HOW TO PLAN YOUR RACE CALENDAR LIKE AN ELITE RUNNER

It’s that time of year!  My Instagram and Facebook feeds are FULL of people setting goals, making resolutions, and sharing their GORGEOUS new planners for the new year.  My close friends could easily tell you that I get giddy when it comes to planning and organizing.  I might not be “well-known” for my planning, but even people who don’t know me well would say that I am pretty meticulously organized.

And it’s absolutely true.  I LOVE planning for anything – our family schedule, our menu, my lessons plans (sometimes) – but, more than anything, I absolutely LOVE planning out my race calendar for the year!  As a running coach, I feel like it is SO important to have a plan.  Shoot, that’s my JOB to plan training calendars for other runners.  And I LOVE it!  I get so excited when I get to sit down to plan a 16-week training program for another runner – or to look at a fellow runner’s 6 to 12 month training cycle and plan out exactly what they need to do to achieve their goals.

So, I figured, why not share a simple way for other runners to plan out their entire racing calendar for the year in a simple, systematic way.  (Oh yeah, I LOVE systems too…)

I recently listened to a podcast by Amy Porterfield (OMG, fellow entrepreneurs, I am OBSESSED with her podcast – such AMAZING content!) that featured Anne Samoilov and her [2 x 2 x 2 x 2 Formula] for planning your promotional calendar for the year.  I absolutely LOVED her concept and thought it fit so perfectly for how runners can plan their racing calendar.  So, I adapted her concept to help YOU plan your racing calendar for the year.

Step 1:  Write down 2 goals you want to accomplish in your training this year.

This really can be any type of goal you want.  It can be related to a specific race, a personal record you would like to achieve, or even the amount of miles you want to run.  But, it is SUPER important that you pick goals that are SMART, as in Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based (as in, you have a deadline as to when you want to complete your goal).  In other words, you need to decide on goals that will challenge you to work you hardest, but are also something you believe that if you put the work in, you will achieve that goal.  So, if you are currently running a 30-minute 5K, most likely you are not going to be able to run a sub-20 in the next 12 months.  (Sorry.)  But, you could make your goal to break 30 minutes in the 5K, or to up your distance goal to a 10K or half marathon.  Here are a few more examples for you:

  • I will train for and run my first marathon in the next 6 months.
  • I will run a personal record of 30 minutes in the 5K.
  • I will run one race every month this year.
  • I will qualify for Boston this year.

The other thing that I want you to notice is the work “will” in setting these goals.  In order to change your mindset, I want you to think about the fact that you CAN achieve your goal, rather than just WANTING to do it.  Changing just one word in those goals can make a HUGE difference in your motivation and dedication to actually achieving those goals.

I also feel like 2 main goals is a fair number of goals to accomplish in a year’s time.  While I would love to set 10 goals for my training this year, that would completely overwhelm me and I would end up sitting in a corner + crying, failing at every single one of my goals, instead of actually wanting to go out there and conquer them.  So, start with 2 main goals that you WILL accomplish in the next 12 months.

Step 2:  Choose 2 goal races that you will focus on and will help you with accomplishing your goals.

As a coach, when I am sitting down to look at a runner’s overall training plan for the year, I like to go into the year knowing what their goals are and what races they are focusing on for the year.  I truly believe that by having races planned (and paid for) on your calendar at the start of the year will motivate you to really work toward those goals.  Even if your goal isn’t race based – say, you are just trying to run a certain number of miles this year – I still feel like races help to get you out there and motivate you to really get those miles in.

The other thing I highly suggest is planning these races so they are at least 3 to 4 months apart from each other.  First of all, most of us need a break both physically + mentally after training for a goal race.  I will talk about this more in the next step, but I do feel like you need some time in between those GOAL races.  In addition, let’s say your goal is to PR in a certain distance.  By spacing your GOAL races out throughout the year, this will give you plenty of time to reflect on your training and adjust your plan before your next goal race, maybe making up for any mistakes you’ve made, or really just being able to train smarter and set an even better time the second time around.

So, hop on to your local running group or store’s website, look at the race calendar, break out your wallet, and get those races scheduled onto your calendar so you can start training for those races!

Step 3:  Schedule in 2 times throughout the year to take time off from training.

Before you freak out on me, let me explain my reasoning behind this.  Yes, I know as runners, time off is like the end of the world to us.  But, this is STRATEGIC time off that could actually prevent you from having to take time off due to injury, overtraining, or, heaven forbid, burnout.

However, this does NOT mean you need to take time off from running completely.  It just means you need to take time off from any organized training.  For you Type A people (like myself), you absolutely can PLAN your running days out, but I don’t want you working toward anything.  Run some distances you haven’t in awhile.  Or, just go out without a watch and run until you can’t anymore.

The point is:  you NEED some time off.  Both physically + mentally.  Talk to any runner who is one month out from their marathon or half marathon and I could bet they are at the point where they are losing their confidence, they are tired of training, and just aren’t feeling motivated to run anymore.  This is what happens when you are so focused on one goal for 12 to 16 weeks.  We get burnt out both physically + mentally.  We need some time off in order to regroup and fall in love with running again.

How long should you take off from training?  (Remember, just training, not necessarily running.)  You need to take at least 1 week off from training 2 times during the year.  I’ve done anywhere from 1 week to 3 months – and it has been SO helpful for me.  It’s helped me fall in love with running again, has kept me injury-free, and allowed me to have one of my best years of running ever after a 3 month break from training.  I highly suggest scheduling a shorter break and a longer break throughout the year.

Step 4:  Schedule in at least 2 “tune up” races or “fun runs” leading up to your goal races.

I think this is by far my favorite part.  Well, maybe I just have a strange love for racing.  But, tune-up races allow you to see where you are at in your training.  Are you making progress toward your goals?  What tweaks do you need to make in your training?  For my VIP runners, I try to have them do some type of race or time trial every 6-8 weeks to see how they are progressing in their training.  Are they getting faster?  Do we have a good strategy going in to their goal race?  What weaknesses do we need to fix?

Tune-up races are awesome for showing us our progress.  But, they are also great for giving you a smaller goal to work toward.  I love scheduling in some fun, shorter races to give myself a little test of speed leading up to a goal race.  It breaks up my training a bit and gives me something else to work toward.  Plus, the data and feedback you get from running a shorter race will help you with your second half of training toward your goal race.

Pick 1 to 2 races leading up to each of your goal races.  Or, if you have a goal like mine of running a certain number of races each year, feel free to schedule in any amount of fun races you want!

You now have a macro view of what your year in racing will look like!  Where do you go from here?

  • Plan your training for each of your goal races
  • Determine which workouts will help you achieve your goals
  • Figure out what data you want to track from your tune-up races
  • Hire a coach to help you take your training to the next level (if you really have no idea what it will take to achieve those goals)

Now, get out there + start training!  Happy Running!