4 Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE You Start Training for your Next Race

How do you spend the time between when you sign up for a race and when you actually start training for it?

If your answer is ‘not sure’ or ‘good question’ you aren’t setting yourself up well from the start for success.

With many races having sign up periods many months in advance, it can be easy to sign up and then have it come up on you quickly leaving you to jump into training without much thought.

Here are 4 key questions to ask yourself before you start your training to get you started off the right:

1. What is the result you want to achieve?

While you might consider this to be your main goal, Dr. Stan Beecham, a sports psychologist and expert in helping athletes overcome their limiting beliefs prefers to phrase it a different way: What is the result that you want to achieve?

When you approach it this way, the steps to get there will become more clear.

Get specific and include the time frame for which to achieve the desired result. From there, you can evaluate what you need to do to get there.

By keeping your mind focused on a result instead of a goal you will be more committed and see it as something that is concrete rather than perhaps wishful thinking.

Instead of goals, determine the result you want to achieve

2. Identify your motivation(s)

Motivations differ from the result you want to achieve.

Your goal is what you want to achieve whereas your motivations are your “why” for wanting to do so.

It is important to understand your motivations for they are a powerful driver for you to continue on when it gets hard and you want to give up.

If have just a goal and no motivations behind it, there is less likelihood you will be successful.

3. How have you approached training before?

Think back to how you have approached your training and get specific with the details. If you are new to running, think about what you are planning to do at this time.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • How many miles/kilometers per week did you run?
  • Did you regularly strength train?
  • Did you have running and race specific workouts?
  • Did you understand the why behind what you were doing

4. What are you going to do different this time to ensure your success?

In order to improve or bust through a plateau you can’t just do more of the same and expect a different result. You need to tweak or in some cases make changes to your approach.

Thinking back to your training in the past, what are you going to do differently this time?

Get very specific.

If you are new to running or unable to come up with what you need to do or unsure, that’s ok. In fact, that’s likely why you are here!

Specifically list out what you are going to do this time, different from my prior training approach.

Take The Next Step

Selecting the Right Race for You

One decision every runner must make is which races to sign up for.

With so many to choose from how do you decide which ones to do?

Depending on where you live you might have a lot of options nearby and where to race is not a question.

For others, options may be more limited.

Perhaps you want a ‘destination’ race where you visit a new city for the first time. Some runners like to make a race as part of vacation plans.

Geographic factors aside, there is also the size of a race.

You can run in large races with thousands of runners or smaller races with maybe just a couple hundred runners.

Picking the right race is a personal decision of which many factors need to be considered. Here are some decision points to consider in order to help you focus on the right race for you.

Consideration 1: Time Of Year

Thinking of signing up for a spring half or full marathon?

Don’t focus so much on the date of the race itself, but think of the time period you will be training for it. If you live in a place where the weather is amicable to training outdoors year round then no worries.

But if you sign up for a distance event in April the months of January – March are when you will be in the core of your training. Think about yourself as a runner.

Will you have difficulty getting in your training as a result? Do you hate running in inclement weather?

If you plan to train indoors most of the winter will you have enough time to do some miles outdoors?

Will you be able to simulate the course profile (hills, surface, etc) adequately if you train mostly indoors?

Be honest with yourself about your training preferences.

A good start might be to select a shorter distance race in the early part of the Spring and race distance towards the end of the Spring, but before the heat of Summer arrives.

This way you can start training indoors if you must and transition to outdoors later.

If you are thinking about running a race during the Winter or early Spring away from home in a warm climate and you will be doing your training in a cold climate, you need to be prepared accordingly.

If you trained outdoors in 30°F temperatures and your race is in Florida and that is the first time you will experience warm weather again, your performance will definitely suffer as a result of not being acclimated to the temperature.

Consideration 2: Large or Small Race

Do you want a race with thousands of runners or prefer a race with hundreds instead? There are a lot of things to consider about size.

With thousands of runners in a large race, you may experience congestion at the start or various points in the race that may be a negative factor if you are attempting to run a PR or have a goal time.

Your pace might be dictated by how those around you are running or time can be added weaving around others.

Look at how the start is managed. If there are start corrals with a staggered start spacing out runners by ability level the over crowding scenario is often mitigated. If not, you might encounter it. If you are running the race for the experience instead of time this may not matter as much.

Course aid can vary greatly between large and small races.

A large marathon such as the Chicago Marathon will have aid stations spanning 2 city blocks on both sides of the street with hundreds of volunteers handing out aid.

A smaller town marathon such as the Grand Rapids Marathon while adequately having aid available will have much smaller aid stations with fewer volunteers and can be swamped in the early miles.

