Plan Your Schedule
Now that spring has sprung, many runners are likely getting the itch to try their hand (feet) at racing. If you are a high school or college runner, you have been racing for at least a month and maybe longer if you had an indoor track season. For the road racing crowd, there is an endless array of weekly competitions to choose. However, if you do not develop a racing schedule you will likely set yourself up for disappointment.
High school and college distance runners have at least two distinct seasons – cross country in the fall and track & field in the spring. During the collegiate cross country season, we usually schedule 6-8 dates of competitions spread out from September to mid-November focusing on a mid-season meet, then our conference, region, and hopefully NCAA championship meets.
Here at Clayton State, our track & field season is divided into indoor (December to early March) and outdoor (Early March to late May). So in a sense the distance folks have three seasons, though we have always treated indoors as a way to prepare for the outdoor season. For the highly competitive and motivated distance runners, indoor season offers another opportunity to compete in a NCAA championship. For those who do not care for indoors or do not have a realistic shot at competing in a NCAA championship, we run shorter races to prepare for the longer outdoor distances.
By the time our distance runners have completed cross country, indoors, and outdoors, they have experienced a competitive rollercoaster ride by the time the month of May rolls around. In total, they may have had seven or eight important races they were specifically preparing for during the course of a year. If you are not a high school or college runner, you need to develop a similar racing schedule to achieve optimal success.
Here in the South, we have better weather to race year-round than other parts of the country. But we do have about two months of “cold” weather and two months of “dog day” heat and humidity which provides the opportunity to more evenly divide up two distinct road racing seasons.
When I ran competitively after college, I liked to race shorter distances (less than 10K) in the spring time and longer events (over 10K) in the fall. I might race seven or eight times during the spring, but I would pick out two where I would specifically train to try for my PR for whatever distance I was preparing for. The same would be true for the fall racing – I selected two to three “big” races where I hoped to achieve success!
To be a successful racer, you have to set goals and have each race serve a purpose. My first competition of the racing season usually let me know where I was in my training at that point. If I hadn’t been training well, I usually got my butt kicked and it gave me a nice wake-up call to let me know I needed to get serious with my workouts.
Some races were run to work on particular racing tactics. Sometimes I deliberately sought out a course that may be difficult, or easy to make me stronger or faster. Early in the racing season, I’d find a low-key race for confidence. Later during the season, I’d seek out bigger events for the competition. The important idea was I just didn’t always race to race.
One can find training tiring. Racing will provide challenges and insight. But just like over-training, over-racing can result in burnout, injuries, and illness.
I’ve met runners over the years who raced every weekend. I knew some who would race 2-3 times in one weekend! From a competitive standpoint, racing too much is counterproductive. For some of you, weekly racing offers social interaction and fellowship. Nothing wrong with that!
If you are wanting to be more competitive, you have to limit your competitions or you will just get in a rut. If you enjoy the social side of competitions, consider becoming a race volunteer. Large and small races are always looking for volunteer help.
Give back to the sport that has given you so much! Being on “the other side” of racing will give you a better appreciation in what it take to put on a good road race. With the growing popularity of extreme races, mud runs, color runs, and the like, there is a great need for volunteers. What better way to give yourself a break from racing and helping out as a volunteer now and then.
Don’t race yourself into the ground! Put together a racing plan that includes a couple of volunteer experiences to enhance your racing season. Good luck!