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preparing-for-outdoor-racesIt’s that time of year when outdoor runs no longer require several layers of clothing and a steely resolve to take on cold temps and biting winds. If you like participating in structured competitions to stay motivated, to improve performance, or just to have fun, then now is the time to start preparing for outdoor races. They will be here very soon!

If you’re new to competitive running, or simply want guidance on transitioning to outdoor races from winter running, we’ve compiled some recommendations, whether you choose a 5K, 10K or half-marathon. To enhance your experience, consider the following when preparing for outdoor races.

  1. Select your race/s – First things first – decide what races you will participate in, considering distance, location and training time. If you haven’t run all winter, for instance, don’t sign up for a half-marathon that’s only two weeks away. Ensure that you have adequate training and recovery time, before and between races.You can search online for races in your area, or in other locations if you want to travel. Talk to people who have run the races before, or inquire with race organizers for insight into the course and what to expect. Make a list and mark your calendar during these busy running seasons. Some races fill up early, so it’s smart to register as soon as possible.
  2. Adopt a training plan – The length and sophistication level of your training plan depend on the distance and dates of your races, but it’s always a good idea to have a plan rather than just wing it. Plans help prevent over- or under-training, can reduce risk of injury and can improve performance.If you’re training alone, then the plan is entirely up to you. However, if you prefer to run with others, seek out a local running group for companionship, education, motivation and more.Remember to build miles gradually – even if you have been running indoors over the past few months. Outdoor running presents new challenges in terms of terrain changes, wind resistance, temperature and precipitation fluctuations and more.
  3. Rest and recover – Runners can struggle with this, but your racing season – and overall running career – will be stronger and longer if you take a break periodically. If you’re building distance, don’t schedule two long runs back-to-back. Enjoy a recovery day with no exercise, or something light like an easy walk. Or try low- or zero-impact activities to minimize the continual pounding on your body. The Zero Runner from Octane Fitness is a great way to replicate natural running motion without beating up your joints. Be sure to stretch and use a foam roller after runs as well.
  4. Gear up – Dig out some shorts and sunglasses – and maybe even sunscreen. Toss out and replace socks with holes, and assess your running shoes for wear and tear. It’s best to train in a new pair of shoes before you hit the starting line. If you like to run with music, create a few new playlists to keep you going.
  5. Set a goal or two – Give yourself extra oomph with a goal for each race. It can be a PR, simply finishing, or keeping up with a person in front of you. Whatever your aim, remind yourself of your goals throughout training, and of course, on race day.
  6. Hydrate and eat well – Carry a bottle of water or two with you on long runs. During training, limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol, which are diuretics. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein sources, whole grains and low-fat dairy products to keep your system healthy and humming along.