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What does it take to prep for a race?


Written by: Luke Laga, L.Ac.

I’m going to attempt to begin a different, more comprehensive, conversation on race preparation. Rather than dive into a chart listing how far and for how long to run over a 10-18 week period, I’d like to draw the discussion deeper, and begin with the beer in your hand when a buddy says “Dude. You running anything cool next year?” Or one of another thousand similar questions. Or even better, when you look in the mirror, catch yourself dozing while staring at your work computer or drinking your third cup of coffee for the day, and think “I’ve gotta get out of this rut.” These are the initiative steps of most people's race prep.

Over the following months I’ll begin, and guide based on responses, questions, tips and inspirations each of you bring, a dive into a conversation on race prep. Some of the topics could include:

  • Where to even begin

  • Choosing a distance

  • Choosing terrain

  • Destination racing

  • Navigating the lottery game of ultras

  • Best and worst races

  • Training volume 

  • Why I race, why you race, why we race

  • Win, qualify, PR, finish

  • Biggest hurdles

  • DNF vs DNS

  • Choosing not to race

  • Crewing and pacing

While I’m completely confident there will be more topics, these are some easy starters. I want to hear from you. I’m only one runner and one racer. My perspective is unique, my approach is most likely unorthodox, my goals aren’t the same as yours, and that is what makes racing so awesome. So let’s get started!


Whether you’ve never run, never raced, or have a race record longer than this post, every race begins with a choice. For today, I want to focus on the choice of the person new to running. Racing will come next.

Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to try running. Yes! Goals are generally the motivator for the new runner and veteran runner alike. However for the new runner it is more likely that running is a product of a larger goal, rather than a veteran runner who will more likely be planning a season or the next race based on specific running goals. 

There are numerous successful ways to begin running in order to help you achieve a larger goal. With so many blogs, magazines and podcasts on running, you’ll likely have an easy time finding various, and often conflicting, opinions on how to start. For many it can be beneficial to find personal interaction that can help steer your start. Local running stores, running groups, fitness studios, or your local Structural Elements® are excellent places to find help. What plan you choose is not the most important factor, it’s actually picking a plan and starting that really matters. 

Listen to your body. If running is new to you, it can be overwhelming to decipher all of the new feelings in your body. And depending on your history with other sports, it can be a battle to decide whether you’re hurt, adjusting to a new activity, or just running with inefficient mechanics that will come around to cause injury in the future. Again, your local (se)® Clinic or running store are excellent resources. If something hurts for more than a couple of days and there is a pattern to the pain, come see us, write in, or find your best local resource to help determine the source of the issue.

While I would normally break here to dive into pages of content surrounding efficient mechanics, I’m going to keep it as short and sweet as possible:

  • Stand up straight 

  • Look straight ahead 

  • Lean forward from the ankle

  • Pick up your feet!

  • Move them at a cadence of 180 steps/minute

  • This is probably, unless you’re flying, going to look like short quick steps

Roll, stretch, and activate. These are the three things I’m pretty awful at accomplishing on a regular basis. Don’t be like me! Spend a little time each day on the foam roller, opening your hips, and prior to running, activating your core. A couple of minutes activating your core can offset countless pitfalls of running.

Get a pair of running shoes. Again, I’ll do my best to keep this simple:

  • Neutral shoes are right for you. If you need genuine support or correction for your feet, come see us at Structural Elements®. Correction should happen on the inside of the shoe with a properly cast and constructed pair of orthotics. Corrections should not come from the shoe itself, as shoe companies are notoriously bad at solving your problem.

  • Keep the toe to heel differential between 0-7mm. Don’t buy a pair of high heels disguised as running shoes.

  • From this point it gets pretty nerdy and I’ll save it for any questions people have.

  • I prefer a generous toe box. Currently I’m trying the Altra Superior 4s. I’ll let you know what I think. I have yet to find, after twelve years of searching, a perfect trail shoe.

  • In general, I think On is doing great work. And Newton, as much as they may never figure out how to run a company and keep shoes on shelves, remains one of the better designs in the market for a road shoe. However, since I dove head first into the world of running mechanics and shoes, the industry has gone through a massive shift and has caught up and listened with most brands offering at least one or two good opinions. 

Women, it’s very important to find a high quality comfortable sports bra.  I’ll rely on comments to guide good brands. I know my wife and many patients have had success with some lululemon styles, along with plenty of other brands. It is worth the money to get this right though. Your back will thank you.

Now it’s time to run. Follow a plan, join a run group, find a neighbor, or if you’re like me, find a quiet trail and shut out the world for a few minutes or hours.

One more note . . . Smile! The volumes of legitimate research available concluding the numerous physiological benefits to smiling while running is staggering. Smile! It makes everything better, especially a run!



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