Plan Your Summer Running (previously "Racing Season")

by Tom O'Grady

Summer is here and with it comes warmer temperatures, sunny skies, and more hours of daylight. What more could someone ask for to increase their motivation to get outside and start training? Unfortunately for many the list is probably long at this point. Instead of doubling down on the negative with motivation and a few goals in mind you can start to plan ahead and maximize your chances of success moving forward!

What are my goals?

Whether you are a beginner or a more experienced athlete the first thing to do is pick clear and definable goals. Many runners base their training around a specific event. If you were hoping to train for a specific event it’s possible to still train for a virtual race as there are many in our area, to simply complete a distance, or two run a time trial to gauge your fitness. Over the summer many organizations hold shorter races on their Grand Prix Calendar to account for the warmer temperatures. A few popular examples include the road miles such as the Route 50 Mile and evening track races such as the Colonie Mile or Night of Miles at Shenendehowa. If you enjoy these shorter events and the opportunity to test your speed on the roads you may be surprised at how many housing developments have evenly measured distances that range from half a mile to one mile. Doing a few workouts and then running a time trial with someone in your house can be fun and productive from a training perspective.

If your goal is to just stay fit then now may be a good time to take advantage of some of the local preserves and trails. If you go to these places during off hours you’ll have the added advantage of having the entire place to yourself. This is productive from a training perspective and social distancing policy. Running on trails can be a good way to avoid direct sun exposure and also to strengthen ancillary supporting muscles in the legs that aren’t typically used during road running.

Many people begin training for fall half and full marathons over the summer. Many more this year will be wondering if they will be able to race at all and if so whether they will have to make decisions about which races to run. It’s possible to still train to complete the half or full marathon distance while complying with social distancing policies.

Am I Ready?

If you are planning to run this summer and haven’t trained in some time then it’s important to make sure you are healthy enough to begin training. This may require a physical and medical clearance. Many people who start training after a long break also begin too quickly. It’s important to gain a fair assessment of your fitness. A common mistake when starting is to start too intensely. This raises your risk for injury and also increases your risk for overtraining and exhaustion. All of these will set you back further in the long run. For some supplementing their running with walking is a great option to help improve fitness. Even runners with a lifetime of mileage can find starting out too quickly will set them back.

If you are coming into the summer already fit and are looking to run a time trial or virtual race, it’s important to first account for a short period of recovery prior to training hard again. If you are already consistently training then should have a fair assessment of where your fitness is. With your current fitness in mind and a specific goal in mind to reach then you can come up with a training plan to reach your goal. Important questions to ask are whether you have run the appropriate mileage for the distance you are racing. Another training principle to keep in mind while training is specificity. Each race distance puts specific stressors on the athlete’s body. Many distance runners reach the summer and comment on how they do not have the “gears” needed for shorter races on the track.

Many people find it difficult to stay motivated in the best of times. For some the COVID-19 pandemic is a motivator to lead a more healthy life. For others it is another obstacle to overcome. If you are not prepared, or do not feel prepared, then there are several options you can chose from to help you train or prepare for a virtual race or time trial. The easiest and most common solution is to go to the bookstore and buy a book related to training or to download a training guide from a running website. For those that choose this route there is no shortage of training advice. Some common books people go to when looking to put together their own plans or learn about running science are: Jack Daniel’s - Daniel’s Running Formula, Greg McMillan’s – You (Only Faster), and Luke Humphrey’s – Hansons Marathon Method. There are also many sites easy to find by googling that can be useful.  For those looking to dive deeper into different aspects of running (such as form) or specific events (5k and 10k or Half and Full Marathons) Human Kinetics is a good source of information as well. If you are looking for additional advice it may be worthwhile to consider hiring a coach, of which there are plenty to choose from with varying levels of experience and credentials. Working with a personal coach can help you stay motivated, learn more about the sport, and teach you specifics about training that are more nuanced than simply reading a training guide. If you are more the group type but would still like some of the personalization provided by a coach then joining a club that trains together may be a good option to keep you motivated.

What races and events would I like to run?

Unfortunately it does not look like there will be any races this summer. This makes planning easier. If we are lucky to have any races in the fall this will make things very interesting.

The Capital Region has no shortage of premiere road races in the fall offered at varying distances from the 5k to the full marathon. Some of the races such as Adirondack Marathon Festival and Mohawk Hudson River Marathon have won awards from organizations such as Runner’s World. The Adirondack Marathon Distance Festival has been named “The most beautiful 26 miles and 385 yards you’ll ever run”. MHRM has been listed as one of the fastest marathons in the country.

Unfortunately many fall races, due to COVID-19 may not be held unless they are made “virtual.”  This year marks what was supposed to be the fifteenth and final running of the Saratoga Palio Melanie Merola O’Donnell Memorial Race. The efforts put into the Palio race weekend led to it being voted as “A top race in New York State”. In light of the pandemic and hardships faced by many the spirit of the Saratoga Palio Melanie Merola O’Donnell Memorial Race is all the more important this year. The race begin in 2006 to honor Melanie Merola O’Donnell, who died at age 33 while completing doctoral work in psychology. Proceeds from the race support the Melanie Foundation which provide funding to individuals focusing on careers in mental health – A career that Melanie planned to pursue.

The second and third weekend of September are already traditionally busy but it’s likely that the effects of the pandemic will result in many races not being held at all. If races are held individuals will have to weigh their options while keeping factors such as travel, safety, fitness, and health in mind.

What gear do I need?

The great thing about running is that it is not as gear intensive as other sports. The most basic gear you will likely want is new and properly fitting footwear, as well as a sports watch or GPS watch. Comfortable training over the summer typically includes loose fitting comfortable clothing, a hat, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. In light of COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines it’s also important to make sure you are wearing some sort of face covering to protect those around you.

Tom is a public health professional and researcher who is also a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and a USATF Level 1 and VdotO2 Certified Running Coach. If you have had trouble reaching your fitness goals or staying in shape during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can contact him for the month of June at to set up a free 20 minute consultation on how to improve your health and reach your fitness goals this summer. 

Thomas J. O'Grady, Ph.D., M.P.H., NASM-CPT

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