Race Scheduling

If you are planning on running more than one race, especially more than one long distance race this season, it’s time to think about Race Schedule Planning.  Race scheduling can be a very important, and sometimes tricky, part of the running process.  I have gone about scheduling race seasons various ways…the “Run Everything” approach, the “I Haven’t Run There” idea, the “Last Minute Sign-ups”, the “How Many Marathons is Too Many” strategy (11 in 8 months for me), and everything else you can think of.  However, over the years I have kept coming back to a very similar planning formula that has produced some of my best race times.  I always use these scheduling guidelines when I am trying to run a very competitive race and not just racing for fun.  There is for sure more wiggle room when you are not looking to compete at peak performance, but if you are looking to be competitive or set a new P.R., I highly suggest following guidelines such as these:

  1. First things first. What is your goal and what shape are you in? Having an honest self-assessment of what you can expect to achieve and your current physical condition is critical.  See my early June post…Setting Goals…for more about how to formulate and set your season goals
  2. Once you have come up with goals, it’s time to figure out how long it’s going to take you to get into peak physical condition. This is where training logs, or in the case of someone lazy like me, Garmin Connect comes in very handy. Taking a look at some of your past training cycles and resulting performances will give you an idea of how long it takes you to get into shape.  This will vary between individuals and race distances.
    1. For example, the typical marathon training plan is 16 weeks, but I prefer 18-20 weeks of focused training to get me into tip-top shape. Why? Shorter than that and I feel I do not build slowly enough in speed and mileage and (like last year) end up with injuries.  A longer training cycle than 20 weeks has just caused me to burn out and go into a race tired and sorta over running.
  3. Now that you have established how long your training cycle is going to be, it’s time to look at races. This is pretty self-explanatory, but make sure that you have enough time to complete your training schedule before the race.  So look at races that are at least X weeks away, if not further out.  More time to gradually build into a training cycle generally is never a bad thing.  Go ahead and look at races all over the place (runningintheusa.com, www.marathonguide.com, www.ultrasignup.com) but make sure to also research typical weather on race day, elevation profiles, and race surface (road, trail, track, etc) before signing up for a race.  You will want to make sure you can adequately prepare for conditions such as hills and estimated temperatures during your training.
  4. Now that your target race is planned you can start looking at shorter races that you can use as tune-ups leading up to the Big Day. For my marathon example, I like to run at least one half marathon, and a few 5k/10k distances in preparation.  Putting a half 5-6 weeks out from a full gives me a great idea of what type of shape I am in and still allows for enough time to get in quality workouts to improve fitness if needed.  Similarly racing a 10k a few weeks before the half and a 5k before the 10k really helps track training progress and race readiness.  I’ve also found throwing a 10k or 5k two or three weeks before a marathon helps out.  This “final tune-up” race should be done as the last part of that day’s mileage.  So if you are scheduled for 12 miles on the day of that final 5k run 9 miles before the race.
    This may not work for everyone but it has definitely paid off for me…especially since I know I can’t make it through a whole training cycle with only one race on the calendar!
  5. Something I also like to do is find a race (of the same distance as your goal race) after that goal race in case things go awry. There are all sorts of factors that can go into race day performance and sometimes a poor race is not because of inadequate training but rather the weather, a few days of bad sleep, illness, etc.  That is why I like to have a back up race relatively soon after your goal race as a “just in case race”.  For the marathon, I will give myself a month to 6 weeks of recovery/maintain time before attempting it again.  For a 5k, 2 or 3 weeks is probably adequate and the other distances somewhere in between 3 and 6.  This way you maintain and possibly even slightly increase your fitness level and you can take another stab at your goals without having to start a training cycle over.  HOWEVER, it is crucially important that your undesired race performance was based on factors other than fitness.  If you were at your peak fitness, had everything go right during the race, ran all out, and still did not hit your marks, I wouldn’t advise a race soon after.  In this case, you need to increase one or more of your fitness parameters, and that is going to take more than a few weeks.

So whatever distance and time goals you set for yourself, I hope these guidelines help you properly prepare for your race while still giving you those opportunities to test yourself and enjoy the race atmosphere throughout training!

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