To Race or Not To Race?

That is the question!

When race season rolls around, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and want to sign up for ALL THE RACES.  Races are the reward for the training hours we put in.  Races provide feedback on how we are progressing and if our training is working.  Races give us social interaction with like-minded people (ie, people who are just as obsessed with endurance sports as we are!).  Races often involve travel and getting to spend time exploring a new or different place.

How many races should you do this season?  This largely varies on the individual, their goals, and their other commitments/constraints.  Here are some ideas to consider.

First, consider your budgets – both money and time.  Speaking strictly from a monetary standpoint, running, cycling, and especially triathlon can get expensive.  Not only are there race fees to pay, but if you’re traveling (which is required for most triathlons), you’ll also need to factor in the cost of transportation/gas, lodging, and food.  There are ways to do this on a budget (buddy up and share lodging accommodations, pack food from home in a cooler, and opting for smaller, local races vs traveling to larger, more commercialized ones).   Time is another factor to consider.  What other commitments do you have in your life?  How much can you train and travel to races without upsetting the balance between your career, family, and friends?  Do you really want to use all of your allotted travel time and funds to go to races, or would you rather use some of it to schedule some time at the beach with family or friends to relax?

Next: Ask yourself… What is my main goal this summer?  Do you want to race because you really enjoy the various aspects of racing itself, but aren’t concerned so much with results? Or, are you in pursuit of a big goal like setting a PR, landing a podium spot, or qualifying for Kona?  If it’s the former, you may be able to get away with racing as often as your schedule and budget permit.

On the other hand, if you have your sights set on a big goal – your “A” race – you’ll need to strategically consider how to structure your race season.  Scheduling a race or two before your “A” race is a smart way to assess your fitness level in relation to your big goal and know if you’re on track to meet it.  Adding a race or a few prior to that “A” race will also help you find your racing mindset and fine-tune your race day routines (nutrition, gear, transitions, etc).  However, over-scheduling other races before your “A” race can be detrimental.  Remember that each race you do before the big day will take time away from quality training: you’ll need time to taper before the race, and time to properly recover after the race.  You’re basically exchanging 1 day of hard training in the form of a race for at least 2 weeks of taper/recovery (maybe more, depending on your physiology and the race) which won’t yield the same fitness gains of two weeks of structured, goal-specific training.  Additionally, associated race travel and/or the super-early race day wake-up can further drain your energy and lead to prolonged recovery time.

I generally like to spread races apart by 3 weeks when possible, though 2 weeks apart may be do-able depending on the race distances and the individual athlete. Racing back-to-back weekend triathlons is not recommended because most athletes won’t be able to perform at peak level without sufficient recovery.  If you’re doing an Ironman race, I recommend doing a half-iron race earlier in the season to help to gauge pace or power for the Ironman race.  If you’re doing a half-ironman race, I recommend an Olympic race earlier in the season.  If you’re doing an Olympic race, you guessed it – a Sprint race can be a great way to prep.

What races are on your calendar for Summer 2016?

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