One of the primary reasons why running is such a demanding sport is because of its simplicity. All you need is a pair of sneakers and a stretch of road. The simplicity of the sport, however, can be deceiving. Although you’re only putting one foot in front of the other, the mental and physical requirements are steep and that is where preparation is crucial for the athlete to succeed.
For me, this preparation starts with my weekly mileage goals of approximately 65-70 miles. Some of those miles are more rigorous than the others as I workout hard twice a week, finishing up the seven days with a 12- to 13-mile-long run. Being proactive and preventing injuries is also extremely important as I increase the mileage and intensity of my runs, which is where the strength-training comes into play. Along with my mileage, I tend to lift about four to five days a week with a focus on lower body strength and explosiveness.
Throughout my training, my calendar is sprinkled with competition dates. How I approach these races vary, but one of the constants throughout my training and race preparation is hydration and adequate rest.
The night before the competition, I always try to drink at least two bottles of water before I go to sleep. This is so that I do not need to hydrate to an excess on the day of the race and consequently have to go to the bathroom all the time. Leading up to the contest, it is always more important for me to sleep well and for at least eight hours per night the week of the race rather than just prioritize my sleep the night before.
As for the day of the race, my routine generally depends on how early the competition is. If the race is in the afternoon, I do a 10-minute shakeout (easy run) five hours before, then eat a big meal, hydrate, and do a 14-minute warm-up 30 minutes before the gun goes off.
However, since most of the races on Long Island are in the morning, I wake up about two hours before, eat a small breakfast of cereal, fruit, almonds, and a green juice and then head out to the course. I get to the course about an hour before the race and do some static stretching. Forty-five minutes before the gun goes off, I jog a 14-minute warm-up, do some dynamic stretches like high knees, long strides, and high kicks, followed by a few fast strides.
Generally, the first half-mile is the fastest part of my race because I do not want to get lost in the crowd and have trouble moving up. After that first half-mile, I usually settle into the race. It is very easy to get carried away and run the first mile way too fast if you’re feeling very good. I’ve made that mistake before and once went out in a 4:45 mile, which is way above my average race pace for a 5K. A fast mile like that always catches up to me as the race goes on, so I try to stay relaxed and run a controlled second half of the first mile.
Mile 1 to mile 2 is where I generally try to find a pack of runners to latch onto and work together with. Taking the lead for the whole race, unless you’re clearly on another level compared to your competitors, is generally a bad strategy because you’re doing all the work by setting the pace while others are doing less work by just keeping up with the pace that you’re setting. For me, 2.3 miles to 2.8 miles is where the real racing begins.
The key is to put yourself in a position to compete at 2.8. If you’re in a good position at this point in the race, and you can see the finish line, then you’ll get excited and compete better down to the finish line. If you’re not racing well at this point in the competition, the final stretch can feel like a slog.
But the first half of the last mile is definitely the hardest part of the race for me and that’s when thoughts of dropping out of the race have slipped through my mind in the past. But I just remember all the work that I’ve put in and try to push through the pain. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
There is nothing more validating than seeing your hard work pay off in a sport like running, and it’s always important for me to remind myself that the body can push a lot of farther than the mind thinks it can. Running is a very simple sport, and you can clearly see if you are progressing. It’s all about breaking down walls, with each wall being harder to get through than the last one.
The last quarter-mile is the fun part, as most of the work has been done and this is where I get to see how far I have come as a runner and competitor, and how much farther I need to go to achieve my goals. My events during the track season are the 800 and mile in college, so races like the 5Ks and 10Ks on Long Island are essential for my aerobic strength going into the cross country season.
Dylan Fine is a collegiate runner going into his senior season at Georgetown University. He splits his time between Water Mill and New York City, and is a contributing writer for The Press. He placed third overall in the Joe Koziarz Memorial 5K in Westhampton Beach on Saturday.