Welcome to the first guide in our series “THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO RUNNING”, “PLANNING YOUR RACE CALENDAR”. As a fan of the Douglas Adams series of books, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, we can take one of the main messages from the book; “DON’T PANIC”.
By reading this article, we’re making one big assumption… you have a training plan! If you don’t, then DON’T PANIC, it is never too late to make one.
So, why is planning a race calendar so important? For some of you, you can get motivated by training, and keeping fit. For many runners, myself included, we need to have something to aim for to keep motivated. And, even at that, having just one goal might not be enough. A distant goal such as a marathon can be a daunting task, but knowing that the race is almost six months away makes procrastinating and deferring your training all too easy.
One way we can combat this is to run a number of smaller races in the run up to the main event. These races can also be built into a more comprehensive training plan if you are training for a bigger event such as a marathon, or trying to continuously improve your time over a certain distance. A quick example of this is the Dublin Marathon Race Series. The series starts off with a 5 Mile, then builds to the South Dublin 10K, the Frank Duffy 10 Mile, and finishes with the Dublin Half Marathon. These races are strategically placed to allow runners to fit the races into their training plans, as well as providing runners with constant motivation in the run up to the Dublin Marathon.
So, how do you plan your race calendar? Here are some tips to get you started.
SET MULTIPLE GOALS
Having a single goal, such as the Dublin Marathon, makes training for it that much more difficult. The longer it is until the event, the less motivated many of us might be. Having multiple goals allows you to train harder, with mini milestones along the way to keep you motivated. This also allows for improving your mental approach to a task, as you can track and see incremental improvements in the distances covered, as well as the time you are running.
If you are running a marathon, I would suggest having a few races before the big day. This also allows you to become accustomed to starting in waves, and controlling your pace at the start of a race. A mistake many runners make is to get swept up in the moment, and use too much energy too soon. Making minor mistakes such as these are very valuable lessons best learned in races before the main event.
MAKE THE RACES FIT YOUR GOAL
The chances are, if you’re reading this, you have a certain goal in mind. It may be training for a marathon, it may be finally getting your 5K time below a certain barrier, such as 25 minutes. Whatever your goal, the races you run should be designed to help you achieve your goal where possible, and not something which sets you back.
Why is this the case? When you’re starting to train for a new goal, Rome won’t be built in a day. Your body will need time to adjust to the stresses and strains that you will put it under. If you gradually build up your distance or pace, depending on your goal, both you and your body will enjoy the process that much more. This will also help to reduce the amount of injuries you get along the way.
A basic plan for a marathon, depending on how far you are from the race, is run a 5K, a 5 Mile, a 10K, a 10 Mile, and a Half Marathon if time allows. If not, try to run the 5 Mile, 10 Mile, and Half Marathon.
If you are training for speed, keep an eye out for paced mile events, or races such as the Raheny Lord Mayor series. These races require short, sharp bursts of running where you can exert yourself over a short period of time. These races will help you get faster much quicker.
KEEP A WRITTEN RUN DIARY
People are Strange. Yes, it’s a song by The Doors, but it’s very true for how we keep ourselves accountable to a task or a goal. Technology has made our lives infinitely easier over the past few years. We can go for a run using our Garmin, or an app on our phone. It in turn will update our profile, even on a secondary app such as Strava, and show our record of progress and missed days.
While this is great, and gives us exact digital reports instantly, such as distance ran, time spent running, amount climbed, and so on, physically writing down our training in a notebook or training diary has been shown to lead to marked improvements in adherence to training plans. I can’t explain the exact psychology behind why this is the case (if someone knows why, please let us know), but the physical act of note taking is something I would advise all runners to do.
Racing isn’t just about running every time to break a PB. Sometimes, running a certain distance is a great way to benchmark where you are with fitness levels, and the amount of training still to be done to achieve your goal.
Racing regularly also helps you to master your race day routine. I remember running my first marathon more than 10 years ago in Vienna. I literally hadn’t a clue what I was doing, from collecting race numbers to how long I should be at the start before the race. I was going around like a headless chicken!! Getting your routine right lets you save valuable energy you might spend worrying about small things.
If you want to race using gels or supplements, using them in race day conditions provides valuable feedback on how your body reacts, and what uplift you can expect on race day, and at what distances to take your supplements.
The best advice here is to race half your goal distance twice, and allow plenty of time for recovery between each. For example, if your goal is to run a 10 Mile race, run a 5 Mile twice.
Training is important, but just as important is how you recover. We will get into exactly how to recover in a later article, but from a racing perspective you need to plan in rest days, post race, in a similar way to how you have an easy day after a long run.
Whatever the race, and whatever the distance, the day before should be an easy run based on your training plan, and the following day should be a 20 min run at minimal effort, allowing your muscles and joints to flush out any lactic acid which is still there. The second day post race should also be a rest day. Again, this might not be required, but it is a good habit to get into. The longer the distance you run, you may have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) two days post a race, so giving yourself ample time to recover simply gives your body a chance to build and repair.