Structuring Your Racing Season
The spring racing season is approaching quickly, so if you haven’t yet, now’s the time to lay out your racing calendar. The question is, which races and how many of them? There is no perfect answer, but there are some key considerations to help guide your decisions.
1. Pick Your A-Race(s)
What is your big A-race(s) for this year? This race might be the first time attempting a new distance, a marquee event, of high personal meaning, or tackling a new type of terrain or environmental factors. Limit these to 2-3 events per year.
Not sure which races to choose? Ask yourself, “What do I want the majority of my training to be like this year?” Are you itching to fly down roads and click off quicker miles? Then maybe a road half, marathon, or flat ultra is for you. Are you yearning to spend long days roaming in the mountains? Maybe it’s time to explore a mountainous ultramarathon. Does it excite you to figure out how to prepare for the unique demands of environmental factors such as high altitude or extreme heat? There are plenty of “extreme” races out there to choose from. These goal races will form the foundations of your racing year.
2. Be Realistic
Most runners (especially of marathon distance and above) understand that they can realistically only peak for a few races a year. But, then comes the next question: what about other races?
Be realistic. Do you have the time and resources to race more frequently? What about your injury history, physiology, life background, and current circumstances? Will these allow you to prepare for and run other races? Some runners love racing often. Others are happy as can be with only racing once or twice a year. There is no specific right number of races, but be realistic with what your mind, body, and life are ready to accommodate.
3. Align Your Sub-A Races
If you do choose to race outside your “A races”, it’s ideal to choose other races that support your training for these goal races. Consider the placement of a sub-A race so that it supports rather than impedes the build up of your training for your A-goal. If your A-goal is an August mountainous 100 miler, then choosing a flatter 50 miler a couple weeks before probably is not smart. More supportive might be a mountainous 50 mile race a couple months prior to your 100 mile race day.
Sub-A races can be ideal training grounds to practice true race day hydration, nutrition, gear, and mindset. But be mindful of falling into the “I’ll just race this for fun” trap. Be clear about your intentions and purpose of a sub-A race. Racing too hard too close to your A-race will impede performance when it matters.
4. Consider the Broad Picture
Broad, long term (think several months) structure of your training will help determine where races might fit best. A coach can be very helpful here. This is not to say training should be planned out day-by-day months in advance, but your training should have a broader, rough outline that includes periods that are strategically dedicated toward various capacities of running as you move towards you A-goal race
For example, even though a runner might have an A-goal of an August mountainous 100 miler, it still might make sense to include a bit less mountainous and much shorter race in the winter if this is a capacity you are building out while your A-goal is far away. A coach can help provide guidance on how races can be integrated into your training and help lead to peak form for your A-goal races.
Just like all aspects of training, the type and frequency of racing comes down to the individual. Don’t look at an elite or friend’s racing schedule for a template. Focus on what is in alignment with you as a runner, athlete, and person. If the fog is still dense while making these choices, ask two simple questions:
Why do I want to do this race?
How does it play into my larger goals as a runner and a person?
In the end, races are only a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of time you’ll spend training. Regardless of what races pull at you, make sure you are excited about the training that will get you there. The hours of training can bring as much or more fulfillment than the blink of a few races.