Running: Tips for Getting in the Race (cont.)

Varying your workouts, he says, helps build muscles throughout your body -- for strength you'll need as the race progresses.

"You don't just need strong legs to run, you need a strong cardiovascular system, you need core strength -- you need to be strong overall, and cross-training is an important way to achieve that," says Stone, who has counseled professional athletes including Picabo Street and Martina Navratilova.

Edwards notes that "to race, you have to train not just your muscles, but your cardiovascular system to be able to handle the distance and the endurance. And cross-training gives you diversity and helps develop your strengths body-wide."

What activities should you do? Edwards advises alternating walking and running with biking, elliptical training, and strength training -- and swimming, if you have access to a pool.

"Ultimately, the best training would be alternating these activities five days a week, beginning at least six weeks before the race," says Edwards.

4. Know Your Race

Think you know how long a mile is? How about 2, 4, or 5 miles? If you're used to judging distances by zipping along in your car at 45 mph, experts say you may have no idea of the "walking distance" of a particular race.

That's why Edwards advises knowing the race you're getting into, long before you're at the starting line.

Her advice: For anything less than a marathon, you should at least be able to walk the distance starting several weeks before the event. A week or two before the race, you should be able to run the course -- at least at a leisurely pace.

Stone says that trial races are among the best ways to prepare.

"It's essential that you believe you can do the race without getting hurt," he says.

5. Practice Running

As simple a concept as this seems, Plancher says, it can get lost in the shuffle of trying to prepare.

"We need to concentrate on building muscles throughout our body, but being able to run well still counts a lot," says Plancher.

Indeed, early results from one study shows that practicing running may be the single most important thing you can do to get ready for a race.

In the research being done on marathon runners by experts at Michigan State University, results indicate that the total mileage participants run before a race is the factor with the greatest influence on their speed during the race.

6. Enjoy Yourself

While it's hard to beat the exhilaration that comes with completing a race (or even winning one), experts remind us that it's the joy of participating, not the outcome, that counts most.

"It's the jumping into the game that matters most, because the more you do, the better you will get -- and there is much to enjoy along the way," says Linda Burzynski, chief executive officer of the Liberty Fitness gym chain, who is training for her first race.

Even if you try a trial run and find you're not in as good shape as you thought, she says, that shouldn't discourage you from participating -- as long as you know your limitations.

"Many races are as much a social as an athletic event, so many first-timers end up doing a combination of running and walking," she says. "You can still enjoy the race even if you can't run it all the way through."

The bottom line, says Burzynski: "Have fun, and let fitness into your life!"

Published April 6, 2006.

SOURCES: Sally Edwards, professional athlete, director,, Danskin Triathlon Trainer. Kevin D. Plancher, MD, associate clinical professor, orthopedics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York; director, Plancher Orthopedics, New York, and Greenwich, Conn. Kevin R. Stone, MD, director, Stone Foundation for Sports Medicine and Arthritis Research, San Francisco. Linda Burzynski, CEO, Liberty Fitness, Austin, Texas. Detroit Marathon Study, N. Erlich, Institute of Public Policy and Social Research, Michigan State University.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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