The competitive race DC runners have been waiting for all year long is finally just a month away. But with snow and cold weather, it’s easy to sideline a few training sessions for the comfort of your warm bed (no judgments here). That’s why we reached out to Julie Sapper and Lisa Reichmann of Run Farther & Faster to help create this week-by-week guide of what runners should be focusing on and how they should be preparing for the  Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler on April 3.

But before we start going through Sapper and Riechmann’s tips, remember this: Do not begin training for the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler a month away from race day, especially if you’ve never run a 10-mile race before. It’s an easy way to injure yourself, and no matter what, staying healthy and safe is the No. 1 rule of running a big race like the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler.

Assess your goals

“There’s basically two camps of people before Cherry Blossom,” Sapper says. “There are those who have done their best to adhere to their training plan, and then there are those who, understandably with this weather, have trouble adhering to a training plan and get in those long runs.”

If you’re in camp No. 1, it’s time to figure out your race day goal. Are you trying to clock in with a 10-minute mile? Is this a training race for a marathon in the future? Are you just looking to cross the finish line?

Nail down a goal and then figure out a realistic running pace. Sapper spells out two ways of doing just that:

  1. Do a one-mile time trial (preferably outside): “Go for a one-mile run, and then take your time and plug it into a race pace calculator. Then use that to determine an estimate of what your 10-mile pace can be.”
  2. Run a local 5k: “This is a more accurate way to figure out your pace. If you can, find a local 5k and use that as a measurement to extrapolate that data and figure out what your goal race pace should be.”

If you’ve struggled to keep up with your training through winter, don’t sweat it. Jump back into the swing of things–gradually. “If someone hasn’t done any, or little, training up until now, it’s really important to not to increase their mileage in a panic to get to the race,” Reichmann says.

“Figure out what you can reasonably do to get yourself to the start line healthy,” Sapper says. “And that may mean to modify your goal and not have a target time, but rather just get through the race, whether it’s a run/walk or using it as a training run.”

And if you’ve assessed your goals and don’t think you can reasonably make it through the race, don’t put yourself at risk for a serious injury. “It’s really important not to injure yourself by doing one 10-mile race you’ve never trained for just because you signed up for it, and then potentially not being able to run for the rest of the season,” Sapper says.

Buy new running shoes (if you need to)

“One thing we always tell our runners is: If you’re going to need new shoes, you should get those shoes now,” Reichmann says.

Running shoes will last about 300-500 miles, but it really depends on how intense your runs are, how you run, where you run, and how many miles you’re training for. Reichmann says if the first layer of rubber is starting to wear through and if you’re starting to have weird aches and pains in your feet, ankles, and even shins, it’s probably time to get a new pair of shoes.

Practice race day strategies

Before you go on a long run, what do you eat, what do you wear, how are you hydrating, and are you getting enough sleep? These are questions you should start thinking about 2-3 weeks away from race day. Then begin practicing (and since you live in Washington, you have the advantage of being able to train on the actual Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler course).

“When you’re running, we recommend runners who are running more than 75 minutes supplement with nutrition on the run, about every 30 minutes,” Sapper says. “Practice that so there are no surprises on race day.”

Sapper recommends looking around your local running or athletic store for portable snacks that have healthy carbs to keep you going for 10 miles. Sapper and Reichmann’s favorites? Raisins, dry fruit, Larabars, and Honey Stinger products. And if eating during a run upsets your stomach, there are electrolyte waters and liquid options (like UCAN) that are easier to digest.

Visualize your race

“Anyone who’s ever done a race knows that if you’re not in it mentally, it’s very hard to engage yourself physically,” Sapper says.

Take the time to think about how race day is going to look like for you. Visualize waking up early and eating breakfast, what it will feel like at the start line, how you’re going to feel at miles one through 10, what the crowds will be like, what it feels like pushing through the last few miles to the finish line. This way when you wake up on race day, you’ll be mentally prepared for the day.

Focus on tapering

Tapering is the week or two before race day when runners start decreasing their mileage and increasing their intensity. Your goal here is to not burn yourself out but also keep your legs sharp.

Sleep and hydration

Getting enough sleep–good sleep!–and hydration are important throughout your entire training process, but a couple weeks before the race is when you want to focus on rest and staying hydrated.

“Hydration will affect your performance very quickly,” Reichmann says. “It can affect your performance before nutrition or even sleep, so it’s really important to focus on staying hydrated, but not over-hydrate.”

