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Training for a race—whether it is the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon in March or a first attempt at a 5K—can be daunting.

Jedediah E. Blanton, assistant professor of practice in sport psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, shared some tips to help runners conquer their big race day.

Get excited to move

The first step is to maintain a positive attitude about the training process.

“The idea from an exercise psychology framework is that it’s important for people to enjoy movement,” Blanton said. “Find a reasonable and realistic goal for you, and if you’ve never been a runner, just start walking. Start with 10 minutes a day and work your way up.”

Blanton recommends using apps such as Couch to 5K that contain routine-based plans for beginners that gradually progress toward a five-kilometer run. He also encourages people to join a running club and work with club coaches.

The key is for people to shift their mindset to be more excited about getting their bodies moving and then build mileage and intensity at their own pace.

Set SMART goals

Another training tip is to set personal goals. Blanton suggests SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound.

“The research on setting goals is abundantly clear that the better the goals are that you set, the more likely you are going to be set up for success,” Blanton said.

Focus on your own journey

Blanton encouraged people not to compare their training progress to that of others. Even if runners train with another person or a group, they should be attentive to their own pace and form and the distance they are prepared to cover.

“Your training process is completely independent of others. Rather than focusing on what place you’re going to get, focus on the time you want,” Blanton said. “When you focus on how others perform, you are not actively aware of whether you are on pace with your goals or not, which can lead to burnout or exhaustion.”

Checking in on how one’s body feels is an essential component of distance running. Engaging in both associative and dissociative thinking during a race can positively influence performance.

“Every mile marker I’m going to do a quick body check—associative—bringing attention to my form, pace, breathing, and heart rate,” Blanton said. “Then I’m going to check out—dissociative—and think about what a great breakfast I’m going to have afterward, or all the words to my favorite song.”


While often overlooked by runners, cross-training is essential to a successful race day. It makes muscles stronger and better able to support the body during high-impact running.

“With running, you’re doing a lot of high-impact pounding, and if you do not have the muscles to support it you could damage joints or bones,” Blanton said.

Aerobic and resistance-based training are important for general well-being. For runners, however, aerobic capacity and training are crucial. Core, glute, and other muscle-strengthening exercises can help runners become more efficient.

Get enough sleep and watch what you eat

While training for a race, runners need to stay hydrated, eat the proper nutrients, and get plenty of sleep.

Blanton suggests taking a deeper look at nutrition labels, as many major sports label drinks have far more sugar than the daily recommended amount. Runners should also get plenty of lean protein, fruits, and vegetables, and do their best to avoid foods high in fat and sugar.

Sleep is also important.

“Dimming the lights, reducing screen time, and maybe doing some light reading before bed will all promote consistent and healthy sleep patterns. With good sleep, your cognitive function increases and you will be better able to perform physically,” Blanton said.

Healthy training and sleeping patterns may even improve the quality of sleep.

“The interesting thing about exercise and sleep is that the higher quality exercise you get, the more your sleep improves,” Blanton said. “Exercisers report deeper and more restorative sleep than nonexercisers. They sleep about the same amount; it’s just about the optimization of those hours.”


Brian Canever (865-974-0937,

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Jules Morris, (865-719-7072,​