With the surge in race participants and the abundant social media surrounding the sport, it’s not uncommon for runners to race every week, some even more than once a week. It’s almost gotten to the point where social media can pressure runners into feeling like they need to race more just to call themselves a runner.
There is nothing wrong with racing; it’s one of the best feelings to experience. But, with the influx of new runners, many neglect how to safely and most effectively plan racing into their training routine.
It’s important to stress that there’s a difference between quality versus quantity, and not every race is created equal. For each season, select only a few key races to focus on, making those the ones to shoot for a PR or high finishing place. More importantly, to prevent burning out this racing season don’t approach every single race with an “all out” mentality.
Avoid mental and physical burnouts
A body only has so much to give and that applies both physically and mentally. Think of your body like a well with a given amount of water. Every time you race you scoop out a bit of that water. You want to ensure that by the end of your season you still have a hefty amount of water to take out for the races that matter the most.
Recovery and proper training deposits some water back into that well, but once you reach the bottom, it’s nearly impossible to refill the well quickly without taking a break. As any runner who has reached the stony bottom of that well can tell you, it’s far easier taking water out than trying to put any back.
Sometimes it’s the mental well more than the physical that becomes depleted due to over-racing and too many hard workouts. They say running is one of the most mentally demanding sports for a reason.
That’s why breaks after long seasons are just as much about restoring your body as your mind. By the time you come off a break and get back to training and racing, you should feel excited to lace up, and actually crave a good run. By contrast, runners who start to dread their runs, viewing races as burdens, they are the ones who are trying to remove water from an empty well. Eventually these runners will rob themselves of the love of running.
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Use smaller races as workouts
‘Racing through’ a race applies both in your physical training and how you mentally approach a race. With racing through a race, the goal is to stay more relaxed, don’t allow too much of that nervous energy or race day adrenaline take over. To bring it back to our well analogy, this process is like taking small sips of water for the early races so there will be enough left to take bigger gulps for the goal races in your season.
“I don’t have any training partners to do workouts with and I’m not a fan of really long workouts, so that’s part of the reason I run so many races,” says Lauren Smith, who will be lining up for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
Not everyone has the benefit of training partners, so jumping into a low-key race as a workout or long run is a viable training strategy. Remember though: Keep it strictly as a workout. Recognize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with racing as much as you like, but it is crucial that you maintain a marked difference between the exertion level of a race where you are shooting for a PR, versus a small, local fun run.
“Most of the [smaller] races build up for my bigger ones that have more competition, so naturally with more competition I race harder,” Smith explains of her strategy. “In all the other ones I’m still putting in effort, I just have more adrenaline and have that extra go.”
Planning everything right, you’ll reach the bottom of that well as you cross the finish line of that last race, celebrate a great season of racing, take a break to recharge, then enter the next season with a replenished well, eager to tackle bigger challenges.