I always marvel at those runners who are able to race back to back events. Part of me wishes I could do that. Imagine having someone pay you to lace up your shoes and travel to beautiful parts of the world to train and compete season after season. The reality is there are few athletes than can get away with that kind of schedule. Those that do have paid sponsorships and the resources to ensure if they end up injured a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist will help them with recovery.
For those of us who are living a more common life with family, jobs, and other duties, it takes careful planning to find that balance between training and competing. Even then I meet several athletes who just don’t seem to know when to race and when to rest. They often try to uphold an aggressive training schedule all season long and then inevitably end up completely burned out or injured. How many articles do see written about the hazards of “Overtraining?”
So then the question is: How do you know when to race or rest? Ultimately that depends on YOU. I like to evaluate a decision to race by how my body feels. This advice is preached by many top endurance athletes. Listen to your body! Frankly, that’s all you can do. Only you know how you feel on any given day. If you know there’s a niggle here or there, pay attention to it. Don’t just pop another 1,000mg pain reliever and keep running. The best solution is to give it a rest, see if it subsides and then make a decision on whether you should have a go at that event that you have been training for.
If you are reading this and say, “I don’t have any niggles, so I’m going to just keep going”. Well, good for you. But I would caution you to still pay attention to the degree at which you have been training and/or competing throughout the season. If you keep a training log via Strava, Garmin Connect or other tracking methods it’s important to know the following:
Training Volume- What is your weekly/monthly distance?
Training Intensity- What are your Anaerobic Threshold vs. Aerobic Training Patterns?
Training Frequency- How often are you running (number of times a week/month)?
If you know the answer to all the above and are tracking each, use this information to help you determine whether another race on your calendar is a smart decision.
Generally I start my season in February. I really enjoy running the Sean O’Brien event at Malibu Creek State Park in Southern California. I may run a race every 4-6 weeks through September/October. I lay out the calendar at the beginning of my season and while it may consist of 5-6 ultramarathon events ranging in distances of 50miles to a single 100 mile event, if I feel like I’m not allowing for enough recovery I will take an event off the calendar. I will wait until I feel physically and mentally ready to proceed with the next one. Make sense? But by late Fall I intentionally start to shut it down. So while I may say, “I feel great!”
I know that at the cellular level my body needs a break. If you want to see true performance improvement, pay attention to your training patterns and begin tracking the efforts you put into your training. See how this impacts your race performance. Ultimately you are the best judge and if all you see is a performance decline and not an enhancement then it is probably time to give it a rest. Your body will thank you for it.