Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Frequently to Run Races: Part One of Two

One of the other coaches I work with is new to long distance running but experienced with sprinters and his view of frequency of racing and my view are different, but not entirely different.  We both feel that it is important to "race into shape" by running some races leading up to the goal race, but the number of racing leading up to a marathon is significantly different than the number of races leading up to nationals or state in the 60 meters or 400 meters.

First some background. I view my races as either A, B or C races.

  • A races are those that I peak for. Those races where I put a lot of emotion on the line. The races I want to break through and do something way better than I have done before. I typically take time off after A races because they are usually the end of the season.
  • B races are the stereotypical race. I put in a lot of effort and I hope to do well, but they lead up to a more important race in the future. It is a way of gaging fitness while still training at full load.
  • C races are those that I do to get in an effort I could not do in practice by myself. I ran an 8k for St. Patrick's Day over in Dyersville and I ended up finishing the flat course in 28:30s or something, which is basically marathon pace. Just calling something a race gets more effort out of me than I would do it I was trying to run a tempo on the track or down the rail trail. 
I rarely articulate if a race is an A, B or C race beforehand, but I do think of my races using those descriptions. Once I have a goal race for the season set, everything builds around and to that. Marathons are A races because at this point in my career I can't really imagine using them as a lead into another race because it takes so long to recover.

Races of different lengths will typically require different recovery periods. Similarly, training for different races requires different recovery times as well. For example, a hard 5k may take 2-5 days to recover from, a 10k 5-15 days, a marathon one to six weeks. Training on the other hand: 5x1000 (5k specific workout) may take 1-3 days to recover, 6xmile 2-4 days (10k specific), and a 23 mile long run with 11 miles of pace variation from 5:50 to 5:20 could take an entire week, but it is great marathon training. Additionally, it can be hard to tell what kind of shape you are in while you are training, especially when you are younger and less experienced, that getting in races is a great way to see how you progress. Two examples, two weeks and three weeks before my most recent 10k I ran 5ks. One went well, getting a 19 second PR and the other did not go well, but it gave me direct input that I was at the line of over living (over training) and I needed to ease off. The second example is before both of my marathons 4-6 weeks out I have run a half marathon. It is a great workout because I am likely to PR, there is no way I can get that kind of performance out of myself running on Heritage Trail, and it will show me where I actually am compared to where I think I am.

I do feel that for races of 5k and shorter despite the great training that you do leading up to it, you really need to race it at least once before your goal race to get your body used to it. When you get to the longer distances, there are so many factors, like tapering, that it is harder to generalize racing multiple times throughout the season as an effective training method. 

Tomorrow, Part Two, the last five and a half years of my running races, and more specific thoughts on collegiate track and cross country and setting up a season racing plan.

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