With the ever growing list of races on the calendar each year, it is more and more tempting to keep adding races to your schedule. At what point though, does a lot of racing become too much racing?
Firstly, I’ll go on the record as saying that I think participating in races is a great way to monitor the progress of your training, to sharpen your race day tactics and to keep the competitive fire burning. While these are all good things, we do need to consider what running at race pace does to the body in relation to our recovery cycles.
If you are someone who follows a structured training plan, any races should be factored into your schedule so that there is a build up, taper and recovery period around the race. Simply turning up, racing at the top end of your effort and then heading out the next day for your scheduled training run may not be appropriate. Depending on the length of the race and difficulty of the course, the recovery required may be considerable. If you don’t have a coach and are not sure how to build a training plan around your races, it is very important to pay close attention to how your body feels following a race and rest/recover accordingly. Too much training and not enough resting can very quickly end in injury or some serious fatigue.
Another thing to consider is planning your racing calendar over a 9-12 month (or longer) period. With this it is best to identify your ‘A Race’ as the most important event for you. Once the race has been chosen, it’s then easier to select races in the interim that will build towards and compliment your ‘A Race’. You may like to choose interim races that will help you develop different components of your running ability. For example, if your ‘A Race’ is a mountain Marathon, your interim races may include some easier and shorter trail runs to begin strengthening your ankles, knees etc, then something longer to test your endurance and perhaps some shorter and faster races to sharpen your speed and increase your leg turn-over.
Each race can provide its own benefits to your regime, but the important thing to remember is that racing should not take the place of a well structured and progressive training plan.
Typically, athletes get injured more regularly while competing, rather than while training. With this in mind, the more we replace training with racing, the more chance we have of getting injured. The reason of course is because we tend to push harder, ignore pain and generally deplete our reserves more in a racing situation. Once again, this is not a completely negative thing as learning to push your red line is a skill in itself and something that only experience can teach us.
So, as with all things, moderation is the key. All training and no racing can leave you a bit directionless or with a false understanding of your abilities (unless you just run for fitness/health/enjoyment – which is perfectly ok of course). Lots of racing and little training can be a bit like driving your car hard all the time but never getting it serviced – eventually something will give out.
Experience is always going to tell you what works best for you, and if you don’t have experience, then find someone who does and ask them their opinion (then ask 5 more people and take the average…)