Jan - Feb 2011

Looking for Exercise Motivation? - Sign up for a Race

By Claire Smick-Kuhn, PT


Often we start a walking program with good intentions and big plans for years of consistent exercise only to find ourselves making excuses and gradually letting it drop off our list of priorities.  I’ve found one way to keep my motivation going is to sign up for a race or fun run.  Many people hear the word race and want to walk the opposite direction.  The truth is most “races” are not races at all but fundraisers for different charitable organizations. Many people walk these “races” at their own speed for fun and exercise.  The events that truly are races usually put the competitive runners in front and allow walkers to follow behind at their own speed.  Sometimes there is a required finish time meaning walkers must maintain a certain speed.  This is usually spelled out in the race information or you can contact the race coordinator to be sure.  Working toward a distance or time goal can help keep up your motivation and can help to increase the intensity of your work-outs. 


The first decision you must make is determining the length of race you want to walk.  Races can range from a 1 mile fun run or walk to a 26.2 mile marathon.  Look critically at your daily walks and set a goal slightly above your current distance.  You want to have something to work toward.  Most people are surprised to realize a 5K is only 3.1 miles. We hear the 5 and think 5 miles.  If you’ve been walking consistently for a few months and worked your way up to 2 miles, 3.1 is not that much farther.  I would encourage you to start small and build as you are able.  If you try a 5K walk and can do it easily then set a goal of 10K, 6.1 miles, or try to better your time in your next 5K race.  The point is to challenge yourself to keep up your motivation. 


Once you’ve decided the right distance, it’s time to find a race.  Newspapers and community bulletin boards usually advertise races well in advance, or if your community has a running or walking club, check out their website.  Our local running club keeps a list of all the races and walks within a 30 mile radius as well as contact information.  Races are available all over the country and signing up for a race at a destination can be fun and highly motivating.  I signed up for a race at Disney World with 3 girlfriends. There was no way I could back out at the last minute, and who doesn’t want to go to Disney?  Make sure you sign up well in advance to give yourself plenty of time to train. 


Training for your race is obviously the most important step.  Many people who either try to push themselves too hard during a race or try to walk/run a challenging course with little or no preparation are unable to finish the race and at times are helped off race courses by medical personnel.  There are many online training programs for almost every length of race.  Many are free, some require a fee.  Most are based on either time or distance.  As a walker, I prefer the distance based programs so I make sure I’m putting in the mileage I need to finish a race but this is purely a personal choice.  Training programs can range in length from 3 weeks for a 5K to 6 months or longer to prepare for a marathon with a wide variety of schedules available for every race length.  Choose a training time frame that looks realistic and within your capabilities.  Most people are surprised to find that training usually requires only 3 days a week and only one of these days requires a truly long walk.


With adequate planning, walking a race can be a fun way to pump up your exercise motivation and is a goal that can be accomplished by almost anyone.