Whether you’ve signed up for an organized run or just want to increase your mileage, here are some training tips to get you running faster and farther—and have more fun while doing it.

Set your goal. Your training plan should be based upon your current fitness level and your ultimate goal, says Mona Kobishop, a master personal trainer at the Colorado Athletic Club-Denver Tech Center who has a sports performance certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Is this a first race that you just want to finish, or are you going for a new PR? The answers to these questions will determine the type, intensity, and length of your training plan.

Include high-intensity workouts. Kobishop recommends incorporating at least two high-intensity workouts a week into your regimen. These usually include at least one interval/speed session (fast intervals interspersed with a jogging rest in between) and one tempo workout, where you run an increasingly longer distance at about 10 to 20 seconds above your predicted “race pace.” High-intensity training will maximize the activation of both your slow-twitch and intermediate muscle fibers, improving your aerobic threshold, she says.

Don’t forget your core. Cross training, which should include core, plyometrics, and some light strength/weight training, should be done on the same day as, but following, your speed workouts, says Kobishop. Runners require a lot of core strength, so this area should not be ignored, she warns.

Train in the gear you’ll be using. Kobishop’s rule of thumb is to make sure you’ve trained many times in the gear that you’ll be running in the day of the event, whether it’s the shoes, shorts, hat, or water belt. Race day is NOT the day to try new things, she says.

Taper before the big day. Tapering usually begins a couple of weeks prior to the race, with the mileage depending upon the length of the event. The last long run before a half marathon (about a week out) should be around 8 miles, whereas for a full it should be about 15, according to Kobishop. The longest runs should be the full distance for a half marathon, and about 22 miles for the full, she says. Kobishop also recommends doing a few easy runs the week prior to the event but taking the last two days completely off.

Remember the essentials. Kobishop’s list of “must-have” gear includes a water belt, a professionally fitted pair of running shoes, Body Glide (to prevent chafing), and energy gels, which you should experiment with during training runs to make sure you can digest them properly. Comfortable layers are also key—dress as if the weather is 20 degrees warmer than it actually is, Kobishop says.

Stay focused. Make sure that you have a plan and enough time to train, recommends Kobishop. Consider joining a running group, where you’ll be training with others who are going through the same things you are. Motivate yourself with the promise of a gift you’ll receive when you achieve your goal. And if you need more help staying on track, consider hiring a trainer, who can be a great motivator, says Kobishop.

(Check out stylish running wear for race season)

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.