This year was all about getting back into the swing of things. Fewer restrictions, closures, and cancelations in 2021 allowed us to come back together for the things we love the most, like the summer Olympics, the New York City Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon.
We learned how to prepare for every kind of race from a 5K to an ultramarathon. In separate interviews throughout the year, we spoke with your favorite experts and pro runners, and we were able to pass along much needed advice.
But just in case you weren’t taking notes, here’s a recap of the key takeaways from what we learned in 2021 and how you can use them to prepare for races in the new year.
1Do your research and pick a race that’s right for you
We gave you 26 tips to conquering your next marathon this year, but you’re not going to make it to the finish line without doing some homework first. Consider reviewing the race route beforehand and training on similar routes. With a little digging, you can even find out what fueling products will be offered throughout that day and you can use them during your training to see how your body responds. (And if you don’t do well with them, figure out what works for you and use that during your race instead.)
Running a trail race instead? No worries—you can still use the internet to your benefit. You can find a ton of information about the race by switching up your search terms. Science of Speed coach Kristin Halley told Runner’s World she recommends searching the race by name and adding the word “blog” or phrases like “race review” and “race report” to the search engine for better results.
Most importantly, don’t be pressured into participating in a race you’re not prepared for physically or mentally, as it can lead to an injury or burnout while training. Pro runner Ruth Croft told Runner’s World she was pressured to complete a 100-mile race, but she didn’t take on the race until she was ready. Take your time to tackle the distances when you’re up to it. There’s no rush!
You’re not going wake up one morning and run a race without any training or preparation. No matter what kind of race it is, you want to slowly prepare yourself for race day and train accordingly. Remember that the little things count and incorporate that motto into your training as you prepare for your next race.
“For me, successful training and racing starts with nutrition, getting enough protein right after a run, and a proper meal soon after that. I also get a massage weekly, and I take ice baths,” Croft told Runner’s World. She suggested dedicating time for strength training, cross-training, and recovery.
Another important tip is to train for the race you’re running. If you’re preparing for a trail race, run on trails covered in dirt, grass, and gravel. If your race is going to be hilly, make sure to incorporate hill workouts into your training, as well as gym sessions to strengthen your calves, hamstrings, and quads.
But don’t forget to be flexible, Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel told Runner’s World when she shared her most sacred running strategies with us. You can make changes to your training plan as needed. “You should have the confidence in yourself to say one day isn’t going to make a difference,” Seidel said. Listening to your body can help spare you from future injuries.3Gear up properly
Like we mentioned before, you should mimic race day as much as possible during your training. Try on all your running gear—shoes, socks, tops, and bottoms—for at least one long run. Make sure everything is nice and comfy—you don’t want anything irritating you or rubbing you the wrong way when the big day comes.
If you’re running on a trail, what you pack is very important because there aren’t many people on the sidelines to help or cheer you along. Coach Halley told Runner’s World that often people are running for hours before they reach the next aid station. So, gear up properly and make sure you’re able to carry hydration packs, food, and other essentials you may need for the race.
While negative splits—running the second half of your run or race faster than your first half—often signal a “successful” run, you don’t need to do this.
For trails, for instance, consider the race in totality rather than miles or halves. By studying ahead of time, you can pinpoint which spots to either slow down or speed up at.
Additionally, experts suggest avoiding the pack and sticking to what you know. And, Seidel mentioned the key to a strong finish is conserving your legs in the beginning of the race.5Prioritize your mental health
When five pro runners spoke to Runner’s World to share their best marathon tips, they credited motivation as the secret key to unlocking your full potential. While running is a physical sport, a lot of the techniques that help you reach the finish line are mental. Pro runners encouraged everything from setting mantras to writing motivation phrases on your hands to remembering the moments of perseverance to help you cross the finish line.
When you are running long distances, Seidel said to get a little comfortable with being uncomfortable. “A lot of times, I won’t listen to music or anything when I run to practice that feeling of being like, ‘okay, this sucks.’ And I just have to sit with this feeling for the next hour or so,” she said.
But there’s more to being mentally fit than some may think, especially for those in the spotlight. This year some runners took a moment to focus on their mental health. Team USA members like Raven Sanders and Val Constien spoke openly with Runner’s World about their experiences with battling stress, anxiety, and depression and how they tackled it while training. They said therapy, meditation, medication, and religion helped them through the toughest times on and off the field.