For anyone looking to lose weight, signing up for a race can be a great motivator. Running for weight loss and setting a goal that is a few months out will provide more accountability to keep you on track. You’ll be less likely to give up after a week if you have paid a race fee, chosen a training plan, and committed to yourself and your support group that you’re going to make it to the starting line. A training plan that will get you race-ready in anywhere from twelve to fourteen weeks is the best tool to use to ensure you’re increasing mileage smartly, while taking out the guess work about where your fitness should be leading up to the race. However, there are many things to keep in mind about following these plans before you start out.
How to use running for weight loss: The Dos
Keeping to the following recommendations when you start your training will help ensure that your goals stay on track.
Do pick the right distance and training plan for You
The first decision you’ll have to make is what distance you want to choose for your race. Many people who choose a marathon as their first mission don’t end up making it to the starting line. A marathon is a huge undertaking, that will require 30-40 hours a week to train for your first one. At the same time, depending on your fitness level and experience with running, a 5k might not be challenging enough. Half marathons are generally achievable by most, with the proper time allowed for training.
There are several plans available online for whatever distance race you’re attempting. You’ll be able to find a training plan to follow that will get you ready to go in a matter of weeks. It will be important that you research all of the available options, and pick a plan that looks realistic for your goals. A popular website that includes training plans for races of all distances, and runners of all ability levels is Hal Higdon. This site offers several free training plans that you can download and print out at home. Remember to carefully read the details of all of the different plans available, because the site will spell out each plan very clearly and will give you several options to choose from.
Many plans will have variations available for runners of different experience levels. If you’ve never run a race before, make sure you pick a plan for new runners, and don’t jump in on something too advanced. Running for weight loss also need to review and understand the time commitment that each plan has. If you know you can only dedicate 5-10 hours a week to training, then the 14 week, 40-mile per week advanced plan for a marathon is not going to work.
For your first race, you can consider only evaluating plans that have mileage requirements, not pace requirements or speed work. Meaning, the plan should say to run a specific distance each day, but it does not prescribe the pace at which you need to run. Your goal should be to become race-ready by the end of the training period. You can wait until you have a few race experiences under your belt before you need to worry about training to a specific time goal.
Do plan the Run, then Run the plan
Once you’ve picked your plan, it’s time to set out on your run. Every training plan will gently increase mileage over the weeks leading up to the race. It is critical that you don’t overdo it. In the first couple of weeks, there may be runs on your plan that are only two or three miles, and it may be tempting to ignore the set distance if you’re feeling good and stay out for a few extra miles. This will only lead to bad results, because unless you’ve been running regularly for a long time, you need to follow the plan for mileage increments. Sure, two miles may seem too easy when you’re eager to get started, but overdoing it at the beginning can make you ripe for injury, and it can demotivate you when you get to the heavier weeks that are surely coming up. If you set out to run two miles, run two miles! Then, go home.
Want to loose weight? Do fuel your body properly
Runners get “rungry”. Especially when training for a big race. Going out for four or five runs a week, combined with cross training, strength training, and daily stretching exercises will burn a lot of calories. It is critical that you understand how to properly fuel your body to sustain this increased demand as you prepare for the race.
It can be very tempting to give yourself a pass on eating healthily. “I ran 10 miles today and then did yoga. I can eat that whole thing of ice cream, I deserve it.” We’ve all been there, negotiating with ourselves to reward our efforts and also feed the cravings that come up as we burn through our glycogen stores. Keep in mind that your original goal for choosing this race was to lose weight. That means you need to keep a careful watch of calories in, calories out, and all macro-nutrients like protein, fat, and carbs. It will be common to find yourself in a state of constant hunger. You need to acknowledge that, and then turn to the basic rules of nutrition and weight loss before deciding what to eat.
