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The FITNESS Ace Your Race Guide

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Run for Bragging Rights

Been around the block one time too many? Get fired up by besting your times or tackling a boast-worthy distance, like a marathon's. "Anyone can conquer a marathon distance, even if it seems impossible," says Paul Vanderburgh, a professor of health and sports science at the University of Dayton. "And the psychological benefits probably outweigh the physical ones." Follow our strategies all the way to 26.2.

Go Faster, Stronger, Longer

Rule 1: Ramp up this way. Give yourself at least 16 weeks to train for a marathon, or 12 weeks if you already have an above-average fitness level, says Blue Benadum, the coach of the L.A. Speed Project running team. Gradually extend your long run by a couple of miles a week until you hit your peak distance (around 20 miles) at about week 10. After that, you'll gradually shorten your runs (aka tapering).

Rule 2: Rev your training runs. Not satisfied just to finish the race? Benadum recommends doing speed intervals three times a week, including as a part of your long run. Try his simple formula: Pick up the pace for a minute every six minutes. "These will help build your cardio capacity so you can push harder as you get fitter," he says.

Rule 3: Save your juice. "Pacing your run produces the best times," Benadum says. Mind your mile splits -- how long each mile took you -- and aim to start five to 10 seconds slower per mile than your goal pace. "You'll be able to finish five to 10 seconds faster because your glycogen stores get sapped quicker in the second half of the run," says Wayne Westcott, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Quincy College.

Hydration Station

Be a running machine on race day by using these smart drinking strategies to top off your tank.

Step 1: Know your H2O needs. It's not uncommon for runners to lose one to two pounds of water weight, or a half to a full liter of sweat, per hour. Weigh yourself before and after you do a training run to make sure you're not losing more than 2 percent of your weight, says Kim Mueller, RD, a certified specialist in sports dietetics and an elite runner. (For a 140-pound woman, that's about three pounds.) Many runners need to drink four to eight ounces of fluid at every aid station or every 15 minutes.

Step 2: Start sipping 24 hours before. Instead of carb loading, try electrolyte loading the day before a race or a long run, suggests Jennifer Howard-Brown, a coach for Rogue Running in Austin, Texas. (Electrolytes are minerals, such as sodium and magnesium, that are important for muscle contraction.) Using an electrolyte product like flavored, nearly calorie-free Nuun ($24 for 12 tablets, nuun.com), which you dissolve in your water bottle, for a few of your daily glasses of H20 should do the trick and can also help prevent cramping.

Step 3: Tote fuel for the long run. When you're at it for more than an hour, water typically isn't enough to replenish what you lose in sweat or to help with endurance. Two key substances you also need: carbs and electrolytes. Aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbs and 200 to 400 milligrams of sodium per hour, Mueller says. (We like the four-ounce Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Drink; $46 for a case of 20, fuelbelt.com.) If you prefer to get your boost from an energy gel or chew, pair it with water, not a sports drink, to avoid gastrointestinal problems, Mueller says.

On Your Marks!

FITNESS readers have spoken: The marathon topped their 2014 bucket-list race distance! Try our 16-week marathon plan and use #bragrun to hashtag while you train.

 
Next:  Run for a Hot Body

 

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