Challenge yourself!

It seems as if a lot of people are participating in various running events throughout the central Pennsylvania region, whether “standard” 5K runs, mud and obstacle runs, color runs, or half-marathons. Perhaps you have already participated in some of these runs—or are interested in trying one for the first time.

The Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge is personally my favorite 5K race in the area. The beautiful trails, the fun and challenge of the high-ropes course and the Alpine Tower, along with the opportunity to see firsthand how Diakon Youth Services positively affects our youths, combine to make this a fun and unique event.

Whether you are currently a non-runner, beginner, or experienced racer I challenge you to put this Sept. 20 race on your calendar and invest some time this summer to increase your fitness level while preparing for it.

Here are some preparation tips if you decide to take on this challenge or others …

If you are not currently a runner, you have more than enough time to train for a 5K race, such as the Outdoor Adventure Challenge, in the fall. One of the best ways to get started is through a program of jogging/walking interval training, such as the “Couch to 5K” plan.

In this nine-week program you’ll start with 60-second intervals of running and build up gradually until you can run for more than 30 minutes straight. All this process takes is commitment to train for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week. I implemented this program with a group of non-runners in preparation for the Jingle Bell 5K Run last December and, sure enough, those self-proclaimed “couch potatoes” were able to run every step of the 5K on race day.

If you would like to try this approach, you can download the training plan (including a convenient phone app) here.

If you are already a runner,  but you want to become more competitive for a trail run such as the Outdoor Adventure Challenge, I recommend two areas of concentration in your training plan: trail running and hill repeats. The footing on trails is obviously much different from road running, so practicing on trails will increase your agility when faced with rocks, sticks, and logs. You will also encounter a fair amount of elevation change on the Diakon Wilderness Center course, including one beast of a hill that you will be glad to put behind you!

Here’s a drill that will prepare you for hills and will strengthen your legs to improve your overall running as well:

  • Find a hill that will take you 60 to 90 seconds to run up. It doesn’t matter whether it is road or trail.
  • After a 5- to 10-minute warm-up jog, run up the hill as hard as you can and jog back down.
  • Repeat five times and work up to 10 repetitions. On the later repetitions, take time for extra rest at the bottom of the hill if you need to so that you can go all-out on the climbs.
  • Incorporate this workout into your training plan once a week and you will be amazed at your improvement by fall.

After several months of training, it will be race day before you know it. Here are some tips to prepare for that day:

Clothing: Temperatures in the fall often vary between warm and cold, so it’s sometimes hard to judge what to wear. Remember that you will warm up once you get going, so it’s better to dress with a layer you can peel off—a light jacket over a tank or t-shirt. Running shoes specifically designed for trails will give you a little more traction, but regular running shoes also will work. One adventurous soul ran this particular race barefoot, but I wouldn’t recommend that without prior conditioning!

What to eat: For a 5K race in which you’re exerting maximum effort, your body will rely mainly on carbohydrates for fuel. Some popular pre-race carbohydrate choices are:

  •  Granola bar
  •  Bagel with peanut butter and jelly or cream cheese
  •  Yogurt topped with cereal or nuts
  •  Banana

However, everyone is different and the smartest way to determine what you should eat pre-race is to experiment during training to see what works for you.  Test different foods and also the timing of your meal. Typically, digestion time ranges from 30 to 90 minutes, so determine out where you fall in that range and plan accordingly.

So if you feel up for the challenge, mark your calendar for Sept. 20, 2014, at the Diakon Wilderness Center in Boiling Springs, Pa.

The event begins with a 5K (3.1-mile) run/walk through beautiful wooded trails, followed by play time on the high-ropes course and Alpine Tower followed by an exhilarating ride down the zip-line. In addition, a barbecue lunch is included that beats the socks off your typical post-race spread of bananas and bagels.

Best of all, the proceeds support the mission of the Diakon Wilderness Center to help at-risk youths become successful in lives. Even if you don’t consider yourself a runner, this trail run/walk is worth your effort to become one!

I am happy to field your training questions through email at, and I hope to see some of you at the Outdoor Adventure Challenge this September!

About the author:
Maggie Wonsick is a runner, personal trainer, and owner of Train Yard Gym & Fitness in Enola, Pa.
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