June 18 2014 12:00 AM

Basic preparation tips for entering your first endurance race


Since the warm weather started, some of your friends may have started tossing terms like “triathlon,” “half marathon” and variations of “warrior,” “mudder” and “some-number-K” into seemingly normal conversations. Your social media outlets are packed with status updates of your friends crossing finish lines or standing proudly, medal in hand, with a gigantic smirk of accomplishment across their faces. You comment, “You’re a machine,” and go about your day.

Eventually you may witness your friends accumulating streams of praise from their endurance groupies. At this point, you may start thinking to yourself, “If so-an-so can do that, I can totally do it too.” Maybe you even start to train but, like many people, encounter some sort of setback that happens to derail your newly developed plan.

But anyone can test their personal limits — including you — by joining the weekend warriors who participate in endurance sports. Here’s how:

Sign up for a race

Signing up for a race is the most important step you must take in order to nail your first endurance sports appearance. A lot of people trip themselves up before getting anywhere near accomplishing their goals because they start training without choosing a race to train for. By not specifically targeting a race, you decrease your chances for success by not having an investment in your goal or a deadline that holds you accountable for crossing that upcoming finish line.

It doesn’t matter what race you sign up for as long as it is within reason — don’t expect a Netflix marathon to prepare you for next weekend’s 26.2 miles of marathon running. For most people, it takes anywhere between eight and 18 weeks to adequately prepare for an event.

To sign up for a race, explore some of the many endurance event websites out there. Some of my favorites are Active.com and Trifind.com. It may just blow your mind to see how many races are going on in and around Lansing throughout the year.

Don’t be an Olympian (yet)

Olympians are the best in the world and it takes years to compete at their level. But even if you have everything it takes, don’t force yourself to have perfect nutrition, training and performance at first. Remember that challenges are defined differently for each athlete; your personal challenge might just be to show up and walk an event — if so, just do that. Taking your own pace will never be discouraged.

In fact, the various paces people assume at events serve as proof that anyone can race. Each person who finishes has an equal distance to cover and the same opportunity to feel the incredible sense of accomplishment upon finishing. Set small goals, blow them out of the water, learn something about your capabilities, and progress from there. You will spare yourself a pile of frustration and find more joy in dominating the challenges ahead.

Find support

I’m not talking about finding the proper fitting sports bra (nor could I) or an “endurance anonymous” addiction support group. I’m talking about finding likeminded people who will help keep you focused and make training extremely fun along the way. If you don’t have time to commit to a local training group, drag your family or significant other into the mix. The best run workouts can be as simple as a pack of children chasing you down on bikes.

Allow yourself to become an addict

Many first-time endurance athletes seek out and complete additional races, and many even start to plan family vacations around a “destination race.” People can become easily addicted to endurance sports and soon seek out greater accomplishments.

After your first race, you will be tired, sweaty, sore and hungry. Like any addiction, the more you race the more want to. But unlike a lot of addictions, you notice a healthier and better you as a result. Be sure to embrace your goals as they evolve.

To the uninitiated endurance athlete, the very idea of approaching a start line seems foreign, impossible, and fraught with mandatory spandex and sacrifice. I promise you there are many first-timers at every race, each having unique goals, methods and perceptions of what they are getting into.

Whoever they are, and however they do it, they find a way to break out of their comfort zone and cross into a judgment-free place where high-fives await: The finish line.

You haven’t tested your limits until you try something you think you can’t do. Go out there and get after it!

Nathan Kark is an elite-level triathlete, USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, member of the Lansing Triathlon Team, and co-owner of T4 Endurance, where he offers nutrition and multisport coaching. For information on coaching and free local group workouts, go to t4endurance.com.