Lots of people set out to lose weight by running a marathon, but by race day they find that while their body has become amazingly productive and capable due to the training, they haven’t actually lost a pound. This common result can come from not balancing nutritional education against cravings and hunger pangs. While your training plan will help you plan the runs you need to do each week, you also need to plan your meals, your nutrition goals, and your solutions to hunger. You will always run better if you snack on healthy items like vegetables with hummus, fruit, or healthy grains than if you binge on junk food after a long run, telling yourself you deserve it.
Hydration is also important. Hydrating properly before a run is critical, but it is also important to soak up some much-needed water in the hours after a run to replace everything you lost. If you are training for a half-marathon distance or longer, you may also want to consider energy gels or other strategies for nutrition that you can carry with you on your long runs or at the race itself. Every runner responds to energy gels differently, so it is extremely important that you test them out and find something that works for you. Don’t try anything new on Race Day!
Do be present on your Run
Many new runners instinctively put headphones on for each run. They buy all kinds of accessories to attach their phones to their arms or their waists so they can wirelessly connect their headphones and be entertained with music or podcasts while they run. This strategy may work, and it may provide some relief during the especially gruelling and lonely long runs on a full marathon plan. But if you look at the field of runners coming in under the 4-hour threshold on a marathon course, you’ll probably notice that very few of them are wearing headphones.
Headphones are a distraction. Yes, that might be exactly why you want to use them, but distractions are things to be removed from the path that leads towards your goals. Running for weight loss without music can bring new attention to things you may never have noticed if you were only running with noise. You’ll get great information about your running form if you can hear your feet hitting the ground. Maybe one of your feet drags a little mid-stride. You’ll never know that if you always run with headphones, but the peace that comes from running without the distraction lets you learn more about how you’re running. You’ll also get the benefits of being able to focus on how you feel, and being able to focus on what you’re doing.
Running is an intricate and complicated full-body activity. Runners should not think of it as a mechanical thing they can do on auto-pilot. You need to be able to focus on your breath, on your form, and on your body in order to get the full benefits. Listening to music or podcasts are really just an attempt to multi-task while running, which isn’t the best way to train. Instead of multi-tasking, try giving the run your full attention.
Do recover appropriately between runs for better weight loss
Rest and recovery in between runs is critical. Your preparation for your next run starts the minute your current run ends. That means not skimping on a thorough stretching routine. It means refuelling properly starting with post-run hydration and following through with your nutrition commitments on all of your meals between runs. It means resting up and getting enough sleep every night so that you’re giving yourself the best possible opportunity to go out strong on the next run. None of those can be sacrificed, and each needs to be given proper attention as a component of your training. If you feel you haven’t rested or recovered sufficiently from a run, it is not a good idea to push through the next run.
In addition to rest, there are many other ways to improve recovery, especially after a brutal long run. Massage is an excellent complement to hard training. Traditional sports massage will focus on soothing your sore muscles and will help you work out any problematic sore areas. You can also try lymphatic drainage massage, which is a technique that uses soft touch and slow gentle cycles of pressure to facilitate detoxification of the body through the lymph node system. This technique helps you relax while also bringing added benefits like improvements to your overall immune system.
Do enjoy the process of running for weight loss
Training for a race should be fun. If you are treating it like a job, or thinking of it as a punishment, then you have the opportunity to take a step back and think about your goals. Running takes some getting used to, but once you’ve built up a base of miles, the act of running should be a generally pleasant one for you. If it’s not, you can consider some strategies to improve your enjoyment of the process. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re not likely to stick with it all the way to race day.
One such strategy could be finding company. Whether its running with a friend or a partner, or joining a running club, turning your training into a group activity is a great way to share accountability and increase your chances of following through. One warning though, it is important that at least some of your runs are on your own. You need to develop your running strength at a pace that is right for you, achieving speed and mileage goals that are in sync with your training plan and not someone else’s.
Another way to enjoy the process is to diversify the locations of your runs. You might be at your happiest just running around your neighbourhood. But if you have access to trails or scenic areas within a reasonable drive, you could consider heading out further to do some of your training runs. Changes of scenery, especially if the scenery in question is green and pretty, can do wonders for the enjoyment level of your run.
