Take Your Marks

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Looking for a challenge? Or a goal to work towards? Look no further: road and trail races are a perfect way to push yourself further or stay motivated.

If you think that road or trail races are only for pro-star athletes who have been running since they were in diapers, you’re mistaken! So many different types of people enter races, regardless of their age, talent, or ability, and for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, remember that races aren’t scary things. If you’re running a marathon to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, well, that’s a different story. For the rest of us with less lofty ambitions, races can deliver a variety of different and positive experiences.

There’s a whole host of reasons why you should consider entering a race, the first being motivation. When you sign up for a race, it gives you a set of definitive goals. If you’re a first-time racer, your (A) goal might be finishing the race in a certain time, your (B) goal could be finishing without walking, and your (C) goal might be finishing, period. Knowing what you’re working toward helps you get your butt out the door and motivates you to push yourself. You see results faster, whether that’s increased fitness, increased speed, or decreased workout dread.

Following a training plan for a race can improve your fitness and health exponentially. Training plans are built to improve your abilities from where you currently stand. They might be designed just to get you to go the distance, like the Couch to 5k (C25K) plan. Others are created to get you to the finish line in a certain time. No matter which plan you choose, any one will make you stronger mentally and physically.

Besides the physical benefits of training for a race, racing can have huge mental benefits too. Finishing a race can give you a huge confidence boost. Once you get to the finish line, the overwhelming feeling of achieving something you once considered unattainable is amazing. When you find yourself in a stressful situation down the road (figuratively speaking), you can remind yourself that you pushed yourself through something you never thought you could do, which makes your current challenge feel beatable.

Think of races as a celebration of all your hard work and dedication. When you’re training for a race, you often expect yourself to perform well once you get there, and can freak yourself out pretty easily. Remind yourself that you’ve already proven to yourself that you can cover that distance and run it well, which makes the race seem more like one big party. If you run further, faster, or just plain finish, that’s a personal victory.

There are tons of different races you can try. In terms of distance, the standards are the 5 km, 10 km, half marathon (13.1 miles, or 21.1 km), and the marathon (26.2 miles, or 42.2 km). There are also races called ultra-marathons, which are any distance greater than 42 km. The most common distances are 50 km, 50 miles, or 100 km. If you’ve never ran a race before, it’s probably a good idea to start with a 5 km or 10 km race and work your way up from there. That said, if you have your sights set on a longer distance for your racing debut, don’t let anything hold you back!

Beyond different race distances, there are different types of races. There are road races, trail races, and plenty of multisport options. Road races are run on roads (big surprise there), and trail races are run on trails (surprise again). Multisport is also exactly what it sounds like: a combination of different sports within one race. The most common example of a multisport event is the triathlon. Triathlon combines swimming, biking, and running all in one race. There are sprint distances, which are usually 0.5 km swim, 30 km bike, and 5 km run; Olympic distances, which are 1 km swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run; a half Ironman distance, and a full Ironman triathlon. Beware: if you’re on a tight budget, this sport can get expensive. You can also sign up for tri-a-tri’s, which are essentially mini sprint triathlons. If swimming isn’t your bag, duathlons follow a run-bike-run format.

There are tons of training plans out there to go with the variety of races and racers. Runner’s World, at, can design a plan made especially for you using their Smart Coach system. And yes, it’s free. They also have some pre-made plans you can pick. For longer distances such as the marathon, there are also Hal Higdon’s plans and the FIRST plan.

If you need a group to train with to help keep you motivated on your way to the races, come join the Accelerated Masses. If you have and questions about what you’ve read here or heard elsewhere, email We meet Mondays at 6 and Saturdays at 11.

Run happy!

Next IW issue: Mixing things up

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