Tips for the Trail – How to Choose a Race Distance – Xterra – 4-20-2012

By Rachel Cieslewicz

published in Xterra 4/20/2012

Editor’s note: The XTERRA Oak Mountain Trail Run on May 20 offers four course distances for runners, and most other XTERRA Trail Run events offer two or three choices. In this month’s edition of Tips for the Trail, elite runner Rachel Cieslewicz offers advice on how to select the proper race distance to fit your needs.

Rachel COne of the amazing things about being humans is individuality. Running is no different. We can generalize about what we think the right amount of mileage is in a week, or even what distance is best for a race. Ultimately, it is a choice unique to each individual.

It can come down to where a person is in their season, other life responsibilities, goals, and motivation for running.   The list goes on from there.  XTERRA understands this. We are incredibly fortunate to often have a variety of race distances to choose from when racing an amazing XTERRA Trail Run event.

Sometimes we can feel confused over what to choose when given the option between the 5K or 10K distances versus an often admired, 21K.  The longest distance is not always optimum for individual situations.  Remembering this will help lead you onto your best path to experience the most fantastic race possible!

With that said, how do we choose our distance?  Some things to think honestly about are the level of experience we have trail running, the amount of training we have under our belt, and how the race fits into the whole big picture of the race season.

Whether you are a seasoned road runner, or brand new to running in general, it is typically better to start racing trails with shorter distances.  The primary reason for this is trail running tends to be a very multi-dimensional sport.  Muscle groups, agility, and stride length are very different off-road versus pavement.  In order to adapt and avoid injury or burn out, it is important to take time to properly train and develop the skills and muscles needed for success and longevity.  The shorter trail races are perfect for this.  Start with a 5K or 10K, and when the time is right, the 21K distance will feel like a natural progression.

Year to year, our lives change as well. Perhaps last year, long distances felt like a breeze. But sometimes injury, life happenings, or just a general late season start to training have led to very few miles so far. No sweat!  Use the shorter distances offered to motivate and give quality training towards the longer distances later in the season.  The bonus to racing shorter distances is the ability to go harder within the race, which will improve fitness faster than long slow miles.  The thought of less is more comes to mind.

As far as the big picture goes, what are your season goals? Do you want to improve leg speed and agility? Do you have a huge long full season of many races back to back? If so, shorter races, at least early season, may be best so you stay inspired and avoid burn out.  Perhaps your ultimate goal is to race well at XTERRA Trail Run Nationals, or Worlds?  If this is the case, it is good to get experience racing long so when it matters most you have the training and confidence to race long, hard, and fast!

By the way, are you keeping up with your 21 day challenges?  My latest is planning my next day’s training before I go to bed. This way, I can fit being a single mom, quality training, healthy eating, and work all into each excitement filled day. With planning we really can do it all!

Rachel Cieslewicz is an elite runner and triathlete based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is a past winner of several XTERRA Trail Run events, and placed fifth at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii. She is a talented sports massage therapist, Pilates and yoga instructor and is a certified running form coach. She can be reached atrcanyon1@gmail.com  or visit her website atwww.newageathlete.comor follow her onwww.twitter.com/newageathlete.