Running for weight loss: The Don’ts
Now let’s look at some of the things to avoid doing before the benefits of the training plan can be turned into disadvantages.
Don’t play catch if you miss a Run
Training plans can be addictive. You’ll probably have the calendar view of the plan printed out and attached to your refrigerator, excitedly crossing off each run as Race Day gets closer. As a rule, if you miss a run, don’t try to make it up. Just move on with the plan.
There are some scheduling things you can do without interrupting training. If you typically do your long runs on Saturday, but you know an upcoming event is going to make that impossible, there’s no harm in moving the run a day earlier or later. However, if you miss a run because you just didn’t have time over the course of a day to get it done, it is not a good idea to add the missed miles to the next day’s run. Just move on. Piling up the miles will cause you to run longer distances than you’re ready for, which brings an increased risk of burnout, or can cause frustration or wanting to give up on the plan completely if you aren’t able to handle the longer mileage. Again, just move on, and start the next day’s run as planned.
Don’t obsess over statistics
Running is a sport that is full of useful numbers. It can be very easy to become overly concerned or even obsessed by all of the different data points you’ll have available.
Another key area of unimportant attention is pace. Every running app, every race time calculator, puts pace at the forefront. Pace is important for advanced runners that are training towards a specific time goal. For newer runners that are going through the training plan to get introduced to the sport, to get in shape and to lose weight, pace should not be considered the most important statistic. You want to be sure that your workouts are challenging, you want to be able to feel like you are pushing yourself. Whether that is happening at a sub-8-minute mile or a sub-12-minute mile really doesn’t matter for now. All that matters is that you are keeping to the commitments you’ve made to yourself to execute the plan, and that you make it to the starting line.
Don’t Run hurt
This may seem obvious, but if you’re hurt, don’t run. Runners can get too attached to their training plans, and to the races they’re training for. If it’s a big race like the London Marathon, the runner will likely have made a commitment to a charity team in order to participate in the race, and will have asked friends and family for donations to support their entry. All of this leads to unnecessary pressure on the runner to finish the race, which can lead to obsession over the training plan even to the point of putting yourself in danger.
If you get injured, you need to recover properly before you can run again. You might hear advice from other runners telling you to “run through it”. Sometimes that might be a solution, usually if the injury is a sore muscle or something less serious. For anything concerning, if you feel sharp pain corresponding to a foot strike, or if you find yourself adjusting your gait in order to avoid a painful stride, then you need to rest and recover or even seek medical advice before you can restart training. The race you are training for is not important when compared to your overall health, and your ability to reach your long-term goals.
Don’t worry about the race itself
Another common pitfall for new runners is that they work themselves up into a frenzy of nerves regarding the race itself. Whether it has to do with pride, performance, fear of injury or not finishing, or anything else, don’t lose sight of the fact that the race itself is just the icing on the cake that awaits you at the end of this journey.
The concept of getting to the starting line versus getting to the finishing line is important. Remember that your goal was not to win the race, it was to improve your health and lose weight. The training that you’ll do in the weeks and months leading up to the race is the activity that will help you reach that goal, not the race itself. The true accomplishment will be making it to the starting line, feeling confident and ready to run. The race itself will be fun and invigorating, but it is just an event, it is not the goal.
Once the race is over, you’ll forget all about whatever pre-race jitters were making you anxious. You’ll be able to wear your medal with pride knowing that it was the full journey that had an impact on you, not just the race that morning.
Running has helped so many runners reach their fitness goals. As compound exercises go, it really has it all. You can burn tonnes of calories, increase your cardio-vascular fitness, and clear out the cobwebs in your head. Putting that all together into a training plan to prepare for a big race is also a great way to commit to a disciplined schedule and to ensure that you keep at it. Making it through the training plan and getting to the start line of the race is the real accomplishment. Once you cross the finish line, the medal you get will feel like an accessory to the true winning that you’ve done to get there!