Races are a dime a dozen these days. I know in my area, I could choose from among at least two 5ks per weekend, and lots more if I was willing to drive a mere 20-30 miles away. With so many options to choose from, it’s no wonder many runners get into the habit of racing over and over again.
It’s fun to race frequently, there’s no doubt. But if you are truly interested in great results, you need to prioritize your races and treat them accordingly.
Why? No one can ever be on his or her game at every race. If you over-race, the odds go down even more. Racing takes a lot out of you, whether it’s a short/hard distance like a 5k or a longer, milder paced distance like a half marathon. Do this too often and without enough rest, and your legs can’t perform at their top level.
Frequent racing also serves to take away from your actual training. You need consistent days and weeks of training to get good results. If you are in a perpetual mode of racing, recovering and then tapering, you’re not really training.
So how can you make the most of your racing season? I suggest making a list of races you are interested in and then prioritizing them. A simple A, B, and C ranking system can be a big help in this manner.
First, determine which races are most important to you. I’d recommend that you place no more than two or three in this category. These are your focus races for the year and all of your training and racing leading up to them should be designed with the goal of getting your target results in these events.
Then look at other potential races that might enhance your A races. For instance, if you have a marathon scheduled as your A race, look for a half marathon about four to six weeks out and then use it as a benchmark for your realistic marathon pace. Race it hard, but don’t take a long taper for it, either, because your focus is on the big dance coming up a month or so later. In this example, the half marathon would be a B race.
Lastly, look at other races that appeal to you, but don’t really serve to enhance your A race or races. These might be the local 5k-charity event or a favorite 10k that you’ve done every year since you started running. These C level races should be run either as training races—substituting for hard training that week—or at an easy effort, just for the fun of it. This way the race won’t interfere with the training for your more important events.
One final word—make sure you build in some off-season time into each year. Everybody needs a break, a little time to de-condition, to come back stronger the next year.
Take this approach, and don’t overdo the frequency of full-on race efforts, and you’re likely to see some improved race results at those races that matter most to you. Good luck!