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Ask 100 runners their goals and you’ll get 100 different answers. Running goals are as varied as they come. Some runners hit the pavement in search of a big PR, while others search for something inside themselves.

Yesterday’s article focused on being present and in the process as the best way to reach your goals. I want to continue that discussion into this article today…

…and help you plan the best season you’ve ever had.

This type of planning is SO crucial because it can easily set you up for success, or if you don’t plan, put you on the road toward over racing and injury. 

The two types of goals I want you to focus on

Race goals this is the majority of training for runners. You pick a specific race and you train with the goal in mind. (We’ll look at how to pick races in a little bit) I want to take away running a specific time and rather, make the commitment to be as fit as possible on that day. I believe we do need these races to give us a point in time where we will lay it on the line and show what we have accomplished. This is the day of our big test, when all the work we put in is put on display.

Let’s get away from time oriented race goals such as running 4:00 marathon. 

I want to get away from time oriented race goals. Every “A” race that you pick, I can safely assume you want to finish in the fastest time possible. While time goals are important for specific races, such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon, for most, that specific time goal provides a constant reminder of where you are not. What if you trained your hardest based on the time you had available and missed your arbitrary time goal, but still set a massive PR. Wouldn’t the fact you accomplished a massive PR be just as valid?

So many thing happen on race day. It may be hot, it may be cold, it may rain, your shoe may break, you might get a cramp. Who knows?

The problem with time goals on the coaching side is I do not know what will happen 16 weeks from now, six months from now, a year from now. All I am committed to doing is making your day/week/month/training cycle work based on your availability and commitment to the goal. Time goals are arbitrary. We pick them and they may or may not happen.

On the other side, what if you could have really went faster, but instead we settled for a time because it was the goal you wanted to break? Wouldn’t it have been better if we didn’t have that line in the sand.

Example: Picking a specific race, say Leadville 50 miler in July.

Non-Race Goals – This is where the process comes in and often answers the question, “Why?” Why do you really run? It makes me feel great, I lose weight, I get to travel. Your 2014 goals should also include non-race goals. These non-race goals can help you remain consistent on your race path. The most common non-race goal is to lose weight. Losing weight is a by-product of commitment to the process. If you do want to lose weight, you will do it during the 20 weeks of training leading up to the race, not just on the race day itself.

A non-race goal could focus on consistency. You want to run 15 days a month, or run in the fresh snow or pouring rain. You want to hit 30 consecutive days of training, including rest and strength days. Whatever it is, they are not-dependent on the race you picked.

I like non-race goals to also take into account how you feel. Non-race goals could also be mental, for example, stopping limiting self-talk or working on keywords or mantras you can go to when an effort becomes difficult.

The race goals are the anchor and the non-race goals are the path and directly connected to the day-to-day work you put in.

The ABC’s of picking great races

“A” races

Your A races are set in stone. These are the races you want to reach in the best possible shape. Your training is built around performance at your A races and their dates determine your training calendar.

• Plan on spending at least 12-16 weeks in preparation for your “A” race. This means you should at the MOST have three “A” races on the calendar.
• Schedule your “A” races in four week blocks (i.e. having one “a” race and then another three weeks later) or separate them by 10-12 weeks to provide for ample recovery and focused training into the next race.

“B” races

B races can be scheduled around your “A” race schedule. They are great tune-ups to test gear, nutrition or fitness. For instance, you may do some 10k’s leading up to a 13.1 to test your race pace fitness, or you may run a few 50k’s in preparation for a 50 miler or 100 miler.

B races should be strategic in that they appear at the right time in your calendar. If you are training for a marathon, for example, you may put a half-marathon in three or four weeks out to get a good race-pace effort. Or, you may place one half way out assuming an incremental increase in mileage toward the marathon. Ultrarunners, finding B races is a great way to get a supported run in during training. A “B” race should be a good effort and not included every weekend.

You don’t have to pick “B” races right away, but rather find them as your training schedule progresses.

“C” races

C races are races that you want to do but have really no impact on your “A” races. Maybe you want to simply do a sprint triathlon for fun in the middle of a 26.2 cycle. Enjoyment is the focus. We don’t train or taper for these types of races, but rather put them in the schedule to keep your motivation high. I threw in a bunch of 5k’s this year just for fun and to change things up. I didn’t taper or take any downtime around them but they kept training interesting.

Using races as training runs

I encourage athletes to use races as training runs if they can keep their ego in check. For ultra runners, finding shorter distance races are great in lieu of carrying 26 miles worth of gear around each weekend. If you do use a race as a training run, monitor your effort and pace and keep it consistent with the workout goal. I shy away from doing these types of runs too often as it diminishes that race day feeling.

