We talked recently about setting bold yet realistic goals, but how does that practically manifest itself in training and racing? Planning your annual racing calendar once you set your yearly goals will help you develop a smart, timely, and realistic plan for achieving your goals. Often, when you can choose from nearly an endless array of races, crafting your race calendar can prove frustrating and intimidating. Rather than stressing or abandoning your goals, follow this 5 step guide to planning your annual racing calendar.
5 Steps to Planning Your Annual Racing Calendar
Work Backwards from Your Biggest Goal
Most runners set a single, big goal for the year: qualify for Boston, PR in the half marathon, run their first ultra race, or run below 20 minutes in the 5K. All of your races in a calendar year should contribute to your achievement of your most important goal. For example, if you want to PR at a very specific marathon, then do not sign up for a half marathon the week before, even if that half marathon sounds fun.
From there, focus on your other 1-3 goal races. Each of these races is considered a “peak:” your race-specific fitness will be at its highest when you toe the starting line of this race. Be sure to allow enough time to recover, train, and peak between each of your goal races; optimally, 8-16 weeks, depending upon the distance of your goal races.
If you have major goals beyond running, your racing schedule must heed to these goals, since life is more important than running that one specific marathon. Whether you have your sights set on attending graduate school, having a baby, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or spending part of the year volunteering abroad, your races and training with these goal races should not conflict with these other aspirations.
Focus on Your Personal Training and Racing Preferences
I don’t like to race often, mostly because I love the process of base building and a focused training cycle more than racing itself. Racing for fun is not an applicable concept for me, since I am a competitive person. When I craft my annual racing calendar, I pick my goal races, ensure there is ample time to train and recover, and set it at that. I raced three times in 2015 (and one of these was a virtual race) and plan on doing only 3-4 races in 2016. I prefer longer distances races, which require longer training cycles and recovery periods.
Some runners share a similar perspective as myself: quality over quantity. Some of these runners prefer to focus on specific goals and train hard for them, while others are limited by budget or their work schedule. When you begin to plan your annual racing calendar, stay true to your personal preferences and budget; don’t allow the external pressure of how it seems other runners race all the time deter you from your emphasis on running only a few high-quality races.
Other runners, especially those who specialized in the 5K and 10K, prefer to race more often. The recovery period after a shorter distance race does not extend as long as a recovery period after a full or half marathon and 5K/10K races are cheaper and often local. Some runners choose to run for fun and social reasons rather than competition, or find that frequent races throughout the year help them stay motivated.
Work in Cycles: Recovery, Base, Fundamental, Sharpening, and Peak
Periodization is a popular technical term in coaching jargon and refers to dividing your training and racing into smaller cycles. A single race training cycle is known as a macrocycle, in which you progress in mesocycles from your base, through a fundamental period (or a strength period and then a speed period, depending on whether your periodization is linear or nonlinear), and finish with a sharpening period right before you peak at your goal race. The longer your race, the longer your macrocycle; experienced 5K runners may only take 6-8 weeks to train for a goal race, while a novice marathoner may need up to 20 weeks of training to first build a base and then increase their long runs.
Of course, a running coach will take care of planning out your meso- and microcycles for you. What you need to consider when planning your annual racing calendar, as I hinted at above, that you allow enough time between goal races to fit in each of these cycles. If your 2016 racing calendar includes two goal marathons, you want to select races with enough time between them for a 2 week recovery period, a 4-8 week base building period, and a 12-18 week training period.
Respect the Marathon (and Half Marathon)
That said, the distances which you choose to race will impact your frequency and volume of races on your annual calendar. As a certified running coach, I do not recommend running more than three marathons a year. Why? Whether you race it or just run it, the marathon demands a strenuous effort from you, both mentally and physically, and thus requires a dedicated recovery period. Half marathons also require a significant recovery period afterwards before you can race again. Overtraining, burnout, and overuse injuries pose a formidable threat for runners who train too hard and race too often without proper recovery periods, so if you primarily focus on the half marathon or longer, racing once a month (or even once every two or three months) may be too much for your mind and body.
Add A Few Tune-Up Races if Desired
Some runners benefit, especially psychologically, from the inclusion of tune-up races during training for the half marathon or marathon. Your tune-up race should be roughly 3-5 weeks before your goal race and be a shorter distance than your goal race: 5K for 10K racers, 10K for half marathoners, and a half marathon for marathoners. Usually, these races are not run at maximal effort, but instead used to further ingrain goal race pace. These tune-up races will teach you how to pace yourself smartly and you can rehearse your fueling and hydration strategy. As with many aspects of race training, less can actually be more with tune-up races, as this article from Runner’s Connect explains.
If you don’t like tune-up races or your schedule or budget does not permit them, don’t worry! You can schedule time trials during your training to determine your current level of fitness. Unlike tune-up races, time trials eliminate the temptation to be too competitive (someone passes you during a race and you speed up, or you ditch your race plan in favor of a PR) and offer more flexibility for your schedule and training.
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Want individualized guidance in planning your races, smartly and effectively training for them, and running your personal best in 2016? Email me at [email protected] to schedule your consultation today to work with me as your running coach! You can learn more about my services and rates here.
I’ll be linking up with Jill for Fitness Friday! Be sure to check up the weekly link-up of useful fitness tips and workouts!
How often do you prefer to race?
How do you select your big goal races?
Do you have any questions about race planning and goal setting?