When we have a training plan that lasts several weeks to a few months, following that plan is pretty straightforward (if not always easy). However, it can sometimes baffle us as to what to do in between those training cycles. Maybe you train for a half-marathon, you’re done, you crushed it, but how much time should you allow before the next one? Do we have to start back at square one, or can we just pick up where we left off? In short, how do we schedule a long term race calendar?
I plan my race calendar carefully with the help of my Coach, Christine Hinton. We look at the efforts already finished and how long I need to recover. We look at the next goal, and then we determine what kind of time we need to accomplish said goal. We look at available or desired races. From there, we plan out my race calendar.
Recently on YouTube, I talked about racing too frequently, but let’s assume for the moment that you set your race schedule for a handful a races per year, and each race has a specific purpose. I always like to start with a training season of 3-6 months depending on the target race. This includes recovery after one race, sufficient time to build back up, and then taper for the next race. From there, though, it could get a little foggy. If the goal is a PR, then we work on speed. If the next goal is to finish a long distance race, then high mileage is the priority. No matter what the goal is, it is important to take on one specific goal during a training cycle, rather than several. Our bodies simply can’t take on a PR in the 10k at the same time we want to finish our first marathon. Pick one, go after it, then take the time to switch gears to the next goal.
So let’s ask a few questions when setting your race calendar. What is next for me? What do I want to achieve? Whether you are brand new to running, or you’ve been at it for a while, it’s important to take a compass heading for the next leg of your journey. Without direction, we get lost.
Next ask yourself, “Is this goal even possible with my circumstances?” This is a hard question to answer honestly. In my case, I may WANT to do another Ironman, but basically, I’ve got too much going on in my world. My life isn’t boring enough to contemplate 6 months of high volume, high intensity training. But can I manage a PR on the half? Absolutely. There is my goal.
Next question: “How do I accomplish this goal?” Give yourself a target race date, and ask if you have the time to build up to that. Is it a speed goal like a PR? Is it a distance goal like finishing your first marathon? Then the follow up question, “Does that goal match up realistically with my timeline?” If you give yourself enough time to recover from your last effort, build up to the next effort and taper for that goal, then it is likely you will find success.
A training cycle that lasts more than 4 months could trigger runners burnout. If you have one goal on your calendar and that goal is 10 months away, you don’t really need to start training for that goal for several more months. Break that time up into 2-3 chunks of 3-4 months in between race efforts. Put a shorter race on your calendar a few months from now. Add in another effort a few months after that. Those efforts could help you to your goal. For example: if you want to finish RunDisney’s Dopey Challenge in 2019, you have a lot — too much — time to focus solely on that race. However, if you put a few half marathons or 10 milers on your calendar in between, you will be ready come late summer to transition your training to a multi-day event. But leave Dopey hanging out there as your only carrot, and you might find you’ll be burned out by August.
However, what happens if you take too much time to recover? Keeping the periodized plan in mind, trying for a PR on a 10k a week after a hard Marathon effort may not give you the recovery time you need to reach that goal. On the flip side, if you just finished a 10k and take two months completely off to recover before beginning your next training plan, you may find you have to start all over again.
Here’s what I decided on this year. I give myself one target to hit. Last year, I gave myself 2 and I didn’t hit either one (wanted to go sub-60 on the 10k and PR the half — missed them both). This year, I just want to PR the half, and I’m giving myself 3 chances to do it. The first chance is mid-May, the second is 5 weeks later, and the 3rd is a full 12 weeks after that! So what happens if I hit my goal on the first try? Not going to worry about that until that happens. Then I re-evaluate, talk to my coach, and set the next goal. I’m making it a point to only plan 2-5 races a year. I live in that 10k to half marathon sweet spot, meaning my training and fitness is at a point where I could participate in a 10k on any given weekend, and a half marathon with only a few weeks notice to get some long runs in.
My question for you today is this: What determines your target races? Please leave thoughts in the comments below. I have posted a few videos on this topic, so please check these out!