The distance dance

Your race distances should jive together or follow a logical progression. It is NOT good to train for a full marathon and a half-ironman very close together because the running portion of the marathon does not coincide with the running portion of a 70.3. Similarly, it’s not easy to train for a full marathon and then expect a PR at a half-marathon a few weeks later.

Training SPECIFICALLY for one race distance is how you get better. Sure, gains carry over from distance to distance, but they are not absolute nor predictable across the board.

Be mindful of how your race distances factor into the schedule we will create below!

Okay, let’s put it into practice.

Let’s walk through how to plan out your 2014 season.

1) Write down a list of your races, including date, distance and race name. This doesn’t have to be fancy.

2) In order to visualize your training, we are going to plan by hand.I recommend using pencil here. Print out this 12-month calendar and use it as a template. Template

3) First, put in your “A” races and any races that are on the schedule already which could be “B” or “C” races.

“A” races are circles
“B” races are square
“C” races are triangle.

What will happen is you’ll see where you have the majority of your races planned, where you have gaps and where you can fit in nice blocks of training during the season.

My personal 2014 schedule

I’m planning for my own 2014 season and did the above exercise. Here is a copy of my calendar (click on it for the full version).

2014-planning copy

I’m still deciding on a few “A” races that are based around client plans and family obligations, but I’m happy with a good few months between “A” races where I can get some good training in, and two races stacked within a few weeks of each other at the Rut 50k Sept 13 and Rim-2-rim-2-rim October 4/5.. I have a few “B” races planned for some good tests and a few training races sprinkled in as well.

I have nothing between now and Run Toto Run 50k (Feb 8), so plenty of good training there.

I have 13 weeks between Toto (Feb 8) and Wapack and Back 50 miler in May. That’s a good time to build up even more base and climbing since it will be tougher trails. I’ll use TARC Don’t Run Boston 50k and Spring Classic 50k as supported training runs. I may use Wapack and Back race this as a “B” race if I decide to do Manitou’s Revenge on June 21.

I’ll hopefully be crewing for Chris at Badwater July 21-23. That will mean I have to get heat acclimated and train for some road running, so I need to insert that as an A race and give myself time to prepare.

The Rut 50k is September 13, right around when I wanted to have my Leadville camp, so we’ll see how that fits in. But, it’s definitely on my radar and July/August training will help it. It’s 12 weeks after Manitou, so not that ideal, but enough to change and work on tougher, exposed terrain.

After the Rut, Jess and I are joining Gary, Sara and friends for the awesome Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim in October. It’s shortly after the Rut, so I’ll focus on recovery and getting a bunch of heat acclimation in.

The North Face 50 miler in San Fran is my last race December 6th. After two years of not starting but signing up, I’m committed for this one! I can use November to prep and then December, it’s on!

I may switch out a race or two with something more local, or take one off the calendar depending on how I’m feeling. But, I’m happy with the number of “A” races I have and how they fall. I like more time in between races than most do.

On racing too often when shooting for PR’s

I’m highly against racing too often. However, if your goal for the year is to do 20 marathons, or 13 half-marathons, have at it. Those races are your goals, so stick to them.

If your goal is to get faster, you MUST be strategic when planning your race calendar. You cannot be in peak fitness for every race if they are two weeks apart or scattered randomly throughout the season.

Why this is important from a coaching perspective

You don’t get better by racing, you get better from training. If your training schedule is too crowded, we don’t have time to train between races, so you basically maintain or lose fitness in between races. It doesn’t mean that you will always race slower in later races, but there is no hope for substantial gains because of the time spent recovering and preparing for the next race.

Perfect cannot happen

There will be no perfect schedule. You have have two must do races that fall seven weeks apart, or back to back weekends, or whatever your circumstance is. When that happens, coaching, planning and focus will help you complete those races and still succeed.

With wedding on the horizon, friends obligations and more, this schedule may not happen exactly this way, but it’s how I can structure my training in the best way possible!

I don’t want you to stress about making the perfect race calendar, but rather keep in mind the above points to help you plan the best calendar you can that aligns with achieving your goals.

Our 2014 focus is to create the best game plan to get you to perform at your highest level at your top “A” races. 

How has your race schedule affected your performance in the past? What did you notice about your races this year? Are they spaced out well or are they clumped together?

Now that we have a focus on the process and we’ve thought about our “A” races, tomorrow we’ll look at what held us back in 2013 and shifting that to a focus in 2014. 

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