There is a delicate balance between showing up to a goal race having raced too much throughout the year, or not enough. Tips for creating the perfect racing schedule are described below.
Choose 2 – 4 Goal Races
Often, runners believe that it is reasonable to run 16 races per year and achieve a personal best each time. On the contrary, this is a recipe for disaster, as it can easily lead to mental burnout and physical fatigue. Instead, choose 2 – 4 races that you will focus your training on. If racing primarily longer distances (i.e. marathons or ultras), stick to 2 goal races per year, while those who specialize in shorter distances can plan to race more often.
Plan appropriate “Dress Rehearsals”
A common mistake athletes make is to show up to their “A” race not having toed a starting line in a considerable amount of time. There are many reasons this approach is not ideal. Athletes often refer to their first race back after a period away from competition as a “rust buster,” because the body quickly forgets the additional stress that racing provides. In addition, an athlete that races often will experience less anxiety on the starting line than someone who competes less frequently. Therefore, always plan to have a “dress rehearsal” 4 – 6 weeks before your goal race. For instance, if you are planning a fall marathon, race a half marathon prior to the event in order to ensure all systems are firing properly.
Substitute Races for Workouts
Do you have a workout on your schedule that you find especially hard to motivate yourself for? As long as your coach agrees, consider running a race instead. For instance, if you have a 4 mile tempo on your schedule, a 5k road race is a great substitute as you will likely run significantly faster in the race than you would have for the workout. Additionally, the race will give you a good ‘fitness check” to help you determine whether you are on track with your goals.
Avoid Racing Every Weekend
Perhaps worse than not racing often enough is racing too much. The reason that racing is good for a runner is also the reason that racing is bad: there is no way to replicate the high amounts of stress racing places on the body. Athletes that race week in and week out at an all-out effort are at serious risk of injury or mental exhaustion. Instead, races should be spaced at least every 2 – 4 weeks.
Choose “Off Distances” in the Off Season
Instead of choosing to continually run your favorite distance throughout the year, switch things up in the off-season. Shorter races serve as a great opportunity to refine your racing skills and improve turnover, while longer distances enhance endurance and strategy. If you truly want to switch things up, look for all-comers cross country and track meets, as well.
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