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  • Writer's pictureCoach Jacob Puzey

Race Strategically

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Maximize your potential in the short and long terms by strategically mapping out your race schedule.

Start With the End in Mind

Map out your race schedule with purpose

What is your goal race?

What is the distance of your goal race?

What is the surface of your goal race?

What time would you like to run at the event?

Have you run the event or a similar event before?

How much time is there between now and the goal race to prepare?

How have you prepared yourself for the challenge up to this point?

* These are the questions we ask as coaches when an athlete reaches out with a goal race in mind and asks us to help them prepare for it. While this is standard in our line of work, I would feel more confident about the process if these conversations were had before an athlete signed up for an event so that we could discuss how to best prepare and what some realistic expectations might be.

Below are some keys to short and long term success that should be taken into account when mapping out a race schedule and designing training to align with your goals.

Base building isn’t sexy. Some find it downright boring. However, those who build their base before beginning race specific training end up healthier and performing better when it counts. Aim to build your base for at least 8 to 12 weeks prior to beginning race specific training for a goal race.

Follow these tried and true training principles to build your aerobic and muscular base:

  • Gradually increase total weekly volume

  • Gradually increase duration/distance of long run

  • Gradually introduce intensity

  • Begin strength training in the base phase

For more details on how to build your base, read "It's All About the Base"

The Longer the Race the More Important the Long Run

If you are training for a MARATHON or ULTRAMARATHON you should plan to run long (between 1.5 to 3 consecutive hours) every 7 - 10 days during the base phase of training. If the weekends are your only times to do your LONG RUNS, limit shorter races to once per month and aim to have those races build toward your goal race. If you feel the need to race more than once per month, incorporate shorter races into your long runs by extending the warm up and cool down.

For more details on LONG RUNS, please read "Long Runs."

Use Shorter Races as Dress Rehearsals for Longer Races

Space races out and use them as part of your build up to your goal race. If, for example, you have a goal MARATHON three months away, you might consider doing a 10K at the end of the first month of marathon specific training (after at least 8-12 weeks of base training), a HALF MARATHON at the end of the second month, and your goal MARATHON at the end of the third month.

The same principle applies to training for an ULTRAMARATHON - but you'd want to space those races out even further. While your training is designed to help you become more efficient as a runner, it is important to do a shorter ultra distance like a 50 MILER or 100K in the build up to the 100 MILER in order to experience what a longer effort feels like on the body. While theoretically these ultra distance long runs could be done as unsupported training runs, why not replicate the actual goal race and have the safety and efficiency that comes with participating in a sanctioned race?

Use these build up or B-races to practice pacing, using new gear (shoes, socks, pack, bottles, shorts, shirt, jacket, poles, etc.) and whatever fueling strategy you plan to use in your goal race. Consider using the on course nutrition that will be served at your goal race in your B-race(s). Aim to mimic the terrain, elevation gain/loss and conditions (weather, light, darkness, etc.) that you will likely encounter at your goal race. Aim to find a course that is similar to your goal race - only shorter - to do as a dress rehearsal or B-race.

This will allow you to get some of the pre-race jitters out of the way so that when race day arrives you don’t feel quite as nervous because you know what to expect, what works for you and what you're capable of running.

Build up dress rehearsal race in preparation for goal race

Accept That You Might Not Run Personal Bests Every Time

If your confidence and motivation are delicate and may get rocked by not beating or matching your lifetime best every time that you toe the line - especially when running a B- race as a dress rehearsal - 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.

Focus on Two A - Races Per Year

While this may seem overly focused for some, it is how many of the best runners in the world do it. Eliud Kipchoge doesn't race every weekend. In fact, he rarely races more than twice a year. And he is not alone. The same can be said for the best ultramarathoners. Sure - they may run qualifiers, but their goal races are spread out - usually one at the end of a four to six month build.

Even when I coached high school athletes to run shorted distances - 1500m to 5K, 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.

Strategically plan out race season for success

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 what it feels like to sit on the sidelines of the race I had hoped to race, but was unable to do because I got 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 an A race, I invite you to follow the guidelines above and see what you are truly capable of doing.

If a Race Doesn't Align With Your Overall Training and Racing Goal(s), 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.

We Can Help!

If you are wondering how to best map out your race schedule for the coming year, reach out to us and we'll be happy to help. You can book a Coaching Consult Call with one of our coaches or you can sign up for One-on-one Coaching which includes a monthly coaching call (by appointment) to discuss your goals and upcoming season.

Race strategically to reach your peak at a marathon, half marathon, or ultramarathon

Jacob Puzey is a six time national champion and world record holder who coaches runners from all over the world – of all ages, abilities and ambitions to reach their running potential on all surfaces and distances through

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