Keep your eye on the prize

“If you’re in crunch time two weeks out and your training didn’t go as well as you thought, it’s really important to stay focused and know it’s okay to run a race at a slower pace,” Sapper said. “Reevaluate your goals again and figure out how you can start and finish the race healthy.”

Figure out race logistics

The Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler is a notoriously crowded race and can become overwhelming quickly, so make sure you have a plan before race day. Are you driving, taking Metro, cycling, or walking? Where’s parking? Where are you putting your post-race belongings? What’s your corral? “Figure out all of that stressful stuff ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it on race day and panic,” Reichmann says.

Check out cherryblossom.org for packet pick-up information, travel advice, and course maps.

Make your health a priority

You’re almost there–just one week away. The very last thing you want to happen is to get injured or sick, so really focus on staying healthy and taking care of your body.

“There’s nothing you can do in terms of more running that’s going to help your race, but it could hurt your race,” Sapper says. “You’ve done what you can. It’s all about rest, sharpening, sleep, nutrition, and minimizing stress. What you shouldn’t do is run more.”

Reichmann also recommends being extra diligent about washing your hands, focus on fueling your meals with healthy proteins and carbs, and sticking to your normal routine. “We can’t say this enough, but focus on staying healthy this week,” she says. “With cold and flu season upon us, sometimes we recommend adding extra zinc and vitamin C to your diet to help prevent getting sick.”

Minimize stress (as much as you can)

“Everyone is toeing this line–we’re not professional athletes, by any means. We can’t live in a bubble and we’re all busy,” Sapper says, “but if there’s a way to not let things get to you, or to avoid situations you know are going to be stressful, so you can focus on being relaxed and focus on performing well.”

Avoid weight training

Throughout race training, it’s important to supplement running with weight training, but Reichmann and Sapper say to switch out weight training with restorative exercises, like yoga and pilates, a week before the race to avoid muscle fatigue. “But if you’ve never done yoga or pilates, this is not the time to try it,” Sapper says. “Like with your food choices this week, don’t introduce anything new. Focus on your routine and taking care of yourself.”

Eat your breakfast at least 1 1/2-2 hours before the race

This will give you plenty of time to digest your food before the race, so you’re not dealing with stomach cramps or nausea while running.

Reichmann also recommends avoiding sugary processed foods: They’ll “spike your blood sugar and energy levels, and then you’ll crash right when you’re ready to start the race.”

And you don’t have to carbo-load

“For a ten-mile race, you don’t need to have this huge, caloric bowl of pasta before your race,” Sapper says.

Focus on eating whole foods, good carbs, and healthy proteins. “We aim for a good 75-80 percent of your plate being a healthy carbohydrate, like brown rice, lentils, or vegetables,” Sapper says, “and then 25 percent of your plate can be a healthy protein, like lean meats or plant-based proteins.”

Plan to get to the race an hour ahead of schedule

The lines for porta-potties, to get your bags checked, for getting to your corral are going to be long, and everything will take much longer to do than you expect. So do yourself, and your nerves, a favor and get to the race at least an hour ahead of time. “It sounds super early, but having extra time is much better than being in a rush on race day,” Reichmann says.

Bring extra “throw-away” clothes

The hoodie and sweatpants you wear to stay warm in the morning can go to local charities when you’re done with the race. The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Run donates discarded clothes from the course and old tennis shoes to help reduce waste and promote sustainability.

Take it slow for the first mile

Sapper and Reichmann stress: “Do not start out too fast!”

The first mile of the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler is downhill, which can make it very easy to pick up your pace.

“If you have a target race pace, go about 10-15 seconds slower than that pace per mile for about one to two miles,” Sapper says. “That first mile is also a warm up, and you don’t want to run out of fuel one mile into the race. Try to remember how important it is to start a little bit slower and then build up to your goal pace and pick up your pace that last mile.”

Be mindful of other racers

When passing people stay on the left. “It’s a very crowded race, so it’s important to adhere to this race day rule,” Sapper says.

And if you absolutely have to have music when you race (though the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler doesn’t allow headphones), then  wear only one earbud so you can hear people saying “on your left,” or “excuse me.”

“It’s really unfair to all these people who worked so hard if you’re in your zone and not hearing what’s going on around you and people can’t pass you,” Sapper says.

Post-race recovery

Take time after this race, rest, and set a new goal. “People feel great after completing a big race, and then they want to get back out there and go for a run or try a new workout just a day or two after the race, and that’s one of the easiest ways to hurt yourself,” Reichmann says. “Let your body rest. You’ve worked really hard, and your body needs time to heal. Use this time to set new running goals and nurture your body.”

Originally published on Washingtonian.

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March 7, 2016

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