Designing a racing schedule is a tricky business. Enter a race every weekend and you risk burnout or injury. Put all of your eggs into that BQ only to get food poisoning two days out — not fun. Racing at your best year-round is challenging and requires careful planning in both training and competition. Build in bouts of intense work and serious rest to set you up for health and a full season of great performances.

Choose Your Key Races
These target races are the 2-4 events of the year that mean the most. Your key races will be your personal running Super Bowls — get ready to bring your A-game. Your training throughout the year should be geared towards your key races. Your hard sessions will be specific to the distance, course, and terrain. And you’ll want to plan in a 7-10 day taper leading up to your key events as well. A target or goal race will require focus and lots of hard work leading up to the event and after. Make sure to take a week or two of down time or complete rest after these events.

Designate Support Races
Support races give you the tools to perform at your best when it matters. Choose 1-2 races in the lead up to a key race to break up a big training block. A support race will serve as an awesome quality workout.You don’t need to plan in extra rest before a support race. Instead of clicking off the splits during a solo track workout, give yourself some race day endorphins and hundreds of training partners! I’m always able to dig a little deeper when I put on a uniform. Even if you’re in the thick of training and not looking to hit a PR, substitute a tempo run with a road 10k. Have a hard long run on the schedule leading up to a marathon? Run a half marathon at your marathon pace. A local 5k is also great opportunity to work on speed.

Racing is a skill. The more you practice, the better you’ll be able to handle nerves and the pressures that come with a key race. Use support races to get comfortable in a competitive environment.

Remember To Build In Rest and Recovery
Rest is one of the most important components of training and racing. Your body will only absorb hard training and allow you to perform at your best if you recover properly. In the week leading up to a key race reduce your total mileage and cut back on the long run. Focus on the quality sessions to keep your legs feeling springy. Make rest the priority. Squeeze in a couple of naps or at least try and put your feet up when possible. Give yourself the opportunity to feel ready to go on race day.

Take a down week after a hard race effort. Your key races require tons of intense preparation. Allow your body and mind to recover with light running or time off. Post-race rest will also set you up to be healthy and rejuvenated for your next big training cycle. Don’t completely neglect your body, though. Make sure to keep up with stretching, foam rolling, and rehab exercises.

When the season is said and done, take one to two weeks away from training. I like to take two weeks completely off from running. Regardless of how my season turned out, these two weeks allow me to recharge. I always come away from this time off excited for the season ahead.

Be Flexible: Plans Change
Remember that your body isn’t a machine. Sometimes things don’t go exactly as you planned. Unfortunately injury and illness happen. Better to scratch a race and live to fight another day. If you wake up with a cold the day of a support race, take the day off and do a hard workout in a few days. Don’t compromise your long term goals for a race that isn’t important in the grand scheme of your season.

And leave yourself open to the opportunity of having an unexpected, awesome performance. If you’re fit, find a race. I’ve signed up for a race last minute because things were going really well in training. I hadn’t planned on racing for another month, but I ended up with a big PR! Regardless of the racing plan written on paper, allow your body to guide you.

Written by Chelsea Riley for Freeplay magazine.
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