Six Steps to Filling out Your Race Calendar

5374200948_539b10fb1c_mRunners face the daunting challenge of plotting out a to-do list of races that won’t break the bank or bust up their body.

By Henry Howard

Right now I have no fewer than 21 races on my race calendar for 2015.

That’s about triple the number I have averaged in the past four years since I began my running journey.

I’ll probably end up doing about 10 races and have already committed and signed up for two, the Phoenix Marathon and the Indianapolis Monumental. I’ll run the full 26.2 in each race but will flush out my race calendar with shorter distances.

Or maybe try an ultra.

Six Steps to Filling out Your Race Calendar

Putting together one’s race calendar is no easy task. Like many runners, I face the dilemma of “too many races, not enough calendar space” about this time each year. It’s the proverbial kid in the candy store. So many of these races look interesting, challenging and oh so tempting.

Last year, I happened to try two of nine marathons suggested by Runner’s World. I enjoyed both the Illinois Marathon and the Indianapolis Monumental, and would recommend them to anyone. This year, Runner’s World put together a list of 10 interesting marathons that offer ideas for those looking for a scenic run, a crowded course and everything in between.

I’ve already committed to my marathons for 2015 so I won’t be doing any of those mentioned this year. Of course, there’s always next year, or the following year. . .

So, how does one narrow down the list to something that is affordable and less likely to induce injury from overrunning?

As I review my burgeoning list, here are some methods I will use to finalize, at least for now, my 2015 race calendar.

1. Define your top priority goal(s).
At the end of this year, what do you want to look back on with pride as something you accomplished? Maybe it’s a PR (or two) in a specific race distance. Others may want to conquer a distance — from 5Ks to marathons to a 100-miler — they have not been able to master yet. Define your top goal, then identify what race(s) will help you achieve that goal. A secondary goal is OK, too. Just give yourself enough time from your top goal to properly rest and train.

For example, if you want to PR both a half marathon and a full marathon, make sure they are spread out enough to recover from the first one and then train properly for the second one.

2. Pick a number.
Five races? Ten races? 52 races? We all face different challenges in getting to race day. Jobs, families and life all make scheduling a challenge. Review your business and personal calendars when compiling a race calendar. Maybe you can’t miss Aunt Jenny’s 75th birthday party. But perhaps there is a race on the way to or from Aunt Jenny’s that you could do. Same goes for work trips. You might be able to take in a race just before or after a work trip, plus get a chance to explore a potentially new area. 

3. Try something new.
Often runners get burned out if they stick to the same type of races. Let’s say your top priority goal is to become a Marathon Maniac and you have planned out three marathons to achieve this goal. After plotting those races on the calendar, let’s also say you have five spots left to fill out. This would be a good opportunity, for example, to try a trail race if you haven’t done one before. The body tends to recover more quickly from trail races, which will help prepare for your priority goal, given that three road marathons in a quick turnaround time will be a challenge. Look for a trail race — maybe a half marathon or 10K or 15K distance — that could be part of your training. Just be sure to learn all you can about the specific trail race. Some are highly technical or have major elevation climbs. 

Still others may want to try something different and unique — a Ragnar relay, triathlon or a Spartan race. Whatever your quest is should break up the training and racing grind.

4. Don’t forget the old standbys.
My first race was a local 5K, a pretty popular fundraiser for the local zoo. The course is pretty simple and it’s a good barometer for how my speed work is progressing. I’ve run it each year, except one year when I was out of town on a work trip. I’ll continue to schedule it whenever I can simply because it reminds me of how far I have come as a runner. (And, as a special bonus, it is also the first race my son and I ran together.) 

Be flexible. OK, so you have your 5 or 10 or 52 races set in stone. But then you stumble across an interesting race, or a friend invites you to join her in a race. Don’t feel constricted by a race calendar you set up in January — especially if this new revelation takes place in July. If you really want to do the race, can afford it and are not risking an overuse injury, go for it.

5. Remember to have fun.
Review your calendar. Is it full of hard-core racing and extensive travel? Don’t let your running quests lead to burnout. Look for a race where you can still get the fitness benefit without the race-day stress. If you run marathons often, try a 5K to get a speed workout at a different distance. If you stick to shorter distances, encourage a friend to try his or her first 5K. You can pace him or her through the race and help another runner reach a milestone while having fun.

Simple, right? I’ll let you know how simple, after I somehow cross off 10 or so races. Maybe, I’ll just move them all to the 2016 calendar.

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