How Do I Plan a Racing Season?

If you’ve been a school affiliated athlete, you understand the struggle when it comes to planning a racing season. Many people in this same boat may only have 1 race in mind as they decide whether to keep going, or have no experience creating a racing season since it’s been planned out for them. Here is a guide to get you started in planning a season.

1) There are a few VERY important factors that weigh into creating a season: budget, time, and goals. 

One of the biggest if not most important factors to consider when planning your racing year is your budget. Costs to consider is of course the cost for your race entry, fees in addition to your race or extra perks you want, the method of travel you choose (gas and toll booths for cars, flight tickets for flying), and housing methods. Costs rack up quick and spots fill up just as fast, you want to plan ahead of time for any of these costs that may occur. In conjunction with the budget is going to be time. If a race is not local to you, will you have to take time away from work, how much time, and how may that impact your budget? The last really big factor is to consider goals you have. Are you trying to improve time on a distance/venue you’ve done in the past? Is this a whole new racing experience for you whether it’s a new distance or event type in general? Are you trying to race at a specific venue that has certain requirements (Like Boston, Chicago?) Once you have answered those questions, you can move to the next step.

2) Once you’ve established step one, you want to select 1-3 races that will be known as your “A” races. 

Your A Races should align with your goals. To break it down further, “A Races” are essentially races you are determined to do no matter what. In the event that any of your designated A races are what I like to call an “exploratory event,” meaning it’s your first time competing in that distance or event. Typically these races will be higher in difficulty, intensity and so on to train for, you may want to select only 1 or 2 for the year. This gives you ample time to train, learn and enjoy the process of training as well as the race in itself, along with giving yourself plenty of time to recover afterwards. To give an example. My A races this year are The Coastal DE Running Festival to run my first half marathon, Cal Tri Charlotte for my first olympic distance triathlon, and the Smiley triathlon since it’s a new venue for me. I have 2 exploratory events that are 6 months apart to allow me time to enjoy the process and recovery, and 1 event that I have done the distance before so I’m comfortable with the distance but it’s a new venue. Now on to step 3.

3) When you’ve elected your prime focused events, feel free to sprinkle in some races where you either have experience with the race itself or the distance. *

I have done many 5k’s and several 10k’s so I feel comfortable enough to add in several of those races as tune-ups and generally have some other races to do during the year. In regards to how many you should do, that is a process done by trial and error. Each athlete’s needs are different, some can handle more races in a season than others.

4) *To my athletes that are already on an established team (HS/college for example), hold your horses because you are an exempt group. There is a high likeliness that your coach already has the season planned for you. In this case they may not allow you to do extra races or may highly discourage you from partaking in outside of season races. Of course there are exceptions so if there is a specific race you may wanna do outside your season, talk to your coach and get their input.

5) For my former student athletes (retired hs, college or other retired athletes), you may be used to doing at least one race a WEEK! Now that you’re out of that highly competitive lifestyle, it’s not recommended to do so many races so frequently. As an athlete you need rest and time to recover to avoid injury, and burnout. We are also used to not having to pay entry for a race. Trying to do the same amount of races will add up in costs very quickly.

6) A couple of quick tips and tricks to avoid burnout or injuries. 

As cheesy as it sounds you wanna listen to your body and know when to back off when you start to feel an injury. A few basic principles to go by to identify the above: (directly from an old coach)

#1 If you “don’t have time” to strength train twice per week and sleep a reasonable amount at night, then you do not have time to train for the distance you are wanting to race. 

#2 If you’re not having fun anymore, you are probably overdoing it. Especially when you are new to the sport, you should be enjoying the training process. 

#3 For run training specifically, it’s generally a bad idea to try to increase your volume and your intensity at the same time. So focus on getting your mileage up first (i.e. gradually increase from 3 runs/15 miles per week to 4 runs/22 miles per week or whatever). And THEN add in speed work and intensity. 

A LARGE CAVEAT TO THIS ARTICLE, THE AUTHOR IS NOT AN EXPERT, THIS IS COMING FROM ADVICE FROM OTHER ATHLETES AND MY OWN EXPERIENCE. USE THIS ARTICLE TO YOUR OWN RISK. A lot of athletes are often on their own, this is a loose guide to get you started. As per usual, everyone has different priorities in what they may wanna race, distance, venue, location or otherwise. Keep this in mind when asking friends and family for tips.

Happy Running!