A Change of Tactics

It’s really no secret that I love races. Every few months I get bitten by the racing bug and scour coolrunning.com to find upcoming races in my area, or interesting-sounding races in a town or state I haven’t run in yet (it’s my goal to run a race in every state, as well as in every town in Massachusetts). I regularly sign up for several races in any given month… sometimes two in the same weekend, and once even two on the same day. This registration free-for-all can sometimes lead to the dreaded DNS, but it hasn’t stopped me yet.

I love races, especially the feeling of crossing the finish line!

I love races, especially the feeling of crossing the finish line!

Last year, when I first really started running, races were what kept me going. Especially early on when I didn’t love running for running’s sake, races were the only enjoyable part of the whole thing for me… especially when finisher’s medals were involved. I loved pinning on a bib and soaking in the atmosphere, even though I knew there was no chance I’d ever win, or even place in my age group.

Crossing the finish line always gave me a huge sense of accomplishment that kept me wanting more, but unfortunately not enough to keep me motivated to run on my own. Sure, I’d get out for a 2-mile jaunt around the pond with Colin every now and then, but I didn’t have a set training schedule, or even a vague one. I ran when I felt like it – always easy runs, with maybe a fartlek or two thrown in if I were feeling adventurous – but I mostly treated my races as my “training.” I figured if I kept running 5Ks, the distance would get easier and I’d naturally get faster. (It didn’t help that I nabbed two significant PRs in a row without running at all between races!)

¡Ándale!

¡Ándale! (source)

Lately, thanks to my running club, my training has gotten more regimented with speed workouts on Tuesdays and 3-ish miles on Thursdays. I usually try to get out for a run on the weekends… if not a race, then anything just to get out there. Then last week I completed my first long run and I finally feel like I have a somewhat legitimate training schedule. You know, minus the cross-training that I struggle with so much. After feeling all proud that I finally did a long run, I was gushing to Drew about how I couldn’t wait to try an extra half-mile this weekend when he looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said “Don’t you have that 5K in Maine this weekend?” Oh, right. Next weekend then. “Um, isn’t there a 5K in Providence that weekend?” Hmph. All of a sudden races are getting in the way of my training, instead of being my training!

My hectic racing schedule became even more of an issue last night, after the Shammies’ speed workout. Steve had calculated my interval times based on my current 5K pace, and suggested that I start treating Thursday runs as tempo runs (which they’re supposed to be; I just run them as best I can and try to keep up with everyone else). For the next 6 weeks, the usual 3- or 5-mile tempo runs will be replaced with 2-ish-mile fun runs, and Steve launched into how I could approach them as training races to work on getting my goal times. When I mentioned that I have races scheduled for the next few weekends in a row, he sort of frowned and said I should probably take it easy with the races so that I don’t injure myself, and then tried to talk out how I could juggle the Thursday races with my other plans and just seemed generally disapproving of how everything would balance. Oops.

I'm pretty sure this is roughly what I looked like when Steve said I should start tempo runs

I’m pretty sure this is roughly what I looked like when Steve said I should start tempo runs (source)

(One thing Steve probably doesn’t realize is that I don’t really race when I run races… I sort of treat them the same way I treat all my other runs – just go at a pace I can handle and try to finish strong if possible. If I were going all out at each race I could see being worried about injury, but otherwise they’re just normal runs for me, albeit with a lot more people around. I’m starting to realize this probably isn’t the best way to think about races, at least not all of them.)

All this really got me thinking, though. I run a lot of races. And, apart from the 10K and half marathon I’m starting to train for, they’re all 5Ks that I’m not really training for, at least not specifically. I decided that it’s time for a change of tactics: I’m going to tone down the racing so I can focus on training and doing things properly. I’m thinking no more than one race a month, unless there’s a really special situation. Hopefully this will cut down on my DNS count, and it will definitely save me some money!

It does sadly mean no more giddy registration free-for-alls (I really enjoyed those! just not the paying for them part), and since I’m already signed up for races through the end of October, I won’t be signing up for much for the rest of the year, if anything. It will also make my goal of racing in so many different places a little more difficult, unfortunately. Maybe I’ll make this change temporarily, while I’m trying to get my mileage and endurance up for longer races, and then play around with what works. I suppose we’ll see how this plan goes!

