Four Steps to Take Before Starting to Train

Posted by Kelly Carmichael, USATF Certified Coach on December 24, 2012

The Starting Line: 

How do I begin to train for my upcoming race?


Whether you are training for your first 5k or your annual marathon, there are a few steps you need to take before lacing up your sneakers. Regardless of your experience level, it is important to plan certain aspects of your training before you even begin. Follow these simple steps to success in your training this year!

1. Set a Goal

In order to achieve results, it is important to set clear and measurable goals. Goal setting behavior is correlated with faster race times (Houston, M., Dolan, S., Martin, S.). These goals should be specific enough for you to know the steps necessary in order to achieve them. For example, “lose weight” may be too general of a goal. However, something like “Improve my 5k time by 30 seconds” is more specific and measurable. You can’t achieve a goal without first identifying and expressing that goal.

2. Set aside time to train

We all have busy lives, and it can be tough to balance work and training. It is important to find a time that works for you. Not everyone can bust out a twenty miler at the crack of dawn before a full workday. Maybe you can schedule longer runs on weekends, saving shorter and faster runs for mornings before work. What matters most is finding the right time for your training.

3. Make a Plan

Work backwards from your race date to establish certain landmarks in your training. An ideal marathon training schedule is 16 weeks, building mileage steadily until you can handle an 18-20 mile run. Studies show that simply following a plan can help increase fitness (Lanier AB, Jackson EM, Anzar-Dickens J, Anderson B, Briggs M.). While running should make up the bulk of your training, it is also important to schedule some cross-training such as weights, yoga, and plyometrics. Scheduled rest and recovery is vital to allow muscle fibers to repair and adapt.

4. Track your progress

Return to your goals periodically to ensure that you are on the right track. Do any changes need to be made to your training in order to achieve these goals? Keeping a training log such as a notebook, a calendar, or a blog, can also help with motivation.

Following these simple steps to prepare for your running can help your motivation and performance. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a first timer, it is important to identify goals and strategies to approach your next race in the right mindset.


The Finish Line:

Before starting to train for any race, outline specific goals as well as strategies to help achieve those goals. Goal setting behavior and adhering to a plan have been shown to help increase fitness.  



1. Houston, M., Dolan, S., Martin, S. The impact of physical, nutritional, and mental preparation on triathlon performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2011 Dec;51(4):583-94. (

2. Lanier AB, Jackson EM, Anzar-Dickens J, Anderson B, Briggs M. Descriptive assessment of exercise program on fitness and correlates of participation. Am J Health Behav. 2012 Sep;36(5):647-54. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.36.5.7. (

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 *Note: This general information is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or advice. Always consult a professional before making changes to your health and wellness practices. 

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