The idea is to plan your training around these races so that it's fun and aligns with what you're aiming for.

It suggests splitting races into three categories: A, B, and C. A races are your big deals, where you put most of your training focus. B races are like practice runs for your A races, where you test out stuff like pacing or new gear. C races are more like part of your training or just for fun.

When it comes to planning, it's all about starting from your main A race and working backward. You want to focus on the specific things you need for that race closer to the date, like if it's a hilly trail race, practice those hills and technical bits nearer the event. And work on your weaknesses earlier in your training blocks.

The advice at the end is to start planning and training ASAP. Don’t wait for some future date to kick things off. The earlier you start, the better and more fun your race day will be, no matter when it's scheduled.  "Start planning your training year now!"

You've Signed Up for a Race, What's Next?

If you've signed up for a running race and are unsure about where to start, here are key steps to consider. First, congratulate yourself for committing, and now is the ideal time to begin planning. Set a clear goal, whether it's achieving a specific race time or enjoying the journey.

Develop a tailored training program that focuses on overload stimulus, recovery, specificity, individualization, variety, and active involvement. Mental preparation is also crucial. Don't forget to gather mandatory equipment early to avoid last-minute rushes, and ensure it's tested. Choose your race-day gear wisely and plan for race-week logistics.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with the unique terminology of running. Enjoy the journey and make your run a fun and successful experience.

Now, it's time to delve into the practical details. We'll guide you through what to do immediately after registration, including race preparation and the mental aspects of the journey. Explore what comes "Next After Registering for a Race."

How do I know if I am running too fast/slow for my event and why do we run slow? 

This piece explores the concept of running at slower paces to ultimately run faster in events. It addresses the common question of how to run faster by advocating for slowing down during training sessions.

The rationale behind running slow lies in building endurance effectively without the added risk of injury or excessive stress. Studies have shown that focusing on running volume and slower, more relaxed paces contributes significantly to performance improvements. Faster runners often spend the majority of their training time at a relaxed pace, emphasizing the importance of relative intensity in training.

Running at an easy pace triggers various bodily adaptations that enhance performance. This includes the creation of more mitochondria, which produce energy for muscles, and an increase in capillary density, aiding in better oxygen delivery to muscles. Additionally, running at an easy pace helps the body become more efficient in utilizing fat as a fuel source.

Determining the appropriate slow pace involves using a scale of perceived exertion (RPE), where a rating between 4-6 on a scale of 1-10 indicates an easy or normal pace. This pace allows for comfortable conversation during runs. The article suggests that the majority of training should occur at this easy pace, especially for longer trail races.

Key takeaways include understanding that a slower pace is relative to individual capabilities, not comparing one's pace to others, and ensuring that most training sessions are comfortably easy to reap the benefits of slower, relaxed running.  "Slow down to speed up!"

Different Training Plans (Off the Shelf or Coached)

After the elation of crossing the finish line and completing my first ultra-marathon had disappeared, I started to reflect. Having followed an off-the-shelf, fixed plan from an online article, I thought I had done a lot of targeted training and felt disappointed with the outcome – I expected to be a lot faster. My wife, waiting in the cold, for hours at checkpoints will vouch I wasn’t as fast as I thought I would be! I knew I could run faster, but I had made mistakes in both my training and race execution. The challenge, I didn’t know what to do to improve.  Did I need a running coach or different training plan?

Selecting the right training plan is crucial for your success. We'll discuss the pros and cons of off-the-shelf training plans versus personalised coaching. Discover which approach is best suited to your needs in "Choosing Your Training Plan."

Different Phases of Training

Running training consists of various phases, each serving a specific purpose. Understanding these phases will help you tailor your workouts effectively. Learn about "The Phases of Running Training."

  1. Base Phase: This phase initiates your training, gradually increasing running volume, intensity, and skill development. It also focuses on mental preparation to ensure a positive training experience.

  2. Support Phase: Building on the general fitness from the Base Phase, the Support Phase introduces event-specific training, enhances endurance, and begins equipment and nutrition testing. Mental coping skills are further honed during this phase.

  3. Race Specific Phase: In this phase, the training becomes tailored to the unique demands of your specific event or race. You refine your equipment, nutrition strategies, and specific skills for high-volume training weeks leading up to race day.

