Every year during the first week in August my small town on the coast of Maine is turned into an international destination. Many of the world's fastest road racers descend upon Cape Elizabeth to participate in the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10K. The race, founded by Olympic gold medalist and Cape Elizabeth native Joan Benoit Samuelson, is a celebration of athletic achievement, physical fitness, and cultivating community. While seeing world class athletes is a thrilling experience, what is even more inspiring is watching the thousands of amateur athletes who train for the event. Starting in April the numbers of runners in this town grows dramatically as they begin to prepare for the big event. People of all shapes and sizes, old people and young, speedy and plodding, are all preparing for race day. Every year their training reminds me that goals, especially goals filled with the potential of fun and excitement, can help jumpstart a lackluster fitness regimen.
Running or walking a road race is a worthy and achievable ambition for almost anyone. If you haven't been exercising regularly, you should check with your doctor before starting, but if you have a regular fitness routine, training for a race is easy, affordable, and fun.
Finding the right race is key. A 5K (3.1 miles) can be the perfect distance for a running or walking newbie. You can go online to Active.com to see races coming up in your area. Active also have tips for new runners, downloadable running logs, and many other valuable training aids.
Joining a training group can be helpful in keeping you motivated and engaged. Go to the Road Runners Club of America's website to find a club in your area. RRCA has almost 1000 clubs throughout the country, so there is probably one near you. Another great source of advice and information are running specialty stores. Runner's World magazine has a complete and searchable list of running stores in the US and Canada. These stores are great places to get properly fitted for shoes and apparel. In addition, employees are usually experienced runners who are happy to share their knowledge with new runners.
Women who have never experienced races or competition might be reluctant to enter a road race. There are many women only races as well as low-key races geared toward fitness runners and walkers. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure has races around the country. These races not only promote running and fitness, but also benefit breast cancer research.
Preparing yourself physically for a road race is one thing, but preparing mentally is helpful too. My advice? During your training volunteer to work at a road race. Work at a water stop handing out water or a sports drink to passing runners and walkers. Monitor road crossings or pass out oranges to finishers. The thrill of the event will soon get in your blood and reinforce your desire to train for your own race. There is a rule of thumb in the running community that for every five races you run, you should volunteer to work at one. Volunteering during your early training is a good time to start.
Running or walking just might be the perfect fitness activity. Equipment is limited to a good pair of shoes and comfortable clothing. There is no learning curve. You can do it anywhere and with almost anyone. Having a road race as a goal, whether running or walking, is a great way to get fit and stay in shape.