SALT LAKE CITY — For many, winter is the season to hibernate. A time to shut oneself up in the house, watch movies, eat popcorn and spend time with loved ones. With shorter days, colder weather and unpredictable road conditions, there are a million good excuses to become a jig-saw puzzling recluse. Maybe that’s just me.
But for many runners, these cold months don’t offer the luxury of rest and relaxation. These months are filled with training plans laid out with anticipation for spring race season. Sometime around February and March, the long training runs hit their peak and runners are out for hours at a time prepping for races that seem so far off. It would be easy to roll over and fall back to sleep in your cozy bed when the sky is dark and the wind chill dips into the single digits, but nothing worth anything ever came easy.
So we get up and train.
Warmer weather and clear roads may seem like a distant dream, but the truth is that many of those races are mere weeks away. Training is more than prepping the legs, heart and lungs for the hard work you expect them to do for hours on end. To make sure race day doesn’t turn out to be a nightmare, here are a few ways to make the most out of your training.
Simulate race day
Rule number one in the runner’s rule book is never, ever do anything new on race day. Training runs are the perfect opportunity to practice everything from pre-race meals to new sports bras. Test out that pasta dinner the night before a long run. If you’re like me, you’ll realize that it doesn’t sit as well in the stomach as a turkey sandwich from Subway.
Those nifty looking shorts that looked so good in the dressing room might not be so attractive if they chafe in all the wrong areas. Best to find that out now rather than when you’re 13 miles away from any relief. After one particularly excruciating experience with a sports bra a friend swore to me was the best bra she’d ever purchased, I decided to stick to what I knew worked and ignored everyone else’s suggestions, no matter how insistent.
Test out your race-day fuel. Thank goodness I had my first bad GU Energy experience only one mile from my home. Apparently the same stomach that rejects the pre-race pasta meal also rejects GU. A couple of friends of mine running the Berlin Marathon went so far as to research the energy drink offered on the course and ordered some online to train with so their bodies had a chance to adapt.
Practice getting up and running at the same time your race starts. If you love to start your runs a few hours after the sun rises, it will be all the more difficult to get up at 3 a.m. and catch the bus that takes you to the start line. Teach your body now to run through the fuzzy fog of the early morning.
Boost your confidence
I can’t count on both hands how many training runs I’ve finished in desperation, unsure of how I could possibly finish another mile. After a hard 20-mile training run, I’ve often found myself near tears at the thought of having to complete another 6.2. Over time, I’ve come to realize that race day is never as tough as a training run. Race day comes with adrenaline, thousands of running partners, crowds of mood-boosting cheerleaders, and a medal at the finish. The most I typically get on a training run is an early wake-up call, a stray fox or deer to run alongside me, my husband calling to ask how much longer I’ll be and a chair to collapse into.
Knowing that the training is harder than the race gives me confidence. That 20-mile run may have been heart-breakingly difficult, but I finished it. I didn’t quit. I can do hard things.
That long run done in 30-mile-an-hour wind gusts and rain wasn’t miserable. That run proved that I can run in any condition. Last year it seemed that every training run was done with gale-force winds. But when the Utah Valley Marathon rolled around and conditions were once again windy, I was unfazed. I’d trained through tougher conditions and had the confidence I needed to just move ahead.
Tackle the race day terrain
Some races are downhill. Some are flat. Some are rolling. Whatever your race is, train on similar terrain. If you live near the actual race course, run the course. Becoming comfortable with the terrain will be a tool you can rely on while others are taken by surprise on that little hill that pops up eight miles in on that “downhill” course. Training on the right terrain preps both the body and the mind for what’s to come.
If possible, familiarize yourself with specific landmarks to give yourself short-term goals to run to.
While training for my first Boston Marathon, I watched YouTube videos, listened to podcasts, and studied maps of the course to become as acquainted as I could with where I was running. Once I got there, I was surprised to find how recognizable certain miles were. The train tracks in Framingham, the girls at Wellsley College, the firehouse at mile 16 as we started the Newton Hills, the Citgo sign at mile 25.2 were as familiar as any landmark in my own neighborhood.
When the alarm goes off before the sun greets the day, don’t roll over. The thought and effort you put into today’s training will pay off on tomorrow’s race.