Races come in all shapes and sizes -here’s some key tips and discussion for common distances – we’ve covered the main types of race below. And remember, even though we use the word ‘race’, it doesn’t mean it has to be a competition!
10k (6.21 miles)
A 10km run is a fantastic goal distance, benchmark and achievement for someone looking to start distance running.
Most people should find running continuously for 10km to be an achievable goal with a few months of training.
Even for seasoned distance runners, this is a great distance for training and bench-marking your performance.
How to Approach A 10k:
- If you’re new to running, 10k is a fantastic goal to aim for. Signing up for a 10km will give your training structure and help your motivation and discipline.
- Give yourself time to train – be realistic, make a plan and stick to it.
- Aim to have run for at least 8km continuously before attempting your first 10km.
- Choose an achievable finishing time and pace, and stick to that – at least for your first run, after that you can get a bit more cocky!
Check out our Couch To 10k Training Plans!
Half marathon – 21.1km (13.1 miles)
Now the distance has increased, it’s time to take things a little more seriously.
For short runs, some beginners can rely on their underlying fitness to get them through – but once you are into the realms of half-marathons you have to build up a base of running fitness to avoid crashing and burning, or getting injured.
Psychologically, you’re also beginning to spend serious amounts of time running – this can take some time getting used to.
How To Approach a Half Marathon:
- Spend the time building up a base of running fitness. You should have a few 10km’s under your belt, and be able to complete them comfortably.
- Make a structured training plan (ideally 3 months or more) and stick to it.
- Find an ‘achievable’ half marathon for your first one, with similar conditions to what you’ve trained in. Don’t go dragging yourself over a mountain if you’ve just run in the city.
- Know what pace you’re going to run and stick to it.
Marathon: 26.2 miles / 42.2 kilometers
The daddy. Every runner will tell you that their first marathon was a significant event in their running lives! There’s no short-cuts in a marathon – if you try and just wing it, or are off your game or under-prepared then you’re in for a tough, and long, event. The flip side, of course, is that the sense of achievement when you finish your first marathon is unparalleled.
How To Approach a Marathon:
- Spend serious time training for it – 6 months + is a realistic window. Most people who drop out or crash and burn are just under-prepared – don’t become one of them.
- Pacing becomes crucial for success as your races get longer. Have a realistic target time in mind, and do your best to run a consistent pace throughout. If you feel strong, you can open up towards the end of the race.
- Expect and prepare to hit ‘The Wall’ around the 35km / 21 mile mark – this is a classic, especially during first marathons. Your legs can tighten up, you whole body becomes heavy and you’ll have to seriously dig deep. Anticipating the Wall, and telling yourself in advance that you’ll get through it, helps a lot.
- Enjoy it! Chat with other runners, take advantage of the aid stations and smile for the camera at the finish line.
Ultramarathon: Longer than 42.2km / 26.2 miles
Since ultra-marathons are anything over a typical marathon (ranging from 50km to 100 milers and beyond), and come in all shapes and sizes, it’s impossible to lump them all together into a one-size-fits-all approach – so below are key pointers for your prep. Also don’t forget to check out Our Essential Guide to Your First 100km, which has an example training plan attached – the advice there is relevant to most ultra-distance runs!
How to Approach an ultra:
- With restraint. Slow yourself down and get into the deep groove of long, comfortable runs. Your run training goals should become time-on-your-feet-oriented, rather than based on distance.
- With respect. Ultra’s are long and where strange things can occur – part of the appeal is that you have no idea what will happen on the race. Prepare for distance, train for sucess, and enjoy.
- Training. It’s impossible to just scale a standard marathon training plan and apply it to, say, a 100km event – you’d end up spending most of your days in training. Instead, look to build up a reliable base of running fitness (this can take 6+ months) and try and do at least one run which is 70% of your ultra distance.
Stage Races (multi-day events)
Stage races are totally different beasts to a single-run event – they take place over several days, usually in off-the-beaten-track locales. They’re typically as much about adventure as they are about running. There’s a host of different formats and levels of support – some are completely self-sufficient (you carry all required food and equipment for the week – think Marathon des Sables) while others ply you with local cuisine and alcohol after each day of running. They’re a great way for anyone who’s built up a good base of running fitness to exploit that, travel and meet crazy new people.
How To Approach A Stage Race
- With restraint. Have a pacing strategy for the whole event and try to stick to it. If you go out too hard on the first day or two, you will not enjoy the rest of the event – if you are still in the race, that is.
- Walk. Listen, here’s a tip that never uttered too loudly when a non-ultra-runner is within earshot – it’s alright to walk. In fact, if you walk briskly for an entire stage race, you’ll end up in a respectable position – trust us.
- Training. OK, all prior advice still stands – many stage race participants are already confident marathon-distance runners. Things you should incorporate into your training when preparing for a stage race are, i) back-to-back runs, ii) training with your weighted pack and iii) (if you don’t already) cross-train – specifically strength training.
- Preparation is key. And we’re not talking about run training this time. Get all your equipment months in advance, practice with it, refine it. Book your flights as early as practical. Get intimate with your pack. Go for a run and pretend it’s the first day of the stage race.