This race is a great event that inspires a lot of first timers to get out there and run. It was my first race and the first for a lot of other folks that I know (and I know a few who will make their debut in 2012 - I'm looking at you, Kate!). When you see giant billboards for it every day and can't escape the commercials (Anybody remember the foot-themed ones? I thought they were weird), it is really hard to resist the urge. Everyone around you is doing it so how hard can it really be? And before you know it, you find that the advertising won over your impressionable brain and you have signed up for a 10k.
You drank the Koolaid. Now what?
Well, I don't claim to be any kind of sage when it comes to running. I kind of have just winged it with a lot of help from other bloggers, friends, and Runner's World. With that in mind, I'm going to offer a few tips and words of advice for the first time racer who just signed up for a 10k. Take it as you will and with the disclaimer that I'm no expert, but I have "been there and done that" so can perhaps offer a little bit of insight.
So here goes: Kathryn's Top Five Tips for First Timers
1. Get yourself fitted for (and buy) a proper pair of running shoes. Do it. Right now. Your 5-10 year old sneakers are not suitable for this task. Trust me. I did not buy new shoes (but did it for my husband... go figure... we spent $200 on shoes and inserts for him and now he doesn't even run!) and as a result experienced excruciating arch pain by the end of my first 10k.
My favorite place for shoe shopping is Road Runner Sports. They have a location in Vienna, Virginia where you can go to have your gait analyzed. It's actually pretty fun - I have it done every time I go (probably overkill). First you'll run on a treadmill in bare feet while they video tape your stride. Then you get to watch your feet in slow motion to see what's going on. They also analyze the height of your arches and balance (do you put most pressure on your heels? Have feet as flat as Fred Flintstone's?) and can fit you for a custom insert. After all of this is complete, you will be given a few recommendations for a shoe that will work best for you. And the best part? They have a 90 day love it or return it with no questions asked guarantee. Last June I switched up my shoes and bought a new brand ... then ended up hating them after running in them a few times. I returned them with no problem for a FULL REFUND.
If you can't get to Vienna, there is a also Richmond Road Runners (no relation to RRS) in Carytown. I'm not sure if they do gait analysis. To be honest, I've only gone in there once to look for a race belt and they didn't have what I wanted so I left. But I'm sure they could help you out and suggest a good shoe regardless.
There's also a quiz called Shoe Dog on the Road Runner Sports website, but you have to do a little guesswork about your gait. Still, better than nothing.
Disclaimer - Get the new shoes a few weeks before the race. Do not go buy new shoes and try to run the 10k in them the next day. Unless you like blisters. In that case, go right ahead.
2. Join a training team if you can or use a training plan. If I hadn't been a member of a YMCA training team, there is NO WAY that I ever would have been able to motivate myself to run the long runs needed to condition for the 10k. I can say with 100% confidence that I never would've run 5 miles if I hadn't had to drag my butt out of bed on Saturday to meet up with a group of people who were going to do it with me. If you can't do a team, find yourself a running buddy (Feel free to hit me up! I love running buddies!). Setting a running date and having a friend counting on you to meet them makes it 100 times more difficult to cancel. Everybody says so. And it's true.
A training plan that you can stick to is also important. Once I get my plan, I let it be the boss of me (most of the time). Runner's World offers a basic Smart Coach for free (you'll just have to create an account). It's a pretty useful tool, even in the free version. You sign in, then plug in some basic information about you and your goals (Recent race or 1 mile time; the distance you are training for, training level, how many miles you want to run per week, race date) and it spits out a calendar that tells you exactly what you need to do. I'm using it to train for my half marathon and so far, so good. You can even go back in adjust if you miss some workouts.
When I joined the Y training team, they handed out a booklet with a 10 week training plan in it. I used it and have passed it along to many friernds to use for their first 10k. I'll post it after the break if you're interested.
3. Just keep running. You're going to feel like you are going to die. But there is a 99.99% chance that you won't. So just keep running even when you want to stop. This is kind of a personal piece of advice - this is what works best for me. If I feel horrible and stop to walk, it is always that much harder for me to run again.
I realize this doesn't work for everyone, but my hunch is that it does if you give it a try. Of course if you are dizzy or are truly injured somehow, STOP. But usually you can just push through the ups and downs of running. One mile I feel like I'm going to die but if I power through it, the next mile is easy. My motto is the faster you run, the faster you're done so I try not to stop unless absolutely necessary. After all, the sooner I'm finished, the sooner I can go eat my reward (McDonald's Egg McMuffin, piece of cake, french fries...).
4. Get off of the treadmill. Running on a treadmill is a lot different from running outside. The treadmill helps propel you forward, can change your stride, and there is no wind inside! There's nothing wrong with the treadmill, but I think that doing all of your training on one is a big mistake. The first time I ran outside I immediately realized how much more difficult it seemed then when I was sailing along on the treadmill in the nice air conditioned cardio room at the Y, with countless distractions to boot (tv, magazine AND iPod. You know you're guilty of it too).
A piece of advice one of my 10k training group mentors gave us was that if you're going to run on a treadmill, do yourself a favor and put the incline at 1 - 2%. This makes things a little more difficult and helps mimic running outside. I took his suggestion and found that while I had been able to run 1.5 miles pretty easily on a 0 incline, adding that 1% made it a lot more difficult... but that the next outdoor training session was easier.
5. Don't eat anything dairy-based the night before or morning of the race. This includes cheese, ice cream, cream-based sauces. Don't do it. Just trust me on this one.
And a bonus tip: Remember, every mile is an accomplishment! Whether your workout was 1 mile or 20, congratulate yourself. You decided to do something instead of sitting on the couch, which is a lot more than you can say about many people.
Obviously the dates are not correct (this is from 2010), just adjust to your needs. AND it includes walking. How exciting is that!