Most recreationally competitive runners assume the most critical workouts for a race occur in the 12 weeks leading up to race day. Although those workouts are certainly important, the pre-season workouts that take you into this phase of training are of equal, if not greater, importance. Novice and veteran runners alike tend to make the three same critical mistakes in the “preseason” period, and as a result their race performance suffers and risk of injury increases. Let’s identify these three mistakes and how to address them.
Mistake #1: Failing to Lose Extra Weight and Body Fat – RIGHT NOW!
Running is a load-bearing activity. Any extra weight or body fat you have will not only slow you down, but will increase your risk of injury (greater stress on lower body joints). Because of this, it is critical to lose as much extra body fat as you can in your pre-season.
Since weight loss is a result of calorie deficit (expending more than you’re consuming), race prep seems like the perfect time to address this. The problem is a calorie deficit during the 12-15 weeks leading up to the race means suboptimal performance, increased risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during and after runs, increased risk of overuse injury, and loss of muscle tissue instead of fat.
Training for a race is a performance oriented goal which requires fuel in the form of adequate food intake. Losing fat is the opposite (inadequate food intake). Since these goals are mutually exclusive on a biological level, they should not be attempted at the same time. Pro tip: Lose your body fat and weight now and you’ll be better off in the fall (and you’ll look better for summer).
Mistake #2: Not Spending Time in the Weight Room
By now it is pretty widely accepted weightlifting for endurance performance and injury prevention is critical. Stronger muscles and connective tissue are less susceptible to injury. Strengthening the muscles and connective tissue also acts to take stress off load bearing joints to prevent injury. Furthermore, greater strength and power (or speed+strength) developed in the weight room can make you faster. The more force your foot can produce in the split second you make contact with the ground, the faster you will go when you’re pounding the pavement.
Now is the time to integrate strength training. You have the time (because you’re not running as much), and if you get sore from a workout it won’t impair any important runs. Pro tip: If you’re not lifting weights at least 2 days per week, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to build a base of muscular fitness that will keep you healthy and running fast in the fall.
Mistake #3: Failing to Build (or at least maintain) Your Aerobic Bas
Ok, I realize it’s the winter and cold, and you don’t want to run as much. However, reducing your running volume too much (< 10 miles per week) will cause your all-important aerobic fitness base to deteriorate significantly. It is this aerobic base all performance improvements in endurance sports are based off on. Right now is not only a time to maintain your aerobic base, but it’s the time to improve it if you can. This does, however, mean you’ll have to do the workouts all runners hate–slow and long distance.
Pro tip: Right now, your runs should be focused on high volume, low intensity, and long duration to increase that aerobic base. If you do so it will make all of those higher quality workouts performed during your preparatory phase that much more effective.
Training for your fall race starts now. Don’t fall victim to these mistakes and you’ll have a fast, fun, and injury-free fall race!
Upcoming races: Detroit Women’s Half Marathon