Planning Your 2013 Race Schedule | November 15, 2012
Phew! You’ve got the holidays behind you: the shopping, the meal prep, the traveling, the gift returns, the aggressive eating and drinking. Now you’re ready to get serious about planning your ultrarunning for the new year.
Start off thinking about your goals for 2013. Are there a couple of target races that you have in mind? Do you want to work at improving your times? Do you want to tackle some new distances? Are you thinking about sampling a wider array of races or are you sticking to the races you know?
If you’re pretty happy with your level of running and your key goal is to try some new races, have some new adventures, or visit a lot of out of the way places, then you’ll probably be planning your year around race dates and travel arrangements. You’ll also want to pay a lot of attention to application and lottery deadlines, because the super cool race you really want to do might just be full up or you might have to get through a lottery before you can make solid plans.
On the other hand, if you see 2013 as a chance to ramp up your training, improve as a runner, get faster, or step up to a different distance, then you need to think in terms of your training arc: how long it will take to show significant improvement, when might you expect to peak in your performance? Your planning will be focused on picking just the right races to test your progress and then go for that defining race performance that will show how much you’ve improved.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker runner or an improvement oriented racer, you will be well served by putting together a race calendar that includes your target races or your wish list of races. For each race, list the race date, the application deadline (or the date the application process begins if it’s a very popular race that may have a limited window for accepting applications), and the date for applying to a lottery if there is one. You may have to wait for some of these dates to be made available. The blanks on your calendar will prompt you to check back online for when more information about a race is posted.
You can also use the calendar to keep track of the preparations you’ve made for your races. For example, you can mark a race as “Entered” once you’ve sent in your application and gotten a confirmation that you’re on the entrants list or gotten successfully through a lottery. You can record that you’ve made plane reservations if you’re flying to a race, rented a car, or booked a hotel room. I know I’m not totally ready to go to a distant race until my calendar shows: “Entered, Plane Tickets, Hotel, Car Rental.” If your races are local, you can record that you’ve entered the race and perhaps that you’ve made arrangements with your running buddies to travel to the race together.
My training partner and I work out drafts of our race calendars at the beginning of each year and then sit down and horse trade over which races we really want to do. In the end we’ve synced up our schedules so we can share the driving, split the cost of hotel and car rental, and support each other during some of the races.
As you look through your schedule of races, you’ll want to make sure that you are allowing enough time before a race to taper properly and enough time afterwards to recover completely before taking on another big challenge. A big effort like a hundred mile run usually requires a good three week taper leading up to the race and as much as four weeks of rest and light recovery running afterwards. That’s almost a two month period where you should not expect to be taking on any other serious races.
A good training effort where you lay down a solid base and then ramp up the intensity of your workouts in order to improve your performances will also account for a large block of time on your calendar to the tune of three to four months. You’ll lose valuable training time if you break up this effort with a race that requires you to taper beforehand and spend a lot of time recovering afterward. On the other hand, you can work in a “tune up” race where you run hard enough to check your progress but you don’t give it a full effort. That way you can go into the tune up race with a minimal taper and expect to recover from it quickly with maybe just a week or two of reduced mileage. Then you can get back to the hard training.
Of course there are considerations beyond just training and running that will affect your race schedule. You’ll need to factor in significant events like weddings, graduations, family trips, business trips, holiday travel, and the like when contemplating your race dates. You’ll need to get buy in from your spouse or significant other for your race plans as well. Look for ways to combine your running events with other plans. Your business travel might put you just where you need to be to knock off a race you’ve always wanted to do. Think of a trip to Washington, D.C., right around the running of the JFK 50 Mile, or a trip to San Francisco on the same weekend as the Miwok 100 Kilometer. Extending your stay for a couple of days to accommodate a race can be simple. A family trip might also include a chance for you to run but be sure to work out a diverting itinerary for the rest of your family while you’re busy, and look for something not too taxing to do after you rejoin the family just after the race. For example, lounging around the hotel pool would be good post-race activity; a ten-mile hike to Bear Lake would not be good.
There was a time when planning a whole year of racing in advance was not that critical. There really weren’t that many races to choose from and you could pretty much wait until the last minute to decide that you wanted to go somewhere and race. Things have changed. Your ultraracing possibilities now are very extensive. Terrific races fill the calendar and cover the map. But nowadays there is a lot more competition to get into those races so planning in advance really does pay off.