The same goes for short distance events.

Some small short distance 5K or 10K races may not have aid stations at all, or just one with limited supply.

Research ahead of time and decide if what they are offering for aid is ok with you. Race day is not the time to find out.

One advantage to smaller races is your ability to potentially place better than you can in a larger race that draws many more runners, and often a large field of elite runners.

Depending on your age and ability level, it is not out of the realm of possibility to place in top 10 for your age group at a smaller race and get some bragging rights with fewer runners and lack of an elite field.

For every minute in a large race hundreds of runners can cross the finish line putting your strong performance sort of average in terms of finishing place.

In a smaller race, a handful of runners might cross the finish in the same time.

The difference in a large 8K race between finishing in 35:00 and 36:00 might be over 500 places but a smaller race might be just 10 places.

Consideration 3: Home or Away

There are many advantages to running a race near home.

The first advantage of course is expense.

Since you don’t incur the cost of travel, lodging, meals, etc a relatively inexpensive race entry fee doesn’t end up blowing a hole in your budget from all of these extras.

The second advantage is being able to sleep in your own bed and have your regular routine.

Regardless of the actual race distance, some runners have difficulty sleeping the night before a race. Being at home where you are most comfortable is preferable to being in an unfamiliar bed and surroundings.

The third advantage to a home race is you know the terrain. You have ‘home court’ advantage.

If you are running a distance event you may be able to actually train on the race course itself or at least be able to scope it out if you are not already familiar with it.

Many runners like the appeal of visiting a new place or running a destination race that makes the experience much more worthwhile and even a source of their motivation. A destination race can become the basis for your training, a constant source of conversation and a memorable experience. If it is your first race at a given distance, I recommend you consider running something close to home first. A new race distance is enough to tackle itself without any added stress of the logistics of traveling to an unfamiliar place. Get some experience under your belt, then think about a destination race.

When planning a destination race, consider how you plan your travel around it.

If it is simply for the weekend to a nearby city, you’ll probably be fine.

If it somewhere farther away, take travel into consideration when planning. It’s not a good idea to get off a 6 hour plane ride and run the next day.

Try to allow a buffer day. Another thing to consider is if you are making your race part of a vacation.

If you do, think about scheduling your trip so that the race is at the beginning.

This way, you won’t focus on it all week and not relax on your vacation and also you will avoid having been on your feet for several days leading up to the race while taking in the sights.

Consideration 4: The Course Itself

Take a look at the course map before signing up. Is it a point to point course, meaning you start in one location and finish in another (Boston Marathon)?

Is it a single loop course, where you start and finish in roughly the same spot (Chicago Marathon)?

Or is it a series of loops where you will pass the same part of the course multiple times and take laps?

Don’t think of the course layout just in terms of your preferences, but think also of any supporters that will be there to see you.

A point to point course can be interesting as you actually might end up a considerable distance from where you started and appreciate the distance traveled since so many races and training runs start and finish at the same spot.

But for spectators, it is a nightmare. They might not be able to see you more than one time and also have to travel the distance with you to see you off at the start, at some point along the race route and of course the finish.

Think also about logistics of getting to the start that might be some distance away and travel time.

A single loop course is usually ideal as you won’t pass the same scenery more than one time avoiding the dreaded feeling of having to pass by a certain spot again and again before you are done.

From a spectator standpoint, it is often easier to see you multiple times since the return trip in a loop might be on an adjacent street just a few blocks away. Where to park, gear check and other race logistical issues are also much easier when you start and finish in the same place.

The final point in respect to the course itself is the course profile. The course profile refers to how many turns, hills or other elements there are that you will have to encounter. If you are going for a PR, don’t choose a race that has lots of turns or hills, especially if you are training somewhere that is flat. Look for a ‘fast’ course meaning it is designed with long straightaways, few turns, and few (if any) hills.

Do Your Homework

Take a look at race reports that others have posted online about any prospective race you want to run. It will give you a great feeling for what it will be like. Talk to other runners about their favorite races and start listening for the same mentions of races coming up again and again. That is a good indication of a stellar event.

In the end, selecting a race will be a combination of all of the above factors and a highly personal decision. But make a decision and sign-up. Nothing will keep you motivated to keep moving ahead than having a race date approaching.

So much goes into preparing for a race. Not only are there training considerations, if you find yourself without a lot of race experience there are a lot of common mistakes new runners make – even experienced runners – that can be avoided. Inside Runner Academy Membership I have devoted an entire module of training to race day itself, as it is such a critical part of your experience. What happens in the final 24-48 hours and the opening minutes of a race can make or break your event. Take every advantage you can for the best race day experience possible!