In 2005 I had worked my way into good shape and ran the St. George Marathon in a time of 2:36:08. My wife is also a runner and we planned a month break from serious running. For a variety of reasons that break turned into 5 years and two children. We continued to run but usually no more than 5 miles and most miles served the purpose of staying in just decent shape. In January I got my annual “I want to train again” bug but something was different this time. I actually entered a race longer than a 5k and I was now committed. I entered the Lost Dutchman Half Marathon held in February which gave me about 7 weeks to train. I thought if I trained well I could make it back to 1:30 shape and that was my goal: break 1:30. I ran a very surprising 1:23:50 and that was the springboard I needed to get all the way back. By doing that race I learned something about myself and the once impossible now seemed possible. I ended up racing a total of 14 races in 2011. My race schedule included 3 half marathons, a 15k, 2 10ks, a 4.2 mile race, and 7 5ks. That is by far my most in one year. Each race served a purpose for me and helped me improve. Sometimes I hear people say that they’re not training for anything or that they’re not in shape to race. For me, races serve as training tools to build toward my goals and 2011 proved that out. Some of my races were mental breakthroughs, some were learning lessons, and some were proud achievements. The one thing all my races did is help me improve as a runner. In my 14th and final race of the year I ran a half marathon PR at the Tucson Half Marathon. My time of 1:13:30 was over 10 minutes faster than my first race of the year. I made it all the way back and racing was one of the key components to my training.
How Races Can Help You Train
First just signing up for a race can get you going. Once signed up for a race you are committed to it and are more likely to put in the training. If already training, races are great benchmarks to see where your fitness is at. By doing a small 5k at the beginning of a training cycle you can see where you are at and where your workout paces should be. That result can help you create a realistic goal going forward. Also, races can serve as rewards for the hard training you’ve been putting in. If you schedule a race every 3-4 weeks during a training cycle you will be able to see tangible results and know that your work is paying off. It can be tough to go weeks and weeks training hard without real proof that your training is working. This can lead to burnout and a reduction of training an motivation. A nice result in a race can give you the extra motivation you need during the toughest parts of training. On the flip side, a bad result can show you where you need to improve. Races can also harden you mentally. There are more nerves on race day and practicing dealing with those nerves will make you stronger. Also, races that are all out efforts will put you in a spot where you contemplate not finishing. I often have conversations in my head during races where I am explaining to my coach, friends, and family why I quit. Thankfully, I never have and I am stronger for it. Getting through the mentally tough parts of a race will make you a stronger runner the next time your in that situation.
How You Can Use Smaller Races as Tune Ups
If you are entered into a longer race like a half marathon or marathon you can use races that are shorter to practice for your goal race. Just practicing the routine of a race morning will help you for your goal race. Things like how early to get up, what to eat, how long to warm up and stretch, how much water to drink, and what to where are just a few things you can learn in a tune up race. You can also practice certain paces and strategies in a real life situation. For instance, you could enter a 10k and run it at your goal half marathon pace as a training session if your goal race is a half marathon. Doing this gives you the feeling of race day and a great workout. You will also complete the race with confidence about your upcoming goal race. A real world example of this is my friend and training partner Ariana Hilborn who was training for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. She recently ran the Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon at her marathon pace as a training run. She finished the race feeling strong and confident about her ability to hold that pace for 26.2 miles. All out efforts at shorter races also make excellent training sessions for your goal race. In my last training cycle which ended in a half marathon I did two 5ks and two 10ks during my buildup. You can never get a better workout than a race. Just be sure to take the proper recovery.
Words of Caution With Racing
Make sure you don’t race too much. Races are great workouts but they take more time to recover from then standard workouts. If you are entering a race every week or consistently every other week you will be at more risk to injury and you will be losing out on other workouts that you are not fully recovered for. Sometimes the race calendar doesn’t always work out for ideal race spacing so you may have to enter back to back races or races two weeks apart. Just try to avoid doing it too often. I would suggest a tune up race every three to four weeks during a cycle. This will allow you to get the benefits of your training in between races without having to take extra recovery time. From my experience I take the following amount of days without hard workouts after races: 2 days for 5k, 3-4 for 10k and 5-6 for a half marathon. Those are assuming all out efforts. If you use shorter races as training runs you should be able to follow your normal training schedule. Remember that when racing tune up races you won’t be tapered like you will be for your goal race and your performance will reflect that.. If you have a goal of 8 minutes per mile for a half marathon and that pace feels kind of hard in a 10k tune up race its ok. It’s completely normal and the goal to not have your best performances in the middle of a training cycle. Please note that this advice is for people who have a goal race in mind. If you love racing every week and you don’t have a goal race then go for it.
Set Up Your Schedule
The way that I plan my race schedule is to start with my goal race and work backwards trying to set up a race every three to four weeks. I try to put shorter races like 5ks in the beginning of my training cycle and longer races that more closely simulate my upcoming goal race later in the cycle. You also want to make sure you allow enough time for a proper taper prior to your goal race.
Now its time to set some goals for 2012 and race your way to them!
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