Many new runners are faced with the question of how many races to register for annually. Actually, this question is one which experienced runners have a problem answering too.
You may be overly ambitious and enthusiastic, and you may be tempted by the multitude of races which are being held in your area throughout the year which can cause you to sign up for more races than you can handle.
It is essential for your health, your running performance and for avoiding injuries that you pick the number and type of races you sign up for wisely.
The general guidelines for the training-racing and resting cycles to keep in mind when planning your races for the year are:
- On average, 10 weeks of training are needed for an optimal performance at a race.
- It is recommended that you run 2-3 preparatory smaller races, in order to get into peak condition for the big one. This means a race per every 2 weeks of pre-race training. (Another 8 weeks).
- When you reach peak condition, you should be able to achieve personal best results on short distances, so make sure you keep close track of your running performance and analyze it as you go.
- Recovery time of at least 3 weeks is essential in order to allow your body to recover properly and to stay injury free following a race. Recovery includes only easy workouts and running.
- Overall, this cycle is 21 weeks, which means that you can safely and efficiently go through it twice a year. It is recommended that you pick a shorter race for the first half of the year and leave the longer one for the second half. This will allow you to hopefully be able to reach peak performance at both events.
These general guidelines are especially suitable for beginners in running. They are an excellent guiding principle to stick to when you are new to racing and planning it.
For more advanced runners, the pre-race training time can be shortened from 10 to only seven, which means that they can fit 3 peak races in a calendar year. This tighter schedule may have an effect on their performance though, so a number of other factors need to be considered when plans for the yearly races are being made.
Apart from these general guidelines for proper and safe race preparation, you may also want to consider the following factors as well when you are planning your annual racing schedule:
- Are you realistic about your racing goals?
Do you have the physical time, ability and finances to get ready for and take part in all of these races you have planned? Can you balance properly between your work, family, chores and other responsibilities and hobbies and your training and racing?
You need to be able to answer these essential questions clearly if you want to save yourself from disappointments and problems along the way to reaching your racing goals. The more realistic the goals you set – the more likely you are to be able to achieve them successfully.
Remember, that you should set your racing goals in accordance to the goals in your life and work as well. If you are planning on having a baby, working on a big work project, attending a course for specialization or other goals, then you should probably base your racing goals on the more important life and work related ones, so that you achieve a proper balance, be successful in achieving them and stay stress free during the year.
- Know that there is no universal right answer to the question about the number of races which should be run per year.
As with most things in life, the answer is strictly individual and depends on a number of factors, such as: your overall fitness level, experience, your health and proneness to injuries, as well as the time you have for preparing for a race and the budget you have planned for your training, races and rest periods. Make sure to always listen to your body, and stay away from overdoing it and overtraining, because this is the easiest way to sustain some mild to serious injuries which could keep you off of the racing track for quite a long time! Don’t forget getting the right shoes for your foot type, gait and running surface.
- Don’t underestimate the resting time you need
You may feel like you are at the peak of your fitness level and racing capabilities, but always keep in mind that you need to meticulously plan not only your pre-race training program, but your post-race resting plan as well. Rest is essential for your health, wellbeing and your future running performance, so don’t forget to squeeze in those weeks of rest after a race if you want to stay in good health and in top shape for the future. Running experts recommend that every runner plans for at least 4 to 6 weeks of offseason rest per year, in order to allow your body to recuperate properly. This rest period still needs to include physical activity, easy running and easy workouts though, not just lying in bed and spending time binge watching your favorite series! When you are actively resting, you will still need to engage in 3 or 4 easy runs per week, as well as an additional fartlek session once a week and 2 or 3 cross training sessions too. You can choose to do some swimming, strength training, Yoga, cycling, hiking or other activities as part of your cross training during the offseason rest. This will allow you to work on strengthening your muscles and body, improving your flexibility, endurance and your overall physical performance, but without the risk of injuries from overuse or over training.
- Keep in mind that your training cycle will differ from that of others
The time for training you need in order to get properly prepared and reach a peak for a race will differ from that which others need. It depends on the type of race you are getting ready for, your experience and your overall fitness level. For example, for experienced runners, the preparation for a race can take only 6 to 8 weeks, while for a newbie, preparing for the same race may require up to 20 weeks of pre-race training.
When you are planning the races you want to run in a year, never underestimate all the physical and mental efforts required for the training, the race itself as well as for the resting period. By adding too many races in your annual program you are risking overtraining, injuries as well as burnout. Also, it is much less likely to be well prepared for all the races you have planned if you haven’t left sufficient time in between them for proper training and rest.
Don’t be greedy or overambitious. Start with two goal races per year and see how it goes. Your body and your overall performance will tell you whether you are ready to add more events in your racing calendar next year!