Do you like racing a lot, or do you prefer to focus on training for a few races?

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11 thoughts on “A Change of Tactics

  1. I like races, but I’m like you in that I don’t *race* them. I have no aspirations of reaching a podium because I know it’s not possible for me, so I aim to finish every race. If I get a new PR, so be it. I’ve already had a banner year, doing things I never thought possible when I started running two years ago, so I’m just enjoying each one as it comes. I will say, I’m glad I didn’t register for too many in July and August (initially so that we would have some free “summer weekends”), but with my first half in September, this is prime training time.

    • YES – aiming to finish is pretty much my goal every race. I didn’t really care about my times until I started getting PRs randomly last year and now I get sad when I can’t even get close to my best one (the best I’ve come is about 3 minutes shy). I need to think about it like you do – two years ago I would never have thought that I could run a mile, let alone a 5K or longer, so I just need to be proud of how far I’ve come and enjoy it… but maybe lay off the sheer number of races until I run my half in October so I can actually be prepared 🙂

  2. Hey, my first 5k was 36 minutes, it is possible to get faster, don’t underestimate yourself! But yeah, training is huge. I ran my first half with little to no training, not good. My second was pretty much the same. And I’m a big fan of long runs during the week,which is hard because of work. Plus a free weekend. 🙂 But I do love races. They’re fun in such a nerve wracking way 🙂

    • I’ve definitely seen a (small) improvement since I started… I used to average 35-37 minutes for a 5K and now I’m more around 33-35 so that’s something, right? 🙂 I’m really feeling the need to train better now that I’ve got a half coming up… I don’t want to go into that unprepared!

  3. I used to be really willy-nilly about races and “training” too. I ran a few 5k’s, then didn’t run for several months, and then decided to run a half marathon. That was the real push for me to actually train as opposed to just sort of running when I felt like it and attempting to do a race. Most of the time I’m not actually “racing” either–especially in longer races–I’m just trying to finish! 5k is the only distance that I can push myself in a little bit, but even that can be hard for me. This whole year has been sort of weird and half thought out as far as training runs and races go, so I think over the winter I want to come up with a better game plan for next year as a whole.

    • I think I really started feeling the push when I signed up for my half too… I knew I could handle a 5K without training (I was pretty sure I’d finish, anyway!) and knowing that I had run a 5K with only having run 1 mile previously made me cocky about trying a 10K, but 13.1 put the fear of God in me, haha.

  4. Running less races will definitely make it harder to reach your goal of racing in so many places, but it won’t be impossible. You just need to make a few tweaks. For example, I’m running a 10k next month that runs through two cities in MA, that would kill two birds with one stone for you! Or you could change your goal a little, instead of running a race in every town it could be to run a certain distance in every city/town instead. But whatever you do, I think you should tell Steve that you don’t actually race the races; that might change his advice. I don’t race all my races, either. I think it’s pretty normal these days for that to be the case.

    • Good ideas! I was starting to wonder if my goal of all towns in MA was even feasible… I’m not positive races are held everywhere, though it’s certainly more possible now than ever, now that running is so popular. Which races goes through 2 cities? I like the sound of that 🙂 Telling Steve is a good call too… he races pretty seriously, as do all the other run clubbers I’ve talked to, so he probably assumes I’m going all out at each race.

      • I’m running the bridge and back 10k, it starts in salem and crosses the bridge into beverly. I’ve also run some longer races that have double cities – the black cat 10 miler hits salem and marblehead, and the twin lights half marathon goes through gloucester and rockport. I’m sure you could find some others, too outside the north shore. If you run into towns that don’t have races, maybe you could do a virtual race there instead and count that. Although that won’t be as much fun without all the people.

        • I had thought of the virtual race option… it wouldn’t be as fun without all the other runners, but it might be a reason to get my butt out there and run somewhere else. Thanks for the tips about the other, multi-town races! I love the sound of the Twin Lights half… I bet running through Gloucester and Rockport would be beautiful! (Or bleak, depending on the time of year, but still cool!) 🙂

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