Challenge Yourself: Embrace the Spirit of Competition

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Being active is fun and rewarding in itself, but adding an element of competition can take you to a whole new level.

Whatever your fitness level, there’s bound to be something out there that will light up your competitive spirit. Obviously, as a former competition sprinter, my thoughts always go to running first, but you can find a way to challenge yourself in any type of sport or activity. Maybe you could challenge a family member to a bike race, take part in a community activity day or join a swim team. I’m going to give you examples related to running a 5K, but my tips can be applied to any type of competition.

I like 5Ks because they provide a level of competition for all fitness levels. Maybe you can just challenge yourself by walking the full five kilometer course, or at the other end of the spectrum, you could try to complete the distance in the fastest time. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete, a stay-at-home parent or a weekend warrior, setting your sights on walking, jogging or running a 5K is an achievable and rewarding goal.

To be ready for competition, ask yourself these four questions:

1. Is my training routine the best one for me?

    Training for a competition is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses will enable you to address the areas of your body that need work.

    5K example: If you’re constantly tight in your hamstrings and hip flexors, then adding more extensive stretching to your training plan may help you run more freely.

2. Do I understand how I need my body to perform?

    Think about your competition. If you’re covering a long distance, then pacing yourself is vital. If you need a powerful start, then your training needs to focus on those first moments of your challenge.

    5K example: A 5K race involves using your aerobic system approximately 80% of the time, and your anaerobic system approximately 20% of the time. Following a training plan that trains both of these systems effectively can result in a faster time on race day. Training your anaerobic system will give you a confidence boost, because knowing you can “out-kick” people in the final stretch is a great feeling.

3. Am I fueled efficiently both before and after training?

    When it comes to an endurance competition, selecting quality fuel to power your training by eating high-quality foods to help you rebuild and regenerate after your workout is critical. Just like a car cannot run without gas, you cannot compete well on an empty tank. When you’re preparing for a competition, make smart choices and ensure that you’re consuming beneficial carbohydrates and proteins.

    5K example: Unlike running a marathon, when preparing for a 5K race you don’t need to overload the night before with carbohydrates and fats, because the duration of the race is so short. Carbs and fats are an essential energy source for high-intensity aerobic exercise, but your body probably has sufficient fat stores to call on if needed. As a result, you can focus on fueling up on quality carbs before your run.

4. Does my equipment suit my needs?

    Selecting equipment based on your personal needs can greatly improve your performance. When you first get started out on an activity, make sure you’re comfortable and protected. Then, if you decide to take part in an activity regularly, consider investing in equipment that’s tailored to you. Oftentimes, specialized equipment can give you an edge, provide extra support or improve your technique.

    5K example: Just because your friend loves to run in one type of shoe doesn’t automatically mean that they’re right for you. Did you know that excessive pronation (foot instability) can slow each stride down by 0.2 seconds? It may not sound like much, but when you think about how many strides you take in a 5K, that 0.2 seconds can multiply into a few minutes.

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