Hope. Such a beautiful, treacherous emotion. Beautiful when its fulfilled and all the things you daydreamed about, planned and worked towards come to fruition; treacherous because there can’t be many worse feelings than the frustration of thwarted hope.
Maybe we’re getting a bit deep for a running article, but then we runners do invest a lot of emotion into our races. Whether we’re trying to redeem a bad year or build on a surprisingly good one, the hope we invest in next year’s races raises the stakes for the next few months.
Achieving your dream results and experiencing that fantastic high takes a lot, from the perfect race day back through months of well executed training sessions, and it all starts right here at the planning stage. When you’re deciding what races to fit in your plan and when, ask yourself these six questions to improve your chances of success.
1. Which race matters more to you than anything?
It is not a great idea to pin all your hopes on just one race next year, just in case you’re struck down with a virus or twist your ankle the day before. But neither is it a good plan to have an ‘A’ race on the schedule every weekend. So choose just one race from your list for next year that will be your primary focus. This is especially important if your focus is longer events, but even if you’re choosing to hone your 10K speed, it’s a good idea to pick one race that you will protect from the temptation of too many warm-up events, and that will be cushioned with a week or two of clear diary dates.
2. How many ‘top priorities’ can you have?
We’ve heard runners say things like, “Next year I’m going to break four hours for the marathon but I’m also going to run an ultra – and I want to make a good job of it!” Time to get real: you can only have one top priority. One thing that comes first. If you think you have two – then you don’t really have one at all! Both aims will suffer. So decide on your number one goal, whether it’s improving time, increasing distance, or trying a different race experience next year. Get your timing and training right and you might be able to achieve other things too, but be prepared to sacrifice secondary goals in favour of your number one aim.
3. What else is happening in your life?
So, this is the year you’re going to smash that four-hour marathon mark then. Which is especially exciting because it’s also the year you move in to your dream home, and finally start that evening course… Sound familiar? It’s OK to want to cram as much as you can into life. We find it’s particularly common among runners, in fact, who are naturally energetic and easily become addicted to the feeling of achievement that comes from progressing a project. However, when you’re planning your racing year, you need to first look at the immovable events going on elsewhere in your life next year. Weddings, house moves, job changes, even big holidays need to be factored in. You can either choose a new race goal a few months before or after your other big events, or perhaps choose something less time-consuming but equally satisfying, like busting out a new 5K PB.
4. How long can you keep up the motivation?
Say you’ve taken our advice and chosen a big race to aim towards next year. What if that race is in October? That’s a long time to maintain focus on your dream goal. You might feel fired up now as you fill in the race entry form and highlight the race on your calendar, but you’ll find it easier to keep going if you have intermediate goals to aim for. Working with a coach is the most effective way to plan in these ‘B’ races, but with a bit of research you can do it yourself. If you don’t want to enter lots of races then just use progress markers in training – it’s often helpful to have a few go-to test routes near your home that you can use to run regular time trials on to keep check on your performance.
5. How much detail do you like?
Some people like to be flexible in their running, occasionally going out with friends or chopping around sessions to fit their changing weekly routine. Other people like to know the details of every speed interval, every day, going forward for three months. The best way to work is somewhere in the middle. Break your year down into blocks of eight, 12 or 16 weeks leading up to your key races, and try not to get bogged down in the detail of your Tuesday night track session in May right now. Just make sure you have a structure to work with, a couple of absolutely essential sessions each week – with the flexibility to drop or change others if you need to – and regular progress checks scheduled into your training so that you know if and when something needs to be adjusted.
6. Where is your running at right now?
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself before you start planning your domination of the local cross-country league or your first glorious marathon finish: are you fit right now? If you are not running at all, it is really tempting to promise yourself a well-earned return to racing next year, but you need to be realistic. Any races on your calendar should be written in pencil; save your permanent marker for the physio appointments or the regular rehab you’ll be doing to get yourself fixed. If you’re not injured, but have never run before or had a long time off, choose ‘A’ races in the second half of the year so you have plenty of time to turn those hopes into reality.