With race registrations opening and lottery results coming out, this is the time to start planning your year. A good racing schedule will lead to a fun and rewarding racing season. Below are some guidelines to help you set you up for success.
First, pick five or six big races that would be fun to run in 2024. That is a bit more than most people can handle in a year, but we will help you narrow that down in the next few minutes. For most runners, two or three focus races are a reasonable amount to run yearly. With work, family, and the expense of entry fees and race travel, you can’t run every race that looks fun! Even if you aren’t limited by work or family, it takes time to build up for and recover from a big race day effort, so you will likely find the most success aiming for two or three main events each year. A spring, early, and late summer or fall races work very well for most people. If you’d like to do a winter or early spring race, remember that it will require you to train hard through the shortest days of the year.
Now that you’ve got a few races in mind let’s narrow them down. Ideally, you will have at least three months between your main events. This will allow for adequate time to recover and train in between events. Recovery time is generally proportional to race distance. If you want to do ultra-distance events, ensure you have at least three months of recovery between your races. If you run sub-ultra-distance events, you will not need as much time to recover from your races. However, don’t underestimate how much a “short” race will take out of you! If you space your races too close together, you are more likely to skimp on recovery so you can get in more training for your next event.
Why is recovery so important? When you train or race, you break your body down. In response, your body builds back stronger to better handle the stress of training and racing. This takes time. An easy run may take hours to recover from, while a hard workout or long run may take days. If you give your body adequate time to recover, it will come back stronger than before. However, if you don’t allow your body to recover fully, you will return at less than 100%. If you do this repeatedly, you will stop progressing with training and end up tired and unmotivated. This is important to remember when planning your race schedule; it can be tempting to start training after a race before your body is ready to go if you don’t have enough time between races.
Now that you’ve got some main events on your calendar, it’s time to add a few other races that can serve as stepping stones toward your focus races. Not yet! Between training and traveling, racing is time-consuming. Running isn’t everything, so please keep your family in mind, too! Once you have some big races on the calendar, planning a family vacation around those races would be a good move! Many runners find great success taking a vacation shortly after a focus race. They don’t feel the urge to train, allowing them to spend more time enjoying the vacation with their family. If your family vacation doesn’t fall after a race, recognize that you likely won’t be able to train much on vacation, so adjust your race plans accordingly.
Some runners like to race a lot, and adding in training races is a great way to race more frequently. These races serve as stepping stones to your main events. It is important to remember that recovery is still vital, so don’t think you can risk just by calling your races or training races. Generally, runners won’t taper for a training race and will not push as hard as a focus race. This makes the event less taxing and will promote a quicker recovery. Spacing your training races at least a month apart is smart. You can do them more frequently if you are careful not to push too hard. While training races are fun to add in, they are not necessary. It’s OK to focus on the main events.
When picking training races, here are a couple of tips. First, try to choose a race similar to your next big event. Running on similar terrain and in a similar climate will help you best prepare for your big race. Second, support local races! Many races serve as fundraisers for local high schools or trail-building groups, so supporting these events helps your local community. Staying local is usually much more accessible with family and work. And it’s much better for the environment. A 2019 Ultrasignup study showed that 98% of an event’s carbon footprint comes from event-related travel by participants.
There’s a lot to think about when planning your year, but here are three key points to remember. First, pick fun races. Second, make sure you leave yourself time to recover between races. Third, set aside some time to spend with your family. If you have questions about building a racing schedule or want help planning your racing season, please feel free to reach out.