How to Plan Your Racing Season

As the last of the snow melts around the Blue Ridge Mountains, our attention at ZAP Fitness turns to warm-weather racing. From track, road and trail races, spring and summer are the times of year when our team gets to "show their stuff" after a winter of slogging through the snowy muck. As we make our competitive plans for the year, we are certain to approach the season with a handful of tried-and-true race selection strategies. These measures will not only significantly increase the chances for a successful competitive season, but they will also make your racing in 2014 and beyond more enjoyable.

Ramp Up From Economy and Down From Strength

Whether your target for the year is to knock a precious few seconds off your mile best or minutes off your half marathon PR, try taking a page from the late great British coach Harry Wilson, who was a big believer in utilizing either side of the distance spectrum to make you more effective at your chosen distance. Wilson would often have his mile and 5K athletes run races as long as a half marathon early in the season to improve their aerobic strength, and races as short as 400 meters to improve their power and economy. In other words, the finest 10K runners in the world would have the strength of marathon runners and the speed of milers.

More: 9 Keys to Running Your Best 10K

With the exception of the marathon, runners competing in distances shorter than 26.2 miles should plan to include a range of distances in their racing repertoire. For example, athletes whose focus is on improving their 10K performance should use the following formula:

1. A race of 10 miles, 20K or half marathon 3 to 4 weeks prior to the first 10K
2. A race of 2 miles or 5K one week prior to the first 10K
3. Two additional 5Ks prior to the second attack on the 10K distance
4. One final "longer than 10K" race prior to the third 10K of the season

More: 10K Workouts for Beginning and Advanced Runners

Tougher Courses to Teach Racing vs. Quicker Courses for PRs

At a recent coaching seminar, one of my old-school coaching friends bemoaned the lost art of "racing" as opposed to time trialing. The difference? Pure racing allows a runner to hone the skills associated with competition with little regard for time, whereas time trialing is an effort 100 percent targeted to pace and time. Whether it is the ability to "sit and kick," surge over hills effectively, or even (I recommend this one 1 to 2 times annually) going out the first mile faster than ever before, racing should not always be done in the ideal flat and fast environment.

More: How to Choose the Right Racing Strategy

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