Back to Basics with Coach Hops

Hi, Saltines! Coach Hops here. It’s March, the snow is melting, the days are getting longer, and we’re all gearing up for some Spring and Summer racing. Maybe you’ve been racing for years and have your tried-and-true training routines down to a science. Or maybe you have a coach and do whatever she says. But maybe you’re newer to running and racing: you’ve read all of our training plan posts but you’re still not quite sure what to expect. Today I want to talk about the basic phases of race training, and about what else you should be doing to get ready to race.

When I coach my runners, I divide our training into three specific phases: preparing to train, training to train, and training to race.

Phase One: Preparing to Train

This is where we start to get your body and mind ready for the weeks ahead. Ideally a runner would start with several weeks of mileage build up before this phase. Training consists of steady state runs, recovery runs, strides, fartleks, and of course rest days. We start to get in the habit of taking care of all the little things (more on that below!) and creating a schedule that meets the runner’s time goals and fits into his or her schedule.

Phase Two: Training to Train

This is the good stuff. Lots of pace work at goal pace, practicing race day nutrition and hydration, conditioning your body to run on tired legs, and conditioning your mind. Each week builds on the last. Mileage is near peak volume for the entirety of this phase. Somewhere in this phase of training a runner may have one of those “a ha!” moments where things suddenly click and she starts to truly feel more confident. Equally as likely, however, is the “oh shit” moment where you wonder “why am I doing this?” and “how am I going to make it x number of weeks?” These moments of doubt are totally normal and no cause for concern.

Phase Three: Training to Race

The last third of training focuses on fine tuning our mental and physical training. Usually there will be a recovery week between Phase Two and Phase Three, and then we make our final push toward race day. Some runners may experience severe anxiety as race day approaches, others may not. Sometimes just adjusting the taper may help with that. We also do visualization and a “dress rehearsal” where we run a tempo at race pace wearing our race day “flat runner” gear (minus the race number).

It’s All In the Details

How do you get the most from your training? Well, first I ask my runners to reflect on what has worked in the past and what hasn’t worked. Sounds simple, but many of us don’t do it.

Then I ask, why do you run? What motivates you? If you haven’t thought about that, it might be a good idea to take a few moments to write it down somewhere.

Next, what are your goals? You should have some long term and short term goals, but more importantly you should have some process goals. Focusing on some small, daily and weekly goals will help you achieve your long term goals without even realizing it. For example, some process goals can be to do 10 minutes of meditation every morning, 5 minutes of yoga each evening, and get 8 hours of sleep per night.

Running is one part of your physical training, but what else are you doing? It’s a good idea to incorporate some variety in your training and make it fun. Strength training, pilates, yoga, and cycling are all good options. Set yourself up for success. If you hate weight training, try a body pump class. If you don’t like the gym, check out some videos (I like these videos from Erin at Jasyoga). If you’re short on time, that’s okay too. I tell my runners to get in 5 minutes per day because I know we all can’t possibly come up with an excuse as to why we don’t have 5 minutes.

And lastly, take care of yourself as a whole. If you take shortcuts it will come back to bite you. Sleep, nutrition, and recovery are all essential to your training recipe. So is having fun! If you’re not taking time for yourself, you will eventually be forced to take time for yourself, in the form of injury or mental burnout.

Still looking for more guidance? I post weekly workouts for free on Sunday evenings for the upcoming week. I’m just finishing up a half marathon challenge in mid-March, with a 5k challenge coming up next. Follow me on Instagram (@molliedeturner and @pieceofcakerun) for more ideas and inspiration!

What are you training for right now? What’s your favorite phase of training?

I'm a mom and business owner from upstate NY. I love running, coffee, and adult beverages. Also chocolate. I'm currently training for shorter distances (mile-5k) but my big goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the marathon.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. How many weeks of training do you suggest for a 5K? I’m building up my base, trying the 80/20 approach over a LONG time to slowly build up. I’m aiming for a summer 5K (which I’ve done before, so I know with Texas heat it won’t be all-time PR, but going for a race-specific PR) in July, and am wondering when I should start adjusting. I guess I’m in Phase one…

  2. I think my favorite phase is the training to train- the grind the day in and out working towards goals…I love putting in the work and then when it’s close to race it’s really just fine tuning the details like you said.

  3. Hops – how did I not make the connection between Salty-you and IG-you until now? I’m a big fan of your running and really appreciate the half marathon training series you just did! I’m training for Boston right now, but I’ve been saving these workouts away for my next half push!