Well, 2013 is drawing to a close. Undoubtedly you’ve enjoyed some time off from running. Maybe you spent some time hanging out with neglected friends on the weekend. (You know, those weird ones who don’t run.) Or watching football. (I forgot how awesome football is.) Or maybe just catching up on life stuff. (Ugh. Mail and bills.) Whatever you’ve been doing, you’ve likely been slacking on running. And that’s a wonderful thing that you should have done.
But 2014 is almost here. It’s the time of year to reflect back on the past one and look forward to next. And it’s time to do it quickly. Most races will start to open their registration within the next month if they haven’t already. It’s time you sit down and take some time to map out the year ahead. There are a few things you can do today, without moving a step, that will make your entire next year more enjoyable.
(Photo credit: Rogue Valley Runners)
First things first. Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- What did you accomplish this year? What did you learn you were good at? And what can you take from that knowledge and expand on this year?
- Was there anything you missed out on? Anything you wish you had done but couldn’t or didn’t find out about it until it was too late?
- How do you see your upcoming year? Is this one the where you try a 100 for the first time? Or maybe it’s the year where pile on the races. Or maybe you graduate up to the big, scary races. Or maybe it’s a quieter year where you want to focus on having fun and training well. What’s your vision for this year?
Now that you have a few thoughts about what you want out of your season, it’s time to grab a race calendar, your wall calendar and a Word doc. Let’s build a schedule.
The two best resources for race calendars are from Ultrarunning and Trail Runner magazines. They’re not always 100 percent exhaustive so it’s good to check both. One nice thing about Ultrarunning’s calendar is that it rates the terrain and elevation change of each race from 1 to 5, so you have at least a basic idea of what you’re getting into.
When a race sounds interesting, do some quick interest research. Check out the website. Look at the course map and elevation charts. Peep some pictures. (Just be aware that some of the official race pictures may be taken at easy access points and not necessarily the most beautiful sections of the course.) Lastly, find a few race reports and see what people have to say about it in years past.
Start making your list of contenders. Once you’ve got your rough pool, it’s time to whittle them down. Here’s where all your anal, Type A scheduling skills really starts to shine:
- Start with your goal race. Pick a race where you really want to push yourself. When do you think you’ll be trained and rested properly to tackle your most important race of the season? Usually this will fall somewhere in July or August. If you’re stepping up to 50-milers or 100-milers for the first time, this will obviously be your race. Whatever the distance, it should be a race in which you want to perform well and come out on the other side sporting a huge smile because you slayed it.
- Pick a warm-up race and increase your intensity from there. Marathons, 50Ks and 50-milers can all be nice early-season races depending on your goal race. Schedule something shorter earlier in the year as a good test.
- Design your schedule out from there. Plan time to taper down to your goal race. Between your warm-up race and your big one, fill in the remaining months with other runs that interest you.
- Give yourself enough recovery time. Pros (and crazies) can race more often. But for you and me, we need to give ourselves proper time to recover physically and mentally. I’m not a rocket surgeon, but my general rule of thumb is to give yourself at least one month between 50s and two between 100s.
But before you go thinking you’ve solved your Sudoku puzzle of a race schedule, I have a few wrenches to throw into your system. We’ve neglected one key consideration for your year: variety. If you want to have a successful and enjoyable season (never mind, a career) it’s important to take on new challenges. It will make your year more exciting and keep you growing as a runner. Try to work all of these ideas into your schedule:
- Return to one race you’ve run previously. It’s weird to think of a repeat race as variety, but it can be. It feels good to return to a race knowing exactly what to expect (or at least as much as you can in an ultra). More importantly, taking on the same race for another year will give you a good benchmark to see how you’re improving. Usually this should be a local race so it’s not as stressful logistically. And it’s better if it comes earlier in the season since it can serve as a nice confidence booster.
- Pick a race in a state you’ve never visited (or at least never raced in). Before I started running I’d never seen Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Arizona or New Mexico. Races are wonderful excuses to see a new part of the country, if not the world. Plus, taking on new terrain/elevation/local microbrews will make you a better runner.
- Try a style of race you’ve never done before. Do you normally do big, established races? Find a tiny race in its infancy. The vibe will be totally different. Never done a loop race or an out-and-back course? It could be a good new mental challenge. And I’m guessing you’ve never done a 6-, 12- or 24-hour race before. Why not go for it this year?
- Schedule a non-race running adventure into your calendar. Don’t skip this. I have an unofficial pact with a few friends to do one every summer. Try a Zion Traverse, a Rim2Rim2Rim or any number of other famous routes. It’s good for the soul and confidence to undertake your own unsanctioned runs. Even if you don’t have specifics yet, add a placeholder date to your calendar and plot your grand adventure later.
Yes, this much organization can be a pain in the ass, but take an afternoon to sit down and map out your year. Knowing exactly what 2014 will look like will get you excited and focus your training towards hitting your goals.
Plus, now you’ve got the hard part down. All you have to do at this point is run.