I remember a time when I was a younger and doing a lot of road races, when you simply planned out your racing calendar on the fly as you went through the year. For better or worse, those days are over. Now we’re planning, developing, mulling over, and plopping down big bucks on those race calendars.
I will confess that planning ahead is not my strong point and there have been many registration deadlines I’ve missed. Due to missing events in the past, I start thinking about the race calendar well in advance now – at least six and sometimes 12 months in advance. Here are some things to consider when planning your own race calendar and why it’s not always a bad idea to procrastinate on securing that race entry.
First, I think it’s important to figure out your goals and how they fit with the rest of your life. Yeah, I know, that’s the obvious play, but some of you have different priorities and your race calendar isn’t the first thing you think about in the morning. For many of you it is. Your goals need to be inline with your priorities. This will help determine how much training might be involved and if your goals are realistic given your priorities. If you’re trying to enter a race that feels very important to you and is difficult to get into, but you know you won’t have the time this year to adequately train, it’s neither fair to others nor to yourself to attempt that race. You won’t be happy with your performance.
After prioritizing your goals, lay out all the races, events, adventures, non-running time-sucks (that won’t let you train), and other challenges that may affect your ability to complete these goals. As you lay out races of interest you need to figure out what is involved in entering them. Is a qualifier needed, or entry points? Is there a registration lottery, possible wait list, or can you simply sign up the day before? Some events are easy to get into, some are not.
Let’s assume, for the sake of laying out the calendar, that you have a big goal race such as the Boston Marathon. This is a race that may potentially take several years of planning to complete. Training is going to need to be on point, and you’ll need to finish a qualifier marathon.
Go through each race on your list and figure out the entry process. Add the date registration opens as well as anything else pertinent on your calendar. If it’s a lottery entry, for example, you’ll probably want to have a back up plan just in case. Some races may never fill up and it’s not important to sign up right away, but you may incur the cost of waiting when entry fees go up. However, early registration means you won’t be out as much money if you get injured or plans change. On races that I know will not fill up I like waiting until the last possible moment to register, but I’m also someone that likes options, and race directors really hate that.
When thinking about what races to put when, how close together to place them, and how many to do, consider the following advice. I like to have, at most, two to three big goal races per year spaced somewhat evenly a few months apart. These are my “A” races and spacing them out allows for possible injury setbacks, proper training, and specialization for the distance, course, and conditions that you might encounter. These are also usually the races that become difficult to get into, so think about them far in advance.
For a person that doesn’t race much they may only have “A” races on the calendar. But me, I like to race, so interspersed between “A” races may be a few “B” races that I take a little less seriously. My training for “B” races isn’t quite as refined, and I understand that I may not do as well, but I’m still going to try as hard as I can. It’s a real race for me but training is still focused on my upcoming “A” race. These are also generally going to be shorter in distance than my “A” race. You can’t do an unlimited number of “B” events, but you can sprinkle in a few here and there. Try not to place them too close to a big “A” race, and leave plenty of time for recovery.
If you just can’t stay away from your tribe and have a serial racing habit, there are “C” races. These are the ones that you can just jump into when they fit into your training plan and they will probably take the place of a hard, quality workout. The focus of a “C” event isn’t to race hard and do your best, but to be out there with your friends and still get in a quality workout. These are the races I generally wait to sign up for. “C” races are always going to be shorter in length than an “A” or “B” race unless you’re doing it in place of a long run, in which case it should not be considered as a race at all, but as a fun, supported, long training run.
Thoughtfully creating a race calendar puts yourself in a position to optimize your potential when you are focused on executing short and long term goals. Your body can only handle so much. When you attempt an “A” race it should be hard, it should take a lot out of you, and you should need a good amount of recovery. When you start planning for a goal race far in advance you will find a higher rate of success. When you put more thought, time, and sweat into that success, you will also find a greater sense of accomplishment.