All year long, people of all ages and abilities run road races throughout the Tampa Bay area. From now through spring, it's possible to compete in a 3.1-mile (5K) or 6.2-mile (10K) race nearly every Saturday and Sunday. • What does it take to join the ranks of those fit Floridians who call themselves runners? A little time and a lot of commitment.
If you have never run before or were once an athlete but have not been physically active in years, consult your doctor before embarking on any exercise program. Once you get clearance from your physician, pick a race and come up with a training plan. If you are reasonably fit, you should be able to train for a 5K in 12 weeks.
Before you hit the pavement, invest in a good pair of properly fitted running shoes Pages 14-15). A minor investment will prevent injury in the long term and make your runs more enjoyable.
Loose-fitting, moisture-wicking clothing will keep you cool, especially now when the temperatures can be in the upper 70s, even in the morning and evening. A heart rate monitor, which will help you achieve and maintain a target heart rate, is also a good investment, especially if you are an older runner and need to be vigilant about possible heart issues.
develop a routine
If possible, run in the morning or the evening, when temperatures are slightly cooler. Even if you're fit enough to run in the noonday sun, you'll need to coat yourself with sunscreen, never a comfortable thing while you're sweating.
Pick a measured route that is safe and familiar. The more convenient your run, the more likely you are to stick with it for the three or four times a week you'll need to train. Consistency is the key.
Start slow and keep at it. Before you know it, days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Then you are ready to race.
Triathletes like to say there are four, not three, legs to a triathlon: swimming, biking, running and nutrition. The lower your body weight, the less stress you will have on your joints. Regular exercise, when combined with a good diet, will help you lose weight. The lighter you are, the faster you will run.
Stay hydrated. If you are running on a regular basis, you will sweat more and have to increase your water intake. Forget about the fancy sports drinks if you are running only a few miles a day. Good old H20 will work just fine, and is calorie-free, too.
the big day
Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before the race. Get there early, so you have plenty of time to stretch and chill out before the start.
When it comes time to line up, resist the urge to get to the front of the pack. Hang back, get into a rhythm and find your groove. You will get time splits at each mile, but ignore the clock. You are not there to win, just finish.
When you cross the finish line, don't stop; keep moving. There will be other runners behind you. Slow down gradually and then walk. Afterward, drink, eat and then stretch. Hang around and talk to your fellow runners. Chances are you will hear about another upcoming race. Give yourself a week to rest, then do it again.
To find out more about races in the upcoming weeks, pick up a copy of Florida Race Place magazine at a local running store or bike shop. This free, local publication comes out six times a year and has listings for all the local races. You can also view it online at www.flraceplace.com.