  4. Taper Phase: The Taper Phase's goal is to peak your performance for race day. After reaching peak fitness during the Race Specific Phase, this phase emphasizes rest and mental readiness to ensure you're fully prepared for the race.

These phases are designed to progressively prepare you for success in your running event.

Different Types of Running Training Sessions

Variety is the spice of running. Explore distinct types of training sessions, from long runs to speed workouts and hill repeats. Discover how each session contributes to your overall performance improvement in "Types of Running Training Sessions."

  1. Easy Runs: These sessions emphasize low perceived exertion, aiming to build volume and distance while allowing easy conversation and comfortable breathing.

  2. Long Runs: The cornerstone of ultra training, these runs vary in duration (2 to 6 hours) and simulate race conditions. They provide an opportunity to test gear and nutrition while maintaining a low perceived exertion.

  3. Intervals or Speed Work: Alternating between fast running and recovery periods, these sessions increase interval duration as training progresses. They focus on high-intensity effort to build speed and pacing skills.

  4. Hills: Training on hilly terrain is vital for trail, mountain, or ultra races. Hill repeats develop the strength needed for climbing and descending, incorporating both running and hiking.

  5. Tempo Runs: Tempo sessions are for practicing your desired race pace, enhancing strength, endurance, and running economy. Breathing is labored but manageable during these runs.

  6. Race-Specific Sessions: These sessions are tailored to mimic the terrain and conditions you'll face on race day. They may include stairs, hills, fast finishes, and depleted runs to prepare for specific challenges.

Warm Up

Warming up is often overlooked but is essential to prevent injuries and enhance your performance. We'll provide you with a detailed guide on how to warm up properly in "The Art of Warming Up."

A structured warm-up routine can be remembered through the "RAMP" approach, ensuring an effective preparation for physical activity. The warm-up consists of four key components:

  1. Raise (Low-Intensity Activities): Begin with an easy run lasting 10-15 minutes.

  2. Activate (Muscle Activation): Engage key muscle groups and enhance range of motion with exercises like core stability, crab walk with a band, monster walk with a band, and walking lunges.

  3. Mobilise (Joint Mobility): Focus on warming up key joints and ranges of motion through dynamic movements, including leg swings forward, leg swings back, lateral shuffles, high knee raises, and heel-to-butt kicks.

  4. Potentiate (Enhanced Performance): Prepare the body for improved subsequent performance, setting the stage for a more effective workout or activity.

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Understanding and using RPE is an excellent tool to monitor your effort during runs. We'll explain how to apply RPE to your training and racing, helping you run smarter, not harder. Dive into "Understanding Rating of Perceived Exertion."

How Do I Know If I'm Improving as a Runner

Measuring your progress is essential for tracking your improvement. We'll discuss various metrics and methods to evaluate your performance and set new goals in "Tracking Your Progress as a Runner."

Monitoring and improving running performance doesn't require expensive equipment. Critical Power or Speed (CP/CS) is a crucial metric that helps individuals assess their running abilities and tailor training programs effectively. CP/CS represents the dividing line between sustainable and unsustainable running efforts, with blood lactate stability below CP/CS and increasing fatigue above it.

Measuring CP/CS involves conducting short and long running tests and recording the data. Running power meters like Stryd or distance covered are used to calculate CP/CS. This information can be used to individualize training by determining power or pace zones based on CP/CS.

The goal is to progressively improve CP/CS through individualized training and apply it to races, resulting in faster and longer runs. This approach, while rooted in science, can be simplified for practical use, making it accessible to all runners. As a coach, I provide the guidance on implementing these principles in training.

Training in the Heat

Running in hot conditions requires special attention. Discover strategies for running and training in the heat, ensuring you stay safe and perform at your best in "Mastering Running in the Heat."

This article discusses the impact of heat on running training sessions, specifically focusing on data from two hill repeat sessions with varying weather conditions. Workout 1 was conducted in 25°C temperature, while Workout 2 was done in 35°C heat. The analysis used a metric called dFRC (Dynamic Functional Reserve Capacity), representing the energy expended during the session.

