You have been running for decades, or you just became a runner this year? Chances are that you are still not sure how many races you should attempt to run in a year. This dilemma is very common especially among runners, who live in big cities where there are many, various races throughout the year, including: 5Ks, marathons, half-marathons, obstacle courses and others. The problem with finding the right balance for the number of races to participate in is crucial if you want to keep up your fitness level, improve your performance and at the same time stay healthy and injury free.
So, what is the optimal number of races you should run per year? Here are some factors which you may want to consider when you are looking for the best answer for yourself.
Optimal number of races considerations:
1. Are your racing goals realistic?
How does your annual racing schedule fit your work schedule, your everyday chores, your budget and your health? If you have no problem balancing between pre-race training and dealing with all of your other daily responsibilities, then you have probably planned an achievable and safe racing plan for the year. If you feel stressed and encounter time constraints to stick to your training schedule, or for doing your work and errands, or if you feel burnt out and not performing as well as you should, then you probably need to think about cutting down those races.
2. The answer is individual for every different runner
There is no one right answer to the question about the best number of races to take part in during the year. You need to find the best balance for yourself. The number of races to register for depends on your fitness level, your health and proneness to injuries, as well as to your running performance. Of course, it all depends on the time you have available to prepare properly for a race and for the logistics associated with attending a race as well. Remember to listen to your body, and don’t overdo it when planning your races for next year.
3. There are guidelines you may want to follow when planning your racing schedule
According to professional advice given by running coaches and physiologists, runners should adhere to the following basic guidelines when deciding how many races to run:
- Keep in mind that at least 10 weeks are needed to properly prepare for a race
- Your body will reach its peak condition for racing only after you have already ran a few races
- When you are properly prepared for a race, you should be able to achieve and record personal best times for different mileages – especially for newbies for distances of 10 or 20 miles
- Sufficient time for proper recovery is essential, especially after participating in a series of races
By keeping in mind these four basic guidelines, you should plan your annual racing program, as follows:
- 10 weeks of pre-race training
- 3 preparatory races – one in every two weeks before the big race two weeks after them
- 3 weeks of recovery with easy workouts and easy running only
This means that you will need about 21 weeks for each racing cycle, and so you can safely and successfully do two of these cycles per year.
For a better performance, choose a shorter race as the main goal for the first cycle, and a longer one for the subsequent one in the second half of the year.
4. Remember that you need some time off
Planning your off-season could be as important as planning your annual running schedule. Some coaches and running experts recommend that you plan for a 4 to 6 week off season every year in order to let your body recuperate and to stay away from running related injuries, especially from overtraining. This off-season doesn’t mean you have to spend all those weeks on the couch, eating fast food and snacks though! It should rather be a time in which you allow yourself to rejuvenate both your body and mind from the stress, but it should include:
- Running 3-4 times a week (runs should be from 30 to 70 minutes)
- Only easy running, with an added fartlek session every week
- Cross training, including: yoga, swimming, mountain biking, strength training, cycling or another sport of your choice – alternate between 2 or 3 of them several times a week
It is possible to calculate the number of races to register for by following the above-mentioned guidelines. Of course, depending on your experience and fitness level, you can choose to shorten the pre-race training time down to seven weeks instead of ten, which means that you can aim to reach a peak of your running form at three, rather than only two races per year, due to the fact that your entire racing cycle will be 16 weeks rather than 21. The problem is that your performance will most probably not be as good if you follow the less intensive racing guidelines from above.
A rule of the thumb is to work at setting personal best results at longer distances if you are preparing for a marathon. Setting PB results at shorter distances (5 to 10 miles) is more likely to be achieved by les experienced runners during the preparation period. But carefully tracking and analyzing your performance during those runs and the preparation runs before your big race is crucial, so that you can plan your test runs and practice accordingly, in order to ensure that you reach your peak performance at your most important race.
So, for beginners, it is advisable to stick to the two race-per-year plan, in order to prepare properly. In time, experienced runners will be able to work out their own best racing , training and resting schedule, in order to successfully complete the runs they have planned, stay healthy and injury free and in order to feel satisfied with their achievements per year.
Once again, listen to your body, and make sure you plan your training, races and rest-time accordingly.