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The FITNESS Ace Your Race Guide

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Run for Fun

Word to the walk-joggers and solo sloggers: Road races are not just for, you know, runners anymore. There's a new breed of beginner-friendly events that merge happy hour with your workout, says Jonathan Ages, the founder of, which offers daily tips on cool fitness events, including a 5K that turns your tennis whites into tie-dye over the course of 3.1 miles and a Duck Dynasty-themed hillbilly hustle. So lace up and have some fun, already!

Races to Fly For

The research says it all: According to Running USA, 66 percent of runners plan to travel overnight to a race in the next 12 months. And no one knows destination races like Julie Weiss, the blogger behind, who completed 52 marathons in 52 weeks last year and hasn't stopped yet. Her three golden rules: "Pack an extra pair of everything to be safe, take the aisle seat on the plane or train so you can easily stretch your legs, and plan to stay an extra day post-race rather than pre-race — save the sightseeing for your recovery." Ready to book? Here's a short list of popular races to get a jump on.

5K: MS Run the US
Take part in raising funds and awareness to cure multiple sclerosis on this 3.1-mile course in New York City on August 16 — the last stop of the official 3,100-mile, 13-city MS Run the US Relay across America. (

10K: The Midnight Cowboy Run 10K
Start off the wee hours of Sunday on the right foot with spectacular views of the Las Vegas Strip; line up for the run on Saturday night, September 20. (

Half: Divas Half Marathon in Puerto Rico
Glam up on race day in your best boa and tiara for this exotic run through historic Old San Juan. This women-only event, taking place on November 9, is the ideal girls' getaway. (

Marathon: Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon
Good weather and a great crowd are key to a stellar 26.2 performance, and this popular course in South Texas is a must-do when December 7 hits. After the race, enjoy a concert and famous sights, including the Alamo. (

On Your Marks!

About 60 percent of finishers in nontraditional races are newbies, according to Running USA, a running-industry nonprofit organization. When you want to do a 5K or a 10K from start to finish — or just get to the post-race after-party with enough energy left — give yourself 10 weeks to prep. "If you can walk to the park, you're fit enough to do my program," says Jonathan Cane, an exercise physiologist and the cofounder of City Coach in New York City. Get Cane's 5K and 10K race plans and use #funrun to hashtag while you train.

Download your 5K and 10K training plans now!

Fit to Be Stride

Cross-training gives you the muscle to make those miles fly by. Do this butt and legs tone-up from coach Cane's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training Illustrated, two or three times a week after a run or on your off days. Complete the circuit twice.

Lateral Lunge: Stand with hands on hips. Step to left with left foot, toes forward, bending left knee 90 degrees and pushing hips back. Step back to start, pushing off with left foot. Do 15 reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. "Squat low enough so your hips are even with your knees; pause at the bottom, keeping your back upright; then push through your heels to stand up," Cane says. Do 15 reps.

Single-Leg Dead Lift: Stand on right leg, lift left leg behind you and hinge forward at hips until back is parallel to floor. Pause, then reverse motion back to standing. Do 15 reps, then switch sides and repeat.

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,, 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, 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.

Download your marathon training plan now!

Run for a Hot Body

Want a physique that's slim and sculpted, not skinny and soft? Look no further than your own two feet. Running is the fiercest calorie burner out there, and done right, it can stoke your metabolism 24/7. "Most of my clients tell me they've signed up for an endurance event like a marathon or a half-marathon as a way to lose weight," says dietitian Kim Mueller, RD. If you've had trouble budging the pudge while pounding the pavement, read on.

Runners' Top Weight-Loss Bloopers

Mistake 1: Underfueling. You burn about two-thirds of your body weight in calories for every mile you run — a 140-pound woman, for example, burns about 93 calories per mile, give or take a few. "Restricting calories too much — consuming 500 or more calories less than your energy output per day — in the thick of training can place you at greater risk for bonking, or hitting the wall, during a race," Mueller says. From a weight-loss perspective, your body shifts into survival mode, clinging to calories, which makes it tougher to shed fat.

Fix: Fill up within 30 minutes post-run with a 200- to 400-calorie snack that is mostly carbs and 10 to 20 grams of protein, such as Greek yogurt with fruit and a little granola.

Mistake 2: Cutting too many carbs. Carbs should make up 65 percent of a runner's diet. "I often find that people feel hungry when they're skimping on carbohydrates," says Priya Lawrence, RD, a cofounder of Tried and True Nutrition in New York City. "Carbs are easily turned into glucose, which fuels your muscles." Nixing them could have you quit sooner, so you miss out on extra calorie-burning mileage, she says.

Fix: Focus on complex carbs found in whole, unprocessed foods, such as brown rice, quinoa, beans, and sweet potatoes, Lawrence says.

Mistake 3: Giving yourself a free pass to snack. Studies show that running can temporarily tamp down your appetite. But that doesn't stop it from roaring back later, warns Anne Mauney, RD, a Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and runner.

Fix: Refill your tank right away, before the hunger pangs hit. "After a long run, I'll have a glass of chocolate milk — an ideal mix of carbs and protein to restock muscles' energy stores and to short-circuit the desire to binge at breakfast," Mauney says. Keep brunch calories in check by opting for a veggie omelet and fruit.

The How of Hotness

You've tried the treadmill to nowhere; now it's time to finally drop those pounds. "You can't keep doing your usual steady run if you're aiming to build a bigger calorie deficit," says exercise-science professor Wayne Westcott. "Your body becomes efficient at doing the same pace, so you won't burn as many calories as you were able to in the beginning." Shake up your routine with these tips and you're guaranteed to kick-start your metabolism.

Hit 300. The target calorie burn for someone looking to lose weight is about 300 calories per exercise session. That's nearly a half-hour (or three-mile) run at a six-mile-per-hour pace for a 140-pound woman. Go even longer and you'll get to your weight-loss goal faster.

Get the lead out. In terms of zapping fat, slow and steady does not necessarily win the race. "Research has shown that compared with a constant pace or jog, high-intensity interval training produces a nine-times greater reduction in skin fold, which is the assessment of body fat," says Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, the director of the Human Performance Lab at Lehman College. Push your pace for one to three minutes at a time as you run.

Hit the weights. "Women who strength train two to three days a week in addition to running tend to lose more fat than those who only run," says sports scientist Paul Vanderburgh. Get a total-body routine at

On Your Marks!

Start toward your 13.1-mile goal today and trim down along the way. Get the plan and use #hothalf to hashtag while you train.

Download your half-marathon training plan now!