Entering a running race can be a daunting prospect, but doing so brings with it a host of physical and psychological benefits that will keep you motivated through the season, as run coach Nick Bester explains.
Racing is a great way to stay motivated and have that added reason to get out the door. However, we can’t race week in and week out as it takes a lot longer to recover from races compared to training sessions. Maxing out every single week is also not the most productive way to train.
I often tell my clients that life is far too short not to race. We should race while we can.
Why should you enter a race?
If you know you have a race coming up, it’s a lot easier to get out the door and focus on your next session. I find that when it’s out of season and I have no races on the calendar, I tend to skip runs and find excuses. Apart from the mental and physical benefits the sport gives you, and the love you have for running, that added purpose of a race is not there.
Racing is also a great way to gauge fitness. In training sessions, you can hit good speeds but you’re allowing your body to recover by taking a rest before going again. These sessions give you an idea of how strong you currently are, but nothing quite gives you an accurate indication as much as racing does. There is no hiding. There are no breaks. It’s just you trying to achieve the personal goal you set for yourself. You vs you - with the clock ticking.
Racing and recovery
A question I often get asked is: ‘How long does it take to recover from a race?’ We are all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But the general rule of thumb is that it takes one day to recover for every mile you race. For example, the 5K distance is equivalent to 3 miles, therefore, it would take around 3 days to fully recover from this, whereas the marathon distance is 42.2 km or 26.2 miles so would take around 26 days to recover. This doesn’t mean that you can race a marathon every 26 days to the best of your ability. It just means that your body has had enough time to recover before you’re able to train up again or start a new block.
There’s also a big difference between ‘running’ a race and ‘racing’ a race.
When you race and go all out, you put your body above the threshold zone for an extended period, which means it takes a lot longer to recover. But if you merely run a race at a comfortable pace, for instance if you are helping a friend or pacing fellow runners, then you remain below your threshold for a big portion of the race which means recovery is a whole lot quicker.
Pushing your body beyond what you thought you were capable of and reaching higher levels than you ever have before takes almost every bit of mental strength and focus that you have.
We also mustn’t underestimate just how much racing takes out of you mentally, not just physically. Pushing your body beyond what you thought you were capable of and reaching higher levels than you ever have before takes almost every bit of mental strength and focus that you have. Racing regularly certainly makes you mentally tougher. The feeling of running on your limits never gets easier, you just get more used to the pain and you can handle it and sustain it for longer.
Don’t be scared to test yourself
We shouldn’t be scared to enter races. You have to ask yourself the question, “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?” You could go out too fast, hit a wall or have a terrible race. That, for me, is still not a bad result. It beats not racing at all. So, if you’re feeling strong and relatively niggle-free, there is no downside to racing. Use others to motivate you and run for the right reasons that you set for yourself. If you’re able to PR, incredible! Not many things in life beat this. But once again, if you fall short or don’t have a great race, use it as motivation for next time.
I was once targeting a sub-2:30 marathon. I’d never broken it before. At London Marathon 2019, I ran 2:30:01. Over 42.2 km I missed my goal of breaking sub 2:30 by a mere 2 seconds. This hurt me so much - more so emotionally than physically. But looking back, it’s the best thing that has happened in my running career. It has allowed me to find the focus I never had before. I knew I had to put in the training and make things right in my next attempt. I did that when I ran the Berlin marathon later that year in 2:29:51.
So don’t be scared to put yourself out there; set goals that scare you but keep them realistic at the same time. And if you do fall just short like me, use it as motivation to work harder for the next time!
Put yourself out there
There’s also a great social side to racing. There is something so helpful about the fact that there are other runners around you suffering just as much as you are, and knowing it’s hurting but you’re not going through it alone. Remember that the harder you work in the race, the bigger the endorphin release afterward.
When you run a marathon - or even just a part of the race - with another runner and you’ve helped each other to grind through certain points, you develop a bond like no other.
When you run a marathon - or even just a part of the race - with another runner and you’ve helped each other to grind through certain points, you develop a bond like no other. Only runners can relate to this. I’ve met numerous people through racing in my career that I still chat with, to this day. You forge a relationship in that scenario that cannot be broken.
I encourage you to get out there and enter a race. Don’t be scared, but be sensible at the same time. You can’t race week in and week out so pick and choose ones that you fancy, train for them and go in with a full-send mentality!
Leave nothing out there!
I hope I see you around at the races soon.
Onwards and upwards,