If you are looking to maximize your potential in the short and long terms, there should be some deliberate planning and preparation around race selection, training, and race execution.
Start With the End in Mind
What is your goal race? What is the distance? What time would you like to run at the event? How much time is there between now and then to prepare? How have you prepared yourself for the challenge up to this point?
The Longer the Race the More Important the Long Run
If you are training for a HALF MARATHON, MARATHON, or ULTRA you should plan to regularly run long (between 1.5 to 3 consecutive hours) every 7 - 10 days. If the weekends are your only times to do your LONG RUNS, limit racing to once per month and aim to have those races build toward your goal race.
Use Shorter Races as Dress Rehearsals for Longer Races
If you have a goal MARATHON three months away, consider doing a 10K at the end of the first month, a HALF MARATHON at the end of the second month, and the MARATHON at the end of the third month. The bulk of your training should be specific to the goal race, but be sure that at least some of your training is priming you for the upcoming shorter, faster races. Get some of the pre-race jitters out of the way so that when you get to race day of your goal race you don’t feel quite as nervous.
Running a local Half Marathon one month prior to racing the Boston Marathon
Photo by Kristy Wilson
Accept That You Might Not Run Personal Bests Every Time You Toe the Line
If your confidence and motivation are delicate and may get rocked by not beating or matching your lifetime best when you were training specifically for a particular race or distance, don’t race. You can get the same training stimulus and fitness check by doing a tempo run or other predictor workout on your own. However, if you can check your ego and expectations at the door and enjoy the opportunity of racing you might surprise yourself and realize you are fitter than you thought.
If a Race Doesn't Align With Goal Forego Racing and Offer to Volunteer
Races would not happen without the help of countless volunteers. Volunteering often helps the racer see the other side of racing and helps us appreciate all that goes into making our race experience what it is. If you have the time and the desire to connect with others – even if the race distance or surface doesn’t fit in with your training for the goal race – you can still be a part of the event as a volunteer. At many races, volunteers get the same or better swag items and sometimes you can even trade volunteer time for a race entry to another event with the same race organization. Either way, volunteering is a great way to connect with fellow runners and feel good about the time you spend making the lives of others brighter.
If You Want to Reach Your Peak, Focus on Two Goal Races Per Year
While this may seem overly focused for some, it is how many of the best runners in the world do it. Even when I coached high school athletes, I learned that if we wanted to be ready to peak at the end of cross country season in November and the end of track season in May that we couldn’t be racing all Summer and Winter. My athletes and teams ran their best when they spent the Winter and Summer months building their bases for the Spring and Fall seasons and then raced sparingly throughout the season. If they raced or trained too intensely in the off-seasons they usually peaked too soon or were burnt out by the end of the season when they needed to be the sharpest. I have found the same to be true for me – especially as I get older and run longer.
General layout of racing schedule prioritizing key races.
I am keenly aware of the power of FOMO (fear of missing out). I am also keenly aware of how much it sucks to sit on the sidelines of the race I had hoped to race, but was unable to do so because I got a bit too greedy at less important races leading up to it. Adherence to the aforementioned rules has helped me and countless others race our best when it matters most. If you are interested in maximizing your potential the next time you run a goal race, I invite you to follow these rules and see what you are truly capable of doing.
Jacob Puzey is a national champion and world record holder who coaches runners from all over the world – of all ages and abilities from newbies to national champions – to reach their running potential on all surfaces and distances through www.peakrunperformance.com.