11 May 2013

A Beginners Guide To Finishing Your First Race

The other day I got talking to a friend who was thinking of entering a bike race. Now, I have a lot of super fit friends who've done marathons, ridiculously long bike races and triathlons. But the friend I was talking to is not one of them, she's just getting back into the gym after long absence and was asking me if I thought she was crazy. Normally I'd be the first one to encourage any kind of crazy and challenging race but considering my friend's background I started thinking, and advising her, on how you go about completing a race when you're an absolute beginner and you've got to start from scratch with building up your fitness. Now, I'm absolutely no expert but thinking back on my first marathon I did give her some advice on how to tackle this inaugural race and here are the pointers that popped up in my head...:

* How much time and effort are you willing to put into this race? Are you willing to give up boozey nights and spend hours at a time training instead of chilling on the sofa? If the answer is no then maybe aim for a 5k race that you can get through without much training. If you're willing to make some sacrifices and put some real effort into it then aim higher!
* How much money are you willing to put into it? In the case of my friend she was thinking of a 100 mile bike race but without owning a bike she'd have to do some serious investing - a proper bike, helmet, cycling gear, shoes etc., all very pricey. Get help finding a good bike or good shoes, it's a necessary investment. If you're not loaded then maybe aim for a less challenging race and get yourself some second hand gear. It's not important that you have the most expensive clothing but I do suggest having purpose made clothing, when you start running or cycling for hours you'll be soon be pretty uncomfortable if the clothes are not breathable or rub of skin at sensitive areas.
* What are your fitness level like?  (Do you even like exercising, or do you do it because you 'have to'?) And what's your time frame for training before the race? If you're not very fit, then don't aim to do a massively challenging race in just a few months time. It'll hurt, it wont be fun and the chances are you wont be able to complete the race - or worse, you'll get injured! Train for life, but use the race as extra motivtion to start or get even better.

* What do you know about the sport you want to race in? Do you know how to train? I know not everyone are die hard fans of rigorous training plans (although I am) but if you're a complete beginner then maybe you should recruit some help - it can be a professional or a friend that's in the know. When I did my first marathon back in 2008 I followed a training programme by Swedish olympic marathoner Anders Szalkai and it was such a big help for a beginner that he's still fondly talked about back home in my parent's house. I also got a lot of advice from my uncle who used to run long distance when he was young, small titbits of informtion of training throughout the winter before the race, making me feel a lot more confident in my abilities and comforted by the knowledge that I wasn't 'in it alone'.
I'm sure there are hundreds more pointers and advice, more indepth and complete than the ones I've listed but these things here are the things you should think about before entering, so that you can chose a suitable race. With the right time frame, equipment and willingness to train you can do anything you set your mind to!

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