How is your 2016 running season shaping up? Whether it’s a casual hobby or a full blown passion, trail running can be an all-consuming endeavor that can easily be planned out for the entire year. So how do you plan it?
When planning my 2016 running season, I first and foremost ask myself, “what kind of adventure do I want to have?” This is the foundation of what will become my search for races both locally and out of town. I use the term “adventure” because the entire process of competing for a race is an adventure. From the race selection, the specific training, the engagement with friends who might be running the same race, the race itself, and the post race celebration and “blinging”, the entire race process is exciting. But with so many to choose from, how do you pick?
Bucket List Races
We all have them. Several of them, and for several reasons. Whether it’s a new distance you want to tackle, a far away land you want to see, or a new terrain you want to challenge yourself on, we all have a race (or two, or three) that speak to us. I try and build my season around these races. These are the ones that form the pinnacle of my year.
Can I physically handle the race schedule I’m building? – There’s a fine line between taking on new challenges and knowing your limits. As I’m looking through the many races in 2016, there are a lot of races that would have me doing back-to-back long weekends. I use the phrase “writing checks my legs can’t cash”, and it’s true that overextending your physical abilities is an invitation for injury. To get the best of both worlds, I might sign up for a short 25k or half marathon at a race offering multiple distance options so I can be sure I’m ready and able to run a longer race I’d really love to do shortly after. You’ll still get the experience of racing the course in a shorter race without having to sacrifice the necessary recovery time and risk missing one you really want to do. I like to sprinkle in shorter races to also serve as training runs for longer races I might have come up shortly after.
Can I financially afford this? – Let’s be honest, this little hobby of ours isn’t cheap. Between the gear, the entry fees, the travel, hotels, food, etc…it adds up. I try to be selective when picking a race especially when it comes to the cost of the whole experience because I like to get the most bang for my buck. For me, finishing a race isn’t just about crossing the mat. Again, it’s the whole adventure. From what I spend on a race, will it give me, in return, the kind of adventure I’m looking for?
Another factor I look at is what goals do I want to achieve in this race? Whether it’s a new PR or a new distance, we usually have a performance based goal we want to meet. Even if the goal is to “just finish it”, I like picking races that challenge me to meet new milestones; placing in categories, age groups, coming in under a certain time, or just going a distance I’ve never gone before. I love meeting these milestones, and meeting them on the race course itself is tremendously rewarding. The furthest I ever ran before my first half marathon was 11 miles. I wanted to save that coveted 13.1 for the race itself. If I had repeatedly done 13.1 miles in training runs prior to the race, the finish wouldn’t have felt as special. So in selecting races, I do try and find that balance between taking on a new challenge and not overextending myself.
Though the area I live in offers its fair share of really good races, the idea of traveling out of town (or state) is appealing. I’ll look for races happening in areas I might be traveling to. It’s how I did my first 50K. Traveling back to my home state of Ohio, I wanted to find a nice trail run during my week there. The only thing I found was something called, “The Dawg Gone Long Run 50/50.” I hadn’t planned on running a 50K during my vacation, but the course was just too good to pass up. I registered and had the most amazing experience in an area I grew up near.
Can my family come? – This applies both for local races and runcations. If it’s a longer race, I don’t necessarily want to subject my kids to hanging around a trailhead for hours waiting for me to reappear. When picking races in any area, I take into consideration family-friendly things to do both during a race for my wife and kids to do, and things for us to do together before and after the race itself. During my Daytona 50 Miler, I didn’t want my family to feel obligated to hang around for hours (ended up being 12) so they went to the Kennedy Space Center while I slogged away the miles during the day. They were able to meet me at the finish line and we took in some of the sights the next day. It was perfect.
Let’s admit it. We like bling. There’s something very validating about a hunk of metal hanging around your neck after a race. It’s like the exclamation point at the end of a very long sentence. Bling has gotten more and more….well, “blingy.” I openly admit being attracted to a race because the bling is good. Certainly, it’s not the determining factor, but you can assume a race with good bling is also a good event because more care and pride is being put into it. Folks who put on these races are proud of them and they want to give finishers not only a great experience but mementos of the experience. I’m hoping to earn my first buckle in 2016 and I’m already looking forward to the buckle party after the race.
Playing to your strengths
Having a successful race season is a balancing act. It’s somewhere between not quite enough and too much. We know our strengths and areas of improvement. We can use what we know about ourselves, our physical abilities and psychological abilities to plan a race season that sets us up for success. Spending half the season injured, or broke, or both, does not make for an adventuresome year. In looking for 2016 races, it was tempting to over indulge myself, but I chose to put some races on hold until next year. Well-established races will continue to happen, so making the decision to defer those until next year allows me to focus on others I might be better suited for now at my current fitness level. I can always build up to new challenges, and waiting to do certain ones gives me something to look forward to, and train for.
If you’re somewhat conscientious about how you select your races, you can have a full, vibrant running season. Look to see what’s out there and how you can create a race calendar that keeps you fresh, healthy and always finding the next level. How does your season look?