For many runners the next logical step after taking up running, joining a club, getting involved in speed work and focusing on consistency of long runs at an easy pace is to get involved in racing. Some runners like to jump up to long distances like the half-marathon and marathon. This is not advisable for a number of reasons. The time and mileage commitment for such distances for novice runners is quite consuming and the stress it places on the body can result in setbacks within a few weeks. It is also worth remembering that running longer versus shorter distances can have a counterproductive effect on your fitness, in that recovery from longer training can weaken and diminish the capacity for recovery for a novice racer. The half-marathon/marathon can wait for a while.
Conversely, racing distances from 5 to 10k will allow the novice racer to reap the benefits of taking part in well-designed training sessions. In Cork, 5-mile races are probably the most popular type of races that exist on the road running circuit. It’s an ideal distance to test oneself, it’s fast enough to allow you to race hard but short enough to ensure the pain threshold is manageable and recovery will take a short period of time, usually no than five days. The more often you race, the better you will become. However, it’s advisable to not to race every week. Allow time for recovery and a decent block of training between races. Many novice (and experienced) runners get caught up in the thrill of racing and find themselves side-lined with injury in no time. Even if running a mile between 8 and 10 minutes may sound slow you are in real terms pushing your skeletal and body systems in a way they may be unused too. Therefore, take it easy.
Pick a race in the calendar maybe 3 weeks in advance. Ask your club mates about the race route, cost of entry, logistics of getting there. You might be tempted on account of nerves and/or fear of the unknown to skip the race on the day. This apprehension is quite normal, all runners suffer from race nerves but talk to clubmates who won’t be long encouraging you to take part.
There is little need to spend more than ten euro entry for a race. Most races offer a lot for this price – accurately measured course, water stations, water at the finish, clock/chip timing, refreshments afterwards as well as the extra’s money can’t buy – cheering crowds, support of club mates and the thrill of crossing the line. You might even get a free t shirt. In Cork most races can attract numbers of anywhere from 300 to nearly a 1000 runners but in reality only 6 runners are probably capable of winning it so don’t stress on that score!!!! Most runners are running for a PB.
It is best not to set yourself a time goal for your first number of races. The most important thing is to enjoy the race and simply set yourself the goal of finishing. As you develop greater race experience it is no harm to start setting yourself time goals and see how much you can lower your personal best. While racing you will also find yourself improving your pacing strategy, your ability to endure mental and physical stress as well as attempting to go faster than runners from your club and other clubs. Keep the rivalry friendly though and don’t be critical of other runner’s times or performances. Be self-critical if necessary but don’t over think it to the point of not enjoying it. Always ask your friends and club mates how they get got on and congratulate them. Friendships last a lifetime; races are considerably shorter.
The great aspect of racing especially those organised by other clubs is that regardless of age, gender or ability, the emphasis is placed by clubs on enjoying yourself and giving yourself a hearty well done on crossing the white line. After all you are now in the high percentile of people who enjoy quite a high level of aerobic fitness compared to the person who are spending their time, eating, drinking and smoking their way into ill health.