TRAINING FOR A RELAY THAT IS YOUR FIRST RUNNING RACE EVER
Training for a relay can be a confusing affair for an experienced runner, but when the relay is your first running race ever, it can be especially daunting. How far should you run in preparation? How early should you start? Do you have to run doubles? It's enough to make you reconsider your decision to commit to the team in the first place. But you don't need to make training especially tricky to have a successful race. Here are a few guidelines I have gleaned from a variety of different training plans which I have listed here.
1. Start early and start slow.
While runners with a good base of weekly miles (at least 15 - 20) can ramp up their training closer to the race date, those who are new to running should begin their training as early as possible. Give yourself at least 4 to 5 solid months of training to ensure that you are able to attain sufficient mileage without getting hurt. While you may be tempted to go out right away and run 6 miles since that's how long one of your legs is, you are only asking for injury and setback if you do so without building up to that distance first. The golden rule of mileage building is 10% - never increase the distance of any given run or a weekly mileage by more than 10%. Having been a victim of thinking that the rule didn't apply to me (and thus injuring myself), I can attest that it is a good rule to follow.
2. Follow a plan.
Staying on track for training and avoiding injury from doing to much too soon is much easier when you are following a training plan.
If you'd like to branch out on your own, you can use training plans for the 1/2 marathon distance pretty effectively. Most of the overnight relays come in with about 15 miles of mileage for each runner, making the 1/2 marathon training plan a good choice to build from. Runner's World has the Smart Coach programs, and Jeff Gallowayhas a great beginner program.
3. Run doubles only if training goes well.
To double or not to double. It is the great dilemma of relay training. I am personally of the camp that it can be beneficial, but only if done in small doses. The idea is that you are getting used to running on tired legs when you run a double, but the problem is that it invites injury because it is a lot to ask of your body. For the first time runner, just building the base is tough enough to do without throwing the added stress of running twice a day. Yes, this will be a challenging element of the race itself, but it will be even if you do doubles all the time. Run them near the end of your training cycle if you want, but do no more than one session each week. As long as you have a nice base of miles, you will be able to complete your mileage. I personally think the daily doubles are meant more for the established runner who wants to improve performance, rather than achieve it, if that makes sense.
4. Work on consistency.
One of the biggest rookie mistakes for any type of race is that of going out too fast and bonking. To be honest, I've been running for 10 years, and I still manage to make the mistake in almost every race I run, especially the relay. The problem is that if you go out too fast on your first leg, you're going to have a tough time maintaining for the rest of the race. In your average 10k, you go out, run your 50 minutes, and then recover for the next week or two. Going out fast and punishing yourself is okay since you won't have to jump up in a few hours and do it again. But in the relay, that's exactly what you have to do, so you need to pace yourself for the legs you'll do later. No one wants to be the guy on the team who hurts himself the first leg out and needs to be covered for the later distances. Learn how to rein it in and practice that skill; it really will help you out during the race.
5. Focus on the outcome.
I think that it is easy to be discouraged in training for a race, especially when you start early. As you start running longer distances, the aches and pains that come with the process can be a little intimidating and at times discouraging. If you visualize how great it is going to feel to bring it home for your team, you'll have an easier time sticking with the training. Relays are a blast, and if you can accomplish one the first time you run a race, there's no telling what you will be inspired to accomplish!