A surprising number of first timers make the mistake of using the marathon as their first exposure to racing. While they may survive, the marathon experience usually goes smoother for runners who have participated in several shorter races beforehand.
1. You'll become more familiar with pre-race rituals such as how early to get up, how much coffee can you afford to drink, how much and when can you eat, hydration, going to the bathroom, and what items to bring.
2. You'll get the opportunity to wear your racing gear to see if there are any problems with shoes or clothing. No doubt you'll pick up some ideas from seeing what others have.
3. You'll experience pre-race anxiety. This is a big one. Nervousness before a race can be overwhelming if you've never experienced it. Taking part in a few low-key races can help prepare you.
4. Racing is a great conditioner! You never run as hard in a workout as you do in a race. What a great opportunity for a quality tempo run.
5. Use short races as a gauge for how your fitness is progressing. Sometimes racing is the only way to evaluate if your training is really working.
6. Use short races to break up your training. Week after week of training with no racing can get rather tedious. You'll want to rest a day or 2 before a short race.
7. Nothing like a good race to give you a great psychological boost.
8. Races are a great place to network. No better place to meet a new running buddy or learn about local group runs.
My favorite distance is the 5K; short, fast, and recovery is quick. Racing a 5k once or twice a month throughout your marathon preparation will not only make you a better runner; it will also make you a better marathoner.
(c) Dave Elger, 2008 All rights reserved