Practically, I advise completing strenuous sessions in cooler temperatures, preferably during the morning or evening. In hotter conditions, runners should adjust their pace and acknowledge that achieving the same level of performance may not be possible.

Nutrition Podcast on Gut Training

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in your running performance. Listen to our recommended podcast on "Gut Training" to learn about proper nutrition for runners.

Gut training is crucial for endurance athletes because the gastrointestinal (GI) system plays a pivotal role in the body's overall performance during extended physical activities. Here's why gut training is key for endurance athletes:

  1. Nutrient Absorption: The gut is responsible for absorbing nutrients and energy from the food and beverages consumed. During endurance events, maintaining optimal nutrient absorption is vital to sustain energy levels and prevent fatigue.

  2. Hydration: Proper fluid balance is essential for endurance athletes to prevent dehydration and maintain performance. The gut helps absorb water and electrolytes from ingested fluids, contributing to effective hydration.

  3. Avoiding Gastrointestinal Distress: Endurance activities can put stress on the GI system, potentially leading to discomfort, cramps, bloating, or diarrhea. Gut training helps the body adapt to the physical demands of exercise and reduces the likelihood of GI distress.

  4. Caloric Needs: Endurance athletes often require a high caloric intake to fuel their long-lasting efforts. A well-trained gut can handle the consumption of calories without causing discomfort.

  5. Carbohydrate Uptake: Carbohydrates are a primary energy source for endurance activities. The gut needs to efficiently absorb carbohydrates to maintain glycogen stores and provide energy for muscles.

  6. Training Adaptation: Gut training involves gradually exposing the GI system to the demands of endurance exercise. This adaptation can enhance its ability to handle stress and improve performance.

  7. Timing and Strategy: Gut training helps athletes develop a nutritional strategy for race day. Knowing when and what to eat and drink during an event can prevent energy depletion and GI issues.

  8. Preventing Bonking: Proper gut training reduces the risk of "bonking" or "hitting the wall," which occurs when the body runs out of energy during endurance events.

In summary, gut training is essential for endurance athletes because it optimizes nutrient absorption, maintains hydration, reduces GI distress, and supports overall performance. Developing a well-functioning gut is a key component of successful endurance training and racing.

Training with Poles

If you're into trail running or ultramarathons, using poles can be a meaningful change. We'll discuss the benefits and techniques of training with poles in "Mastering Running with Poles."

Running poles are valuable tools for ultra and trail runners, providing balance, stability, reduced fatigue, and increased speed. To maximize their benefits, follow these key steps:

  1. Choose the Right Poles: Select lightweight and collapsible poles that suit your terrain and preferences.

  2. Master the Technique: Learn proper pole techniques, such as double-pole and single-pole planting, to use them effectively.

  3. Practice: Regular practice will help you become more comfortable with running poles and improve your performance. Incorporate them into your training, including long runs.

  4. Science of Poles: Recent research has shown that trekking poles can enhance uphill climbing performance by redistributing some of the load from your legs to your arms. Using poles on steep inclines can make you faster.

In summary, running poles can significantly benefit ultra and trail runners when chosen correctly, used with proper technique, and practice, and applied strategically, especially on steep ascents.

Happy trails!

Tapering for a Running Race

As your race day approaches, proper tapering is essential to ensure you're well-rested and ready to perform your best. Learn the art of tapering and how to nail it in "The Tapering Strategy."

Tapering is the final phase in a running training plan, aimed at reducing stress and optimizing performance before a race. It involves a progressive reduction of training load while maintaining intensity. Tapering allows the body to recover, maintain fitness, and prepare mentally for the race.

Key principles for tapering include reducing volume, especially in the first week, maintaining intensity, keeping the frequency of training days constant, and sticking to the same terrain. Tapering may lead to "taper tantrums" as athletes may feel like they're losing fitness, but it's a normal part of the process. Overall, a well-executed taper can help ensure peak performance on race day.


We hope this guide helps you on your running journey to becoming a faster, more confident runner. Remember, training is a personalised experience, and what works for one person may not work for another. Feel free to explore each topic in detail, and don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Whether you're aiming for your first 5K or an ultramarathon, your journey starts here.

Good luck and happy running!