July 16 2014 12:00 AM

A training guide for your first endurance race


Endurance sports are all about suffering — the threat of exceeding your personal limitations and self-destructing is absolutely real. Every athlete has his own pre-race fear, regardless how many races he may have completed. But fear is a good thing — it means an athlete cares. However, it’s critical to balance fear with confidence. That way, once the starter gun goes off, confidence can turn fear into focus, and focus will lead the way to the finish.

Start by selecting a distance and a discipline that you can handle. For beginners, I consider a 5K run as the gateway to other disciplines and distances. At 5 kilometers (3.1) miles, the length of the race is challenging, but not out of reach. Beginners can comfortably train for the event in 10 to 12 weeks and set themselves up for a lifetime of progress. Furthermore, mid-Michigan has a steady supply of 5Ks year-round, and race organizers are creating endless variations on the event by adding food, beer/wine tastings, live music, obstacles and other themes. (If you were in downtown Lansing last weekend, you may have noticed the Color Run, where runners received a blast of colored powders over the 5K course.) Whatever your style, RunMichigan.com is a great resource to help find a 5K that fits it.

Training requires adapting your body to certain loads at set intervals to maximize results. Have a plan that balances hard work and recovery and stick to it. You risk injury and wasted time without having some sort of guidance in your training. Be careful not to go on a run-training Google odyssey; you will end up finding a bunch of training plans that are too technical for most beginners and probably end up buying expensive ‘runccessories,’ like GPS watches or any of the other fancy doo-dads that are nice but unnecessary. All you need are some clothes to run in, a pair of running shoes and a watch.

Once you’re geared up, here is a simple 10-week plan to get nearly anyone confidently to the finish line:

Weeks 1-2 — Base Phase: This portion of your training is all about preparing your body to train. During base phase, walk at a steady pace you can maintain for 20-30 minutes, four days per week. Be sure to pick up good habits like drinking eight to 10 big glasses of water per day and tracking your training. Make yourself a weekly training calendar and include your goal workout, completed workout and any notes that you may have, such as “Pre-run Snickers bar = bad choice.”

Weeks 3-9 — Build Phase: Continuing to train four days per week, we’ll start what I call “walk, run, walk” workouts. This plan works great on a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday-Sunday rotation, but any four days during the week will work.

Week 3: 35 minutes per day. Days 1 and 3 = 30 minute walk with five-minute run at 15-minute mark. Days 2 and 4 = walk the whole time.

Week 4: 35 minutes per day. All four days = 30 minute walk with five-minute run at 15-minute mark.

Week 5: 35 minutes per day. Days 1 and 3 = 25-minute walk with 10-minute run at 15-minute mark. Days 2 and 4 = walk the whole time.

Week 6: 40 minutes per day. All four days = 30-minute walk with 10-minute run at 15-minute mark.

Week 7: 40 minutes per day. All four days = 20 minute walk with 20-minute run at 10-minute mark.

Week 8: 45 minutes per day. All four days = 15-minute walk with 25-minute run at 10-minute mark.

Week 9: 45 minutes per day. All four days = 10 minute walk followed by 30-minute run.

Race Week — Week 10: Train three days this week. Day 1 = five-minute walk and 35-minute run. Day 2 = five-minute walk and 20-minute run. Day 3 = five-minute walk and 15-minute run.

Race day: Get a five- to 10-minute walk in with a couple intervals of 60 seconds of running before the start. Then, wiggle into the crowd of participants, embrace your prerace fear, have faith in your training and wait for the start. I guarantee your fear will disappear. You’ve got this!

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.