On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! How to Run Your Fastest Race Yet

Running RaceImage: Danielle Walquist Lynch (Creative Commons)

So you’ve signed up for a race. Now what? Plans like running “30 easy” or “10 easy, 15 moderate, 15 easy” are not training. Those are exercise. How do you know if your 30-minute, easy run is enough?  What does “moderate” actually mean? It’s simply not effective. Instead, aim to be the best runner you can in the time you have. Here’s how:

For building speed

One day a week, run mile repeats. Start with three miles total and work up to four or five. It works like this: Run one mile at 90 percent of your PR (personal record) pace. Rest and recover for half the time it took you to run. Then run another mile at 90 percent. Pacing is critical. Keep your times consistent. Rest again for half of your run time then run one more mile at 90 percent.

Using an eight-minute mile PR as an example, your runs would be 8:53 and your rest would be 4:26. It’s tough but do-able. Our bodies adapt very quickly to the repetitive motion of running, making it very easy to plateau unless you push yourself a little harder with each run. The next week, you’ll cut your mile times by 10 to 15 seconds, then another 10 to 15 seconds the following week. Last time I went from 6:20 to 5:40 (repeats!) in four weeks. This will make you fast.

For stamina and endurance

If you’re training for a longer race, you’ll also want to increase your total distance, so once a week, do a longer run. On these longer runs, the goal is NOT just to finish. It’s to finish in a certain time. Remember, this is training, so the runs need to be structured. If you currently run six miles in 60 minutes (using a 10-minute mile as an example), up it to 6.5 miles in 65 minutes the first week then continue adding half a mile per week. As your speed increases with the mile repeats, your time should decrease in the long runs. Try to shave off 10 seconds per mile each week, even as the distance increases. The second week (still using our 10-minute mile example) would be seven miles at a 9:50 pace or 68:50 total.


Image: Joe Hunt (Creative Commons)

In order to be effective, though, you’ll need to know your route. If you’ve ever run a race on an unfamiliar course that wasn’t well marked, you know this frustration. What mile is this? How much farther? Am I running too front way ast? Seriously, how much farther? Am I running too slow? Where’s the damn finish line? This can all be avoided by familiarizing yourself with the running route beforehand.

Break it up into chunks — ideally half mile increments — so that you can monitor and maintain your pace during your run. Do this for both your training runs and your race. The last thing you want is to hit it too fast on race day and totally burn out. It happens too often and is completely avoidable if you incorporate pacing into your training. For example: Let’s say you want to average a 10-minute mile for a half marathon. Every half-mile increment needs to be right at five minutes. If you start out running that first half mile in 4:15, slow down.

For recovery

If you’re training for a relay, do a two-a-day once a week so that you can experience what recovery will feel like on race day. This means a workout in the morning and a run in the evening, or vice versa. Keep the runs around the same distance as the legs of the race you’ll be running. Don’t go crazy with the distance. These two-a-days should happen the day before a recovery day. You’ll need it. Here’s what a sample week would look like:

Monday: Workout
Tuesday: Workout in the morning, run three miles in the evening
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Run mile repeats
Friday: Workout
Saturday: Long run
Sunday: Rest

This is flexible, obviously, but you want to do your mile repeats with fresh legs and be deliberate about your workouts (don’t make them all about running, work with kettlebells, for example, instead).

On race day


Image: Marc Horowitz (Creative Commons)

Don’t eat anything you’ve never tried before. Your best bet is high-carb, low-protein foods that will accelerate the recovery of your energy stores and get your body ready for your next run. Be careful though — Snickers bars and gummy bears are high-carb, low-protein but that doesn’t mean you should eat them (especially if you don’t normally). Peanut butter sandwiches, bananas with a nut butter, power smoothies, or PowerBar GU are a better option. Just make sure you know how your body reacts to whatever it is you’re planning to eat. On race day, try to consume some protein immediately after your run so your body can process it before it’s time for your next leg.

Warm up and cool down. Lactic acid buildup will happen, but it doesn’t have to hamper you. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up before the race. Take at least 10 minutes to cool down, stretch, shake out your legs, and foam roll.

Be patient. It’s easy to let the excitement of race day throw off your rhythm. I sometimes fall into the trap of just keeping person with the person in front of me instead of listening to my own body. Know your pace. You’ve trained for it. Don’t get distracted by what the other runners around you are doing.

Let’s get fast!

Author Kevin Snodgrass is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and the lead trainer at FitWit Decatur.


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