Planning Your Training and Racing | September 21, 2010
With ultrarunning, it’s good to have a plan. Showing up at the right race, at the right time, all well trained and well rested, mentally and physically ready for some new distance or a PR doesn’t usually just happen. Occasionally the stars will align all by themselves, but most of the time, it’s up to you to reach into the sky and shove them into place. An ultra is quite an undertaking. It requires a big training window and usually some preparatory races to do your best. It makes sense to look ahead a whole year when you sit down to dream your ultra dreams.
November is a great time to take stock of the past year and look forward to the next. Most or all of your serious training and racing for the year is done. The weather and the shortened days are cutting into your actual running. You have your results for the year in hand. You’ve got some idea of what your goals might be for the next year, and the various race calendars are gelling as race directors around the country are confirming their dates for next year’s ultras. It’s also time to start focusing on the registration deadlines for the races that fill early or require that you enter a lottery for a starting spot. It’s a real bummer to find out you missed the sign-up window for the one race you really wanted to run.
Next year’s ultrarunning goals can take many forms. You might be a beginner looking for your first ultra finish, or you might be stepping up to a new distance. You might be returning to your favorite race with a specific time goal in mind, or you might be looking for a PR at a particular distance. This might be the year you’ve decided to tackle a hundred mile race. You might be trying to improve your finishing place percentage from top 50% in every race you enter to top 25%. You might be looking to run more ultras than the previous year, or you might center your year around making it to one of the big classic races like Western States, the JFK 50, or the Miwok 100K. Maybe you want to compete in an organized race series or try a mountainous race if you’re a flatlander or a flatland race if you’re a “mountain-er.”
To dial your training plan in for any of these goals, you’ll need a reliable calendar of races. One of the best and most comprehensive ultrarunning calendars is at this magazine’s website, ultrarunning.com. The races are rated by Terrain and Surface and are linked to their individual websites so you can dig for more information. The calendar’s search engine lets you narrow the list down. You can pick a range of dates, a particular state, or a particular distance, for example. Ultrasignup.com is another website with a comprehensive searchable calendar and a huge database of race results. The site also offers a rating system that puts individual runners on a scale based on past performances, which is very useful if you’re interested in seeing how you stack up against other runners. TrailRunner magazine’s website, trailrunner.com, links to the American Trail Running Association’s race calendar. UltraRunner.net and UltramarathonRunning.com also have great calendars. The latter lists races globally.
Another route to take when considering your running goals is to check into running clubs and organizations in your area. The robust Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, for example, hosts numerous events including the Bull Run Run 50 Mile and the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile as well as offering numerous training runs. In Tennessee you have the Rock Creek Trail Series and in the Kansas City area go to psychowyco.com to learn about the runs put on by the Trail Nerds. On the West Coast there’s a beautiful series of races put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs (pctrails.com), and there’s another super robust running club in Sacramento, the Buffalo Chips Running Club, which offers weekly training runs and caters to runners at all distances. In the South, you might want to check into GUTS, the Georgia Ultrarunning & Trailrunning Society. In Kansas, try out KUS, the Kansas Ultrarunners Society. Google your state and the words “trail running club” and chances are you’ll find similar organizations in your area.
Once you have your target races picked out, you can put together a race calendar for the coming year and add in any other significant dates that will affect your running plans, such as, vacations, business trips, weddings, planned surgery, and the like. What should emerge from your timeline are the blocks of time when you’ll be able to establish a good running base, when you’ll be able to ramp up your training and put in a series of long training runs, when you can schedule preparatory races to gauge your readiness for the goal event, when you will need to taper, and when you will need to spend time recovering before resuming any hard training.
As you start accounting for all the weekends you’ll need to spend doing long training runs, the weekends you need to take off to taper or to recover, the weekends you’re spending attending conferences for your job, the weekend for your colonoscopy, and the many weekends you promised to your significant other, you might be surprised at how few weekends there really are in a year. You might find you need to cut back your racing plans in order to really key on one event, or you might need to reconcile with the fact that between two events you might not be able to do any additional training, but rather spend the whole time resting and recovering. There are also the unknowns that will crop up to interrupt your plans. You might not get through the lottery for the race you were planning on. You could suffer an injury. Your personal plans might change. Having your calendar blocked out ahead of time will make it easy to see where you need to adjust and where you might want to add or subtract a race.
The great thing about ultrarunning these days is that you have so many racing options and opportunities. If March looks like a busy month for you, filled with family commitments…no big deal…there are plenty of races to choose from in April or May. In fact, there are parts of the country where you could pick just about any weekend in the year and find some kind of ultra not too far away. So take some time in November to plan for the coming year. It’ll be the first step toward making your ultra dreams become reality.