Setting your Race Goal Time & Training for it!

So you’ve taken the plunge and entered an upcoming running race. Typically, unless you’re coming off the back of a great training block period (presumably to compete or complete a different race), you will require a lead time prior to this date to allow you sufficient time to adequately train.

Planning to allow yourself sufficient time depends on a number of factors, such as the distance of the race, your running background and how good a shape you’re currently in and what your realistic goals are for this race.

All of these considerations are equally as important as the next. For example, if you’re a seasoned runner who regularly runs 20-30 miles per week even when you’re not in training for anything specific, then if entering a marathon, you will need to allow a build up of somewhere around 16-18 weeks. There are many great online training programmes that help you get a better understanding of timeframes and actual training to be done, such as However, if as a seasoned runner, you wish to compete in a 10k race, then you won’t typically need anywhere near this long to get into shape.

Again, attaining the sufficient level of fitness and endurance that you need to hit your goal will largely be governed by what level you are starting from and whether or not your ‘goal’ is actually realistically achievable.

Now, every training programme for a long race, such as a half or a full marathon, will suggest that a staple part of your running diet should consist of a build up of regular ‘long’ runs. This will do many things physiologically, such as teach your body to burn fat as fuel before depleting your glycogen stores (so long as your running at a pace a good 1 min or slower than your planned marathon pace). It will also build ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres and help allow the body to push more blood to the hard working muscles.


However, to improve fitness levels and actually improve times, you will need do more than simply go out a continually run long slow miles. Simple rule – if you want to run faster, you’ll need to train faster. Sounds obvious right!? This also means training smart!

To get faster there are many things you can do that work better for each individual. You’ll need to consider speed work, such as running multiple 400, 800 and even mile repeats. Typically you will want to run these slightly faster than your targeted goal pace and assuming it’s the marathon your training for, work up to eventually running somewhere between 6-8 of these mile repeats sandwiched in between a couple of miles slower warm up and warm down (you should also include an appropriate ‘recovery’ time after each repeat to allow you to catch your breath back – typically around 2-2.30 mins jogging, NOT WALKING). You can consider doing these (obviously do more repeats if you’re running shorter distances such as 400 or 800 meters and reduce recovery time in between) perhaps once 7-10 days.

You’ll need to consider strength work and shouldn’t ignore the benefit of working with weights and resistance bands, etc, perhaps in your local gym. A great speed and strength workout is hill running. Doing shorter 400-800 meter repeats on a hill (not as many as if you were training on the flat – you’ll find out the hard way otherwise!), running at around 10k pace, will improve your cardiovascular fitness, your leg speed and strength. Many East Africans will simply find a close hill and push their limits for runs of up to two or three miles or more at a time.

You should also consider adapting training runs to include ‘tempo’ runs. These runs are ran at a pace usually around 15k race pace. They should be built up until you can run these for around 30 mins at a time in the middle of a long run of perhaps around no more than 16-18 miles. Of course, more seasoned athletes with greater speed and competition goals will often run for longer times at this pace – These runs are designed to help develop your lactate threshold and therefore increase the time you can run at a certain speed before muscles begin to suffer as the blood being pumped around can no longer remove ‘waste’ quick enough and your pace will become increasingly harder to maintain.

Now, for all the good speed pace work and tempo run, etc that you can do, you should remember that these are usually hard efforts and the day after should either be considered as a rest day or an ‘active recovery’ day. If you continue to push your limits, you’ll become susceptible to injury, breakdown and even illness if you don’t pay attention to your body’s needs. Not only this, but if you’re still tired from a previous day’s efforts, you won’t be able to train as hard the next time and won’t reap the rewads of a good workout.

There are schools of thoughts that suggest that ‘junk’ miles should be removed from your training schedule. Personally, and this is just how my body reacts, I think there is a place for slower and shorter runs to be included after hard days, especially when you’re trying to increase your weekly mileage to improve your stamina and strengthen cartilage, etc. That said, if your that sore that you may even need to alter your running style or cadence just to get out there, then you should probably just take the day off and stretch, stretch, stretch.

On top of all of this, remember your diet. What you eat and drink and how soon after training can help reduce recovery times and make training easier.