Now is the time to begin planning your race calendar for 2018. Many races fill up early, especially, trail races which have more restrictions on enrollment numbers. Plus, it’s fun. Once you have a list of races you’d like to do for next year, pick one as your goal race. This will be the race all of your training will be focused on. It does’t mean you can’t do other races; it just means the other races are training races.
What’s a training race? It’s a organized event that you run in which is not your goal race. Training races are very useful because they keep you engaged and motivated, but they do a lot more than that too. Let’s start with the motivation piece. Motivation waxes and wans through training, especially, if your goal race is months away or if you have a lot of rebuilding and thus a longer training plan. Having shorter races(compared to the goal race) along the way gives you small goals and accomplishments along the way.
The most important function of a training race is it tells you where you’re at in your training and where you need to go. But, for it to be able to do this, your training races have to have at least some of the same race conditions as your goal race. The distance of your training races will depend on the length of your training plan and the distance of your goal race. So, if your goal race is a marathon you’ll want to pick a 10k and half marathon. The half marathon should be about 4-5 weeks from your goal race. The 10k would be earlier. For a 50k you’d choose a marathon about 4 weeks before and maybe a half a month before that. For a 50 miler, you’ll choose a marathon and a 50k. The 50k being about 4 weeks from your goal race and the marathon 3-4 weeks before that. For a 100, You’ll want a 50 miler about 4-5 weeks before your goal race and a marathon 4-5 weeks before that. We’ll talk about adding more in a second, for now lets focus on these two training races.
For these two training races, you’ll want to decide how much effort you want to put into it. I’ll tell you right now, you shouldn’t be putting full race effort into them. About 75-80% is all you’ll want to do because you don’t want to risk injury, but you want to get a good idea of where you are and how your training is working for you. The other reason you don’t want to put in full effort is because it take a while for your body to recover from full race effort and you’ll need to get back to training after the race. This also makes timing of the training race important which is why the longer one should be about 4-5 week before your goal race.
For a training race to fulfill it’s purpose, the conditions need to be as close to your goal race as you can make them. This includes course and difficulty if you can. If it’s off a little don’t worry about it. The timing of the race is more important than matching your terrain exactly. The other part of “conditions” you’ll want to mimic are your prep. You need to prep like it’s your goal race. Practice your nutrition plan just like you’ll do in your goal race, pack drop bags (even if you won’t use them), use the gear you’ll be using in the goal race (even if you don’t need it all), eat your pre-race meal, do breakfast the same, and go to bed at the same time.
Can you do all this as just a regular training run and not do a training race? you can, but the race atmosphere changes things. It changes your mindset, your adrenaline levels, your competitive nature, and race day anxiety. those are hard to produce in a training run. It goes back to creating the same conditions as you’ll face at your goal race.
Tapering before a training race is different because you don’t want to kill your training four weeks before your goal race. However, you do want to do a mini taper and a mini recovery. Cut back your training the three days before the training race and take the day before as a rest day. After the race, take a two days rest and then do an easy run.
What about adding more races into your schedule? you certainly can, but they should be treated like a training run not a training race and certainly not a race. You can practice a lot of the things you’ll be doing at your goal race, but you shouldn’t run it any harder than you’d run a training run. This goes back to risking an injury and depleting your body to the point of it needing recovery days.