Coach Mike Mead

January 2009

Race Wisely for More PR's

So you want to get faster in the coming year. Who doesn’t, unless you are the recreational runner who does it for fun or to keep the ticker running smoothly? Those of you who consider yourself “serious” runners are always looking for ways in shaving seconds from your best times ranging in distances from one mile to the marathon (26.2 miles).

In previous columns, I have pointed out the different training it takes to get faster. Unless you have a coach who is working with you on a daily basis and making adjustments along the way, you make lack the knowledge and discipline to reach your maximum potential as a runner.

Some runners like to race themselves into shape. Some have success doing this but it can lead to over racing and unnecessary injuries. I use to do this during the first few years of my post-college racing days. Racing over the course of a couple of weeks gave me an idea where I was physically and mentally and what I needed to do in my training to improve on my weak points. It also provided motivation when I got my butt kicked by competitors who usually did not beat me to the finish line.

I do not recommend racing yourself into shape. I do, however, recommend using some races to prepare yourself for the BIG race you might be pointing for later in your racing season. Let me note that you should only have – at the most – two racing seasons of about 4-6 weeks each in a given year. During this 4-6 week period you are NOT racing every weekend.

There are some of you out there who run in road races every week. You are not racing every week and are only fooling yourself if you think you can race every time you toe the start line. Mentally and physically, you can not be at your competitive best.

You can use some races to prep yourself for the bigger races you are planning to go for your best. Say you are training for a 10K personal best. About 8-10 weeks beforehand, you could race a 15K to prepare you for the strength you will need in the shorter 10K distance. If a 15K is hard to find, run a 10K. Then 4-6 weeks out, you could run one or two 5K’s at faster than 10K goal pace to prepare you for the first half of your big race so that you can run it more relaxed when the race date arrives.

Many folks think that racing a particular distance all the time will better prepare them to race that distance as they get stronger and faster. To some point that can be true, but the reality is they are just basically using races as a substitute for training. Racing a variety of distances will better prepare you for your prime racing distance. This is why various distances are used in training.

One plus for using occasional competitive races to prepare you for your big race is that you are more likely to run in competitive mode while experiencing all the normal things that happen in a race.

I have met folks who have shied away from getting in a “practice race” during “live” competition. How do you expect to overcome some of your fears? Time trials or a “practice 5K” are just not the same like a competitive race. I have always recommended running in low-key events or small road races to gain racing confidence and experience.

Racing all the time only leads to flat, stale racing and possible injuries. But picking a couple of low-key races now and then during your “racing season” should get you ready when you really want to race at your best. Just choose wisely!