Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The ABCs of race prioritising

There is something special for a runner when he or she pins a number on.  It's as if our VO2 max increases, our lactate threshold rises and our endurance extends all with that simple act.  But all races are not equal.

We all have our own various ways of categorising races; ways of delineating their priority in comparison with each other.  Some people have "A" races and "B" races (most common), others do it somewhat differently.  What I want to share with you is my own form of categorisation that I use.


An "A" race is one of the big ones.  Typically there will only be a few of these each year/season. If you have 10-12 "A" races, then they are probably not "A" races. These are the big few - the ones that really matter.

The way I approach an "A" race is that, when planning my training for the days preceding the race, I ask myself: "Will this help me race better on the big day?"  If the answer is "yes" then that is how I will train.  Other considerations such as maintaining fitness, acheiving mileage goals and looking ahead to future races all become irrelevant.  The only thing to consider is how to be the best you can be on race day. Ultimately, we are talking about the tricky topic of tapering (one for a future post, no doubt) - that act of resting up to get the body ready to rumble without resting so much as to lose fitness and perform less well.  However you do it, the goal is to be ready to perform as well as you can on race day.

Practically speaking, in my case, I'd be careful not to rest to much. I've learnt over the years that my body thrives on plenty of easy miles and so I'd not drop the mileage too much.  I would ease back on both the intensity and the duration of any hard workouts.  But, as I said, more of that in a post on tapering some day.

Now if we drop down to "C" races, these are the races that are more like workouts.  The results don't really matter so much, they are there to see your progress, to assess your fitness or simply to get a decent workout in.

The way I approach "C" races is that, when planning my training for the days preceding the race, I ask myself: "Will this detract from the bigger goals?" If the answer is "yes" then I accept that I may not do as well as I could in the race but I keep my eyes on the prize: the future "A" races.  I will continue to train with the big goals in mind and treat the "C" races more like a workout.

Lydia enjoying the local road relays (a bunch of C- races) for the fun of it!

Practically speaking, I would rest up for a "C" race in a similar way that I would for a decent workout.  For example, tonight is my first race of the year: a 10km on a closed circuit cycle track and most definitely a "C" race.  I have been working on increasing my speed endurance at faster paces in training and this is a chance to see how I am getting on.  So, if tonight were a track session, I would be doing my easy "double" recovery run in the morning (I usually do it in the evening) for 5-7M.  Tonight is a "C" race so this morning I did an easy recovery run of 5-7M. Simple.

"B" races are trickier.  You have to walk that middle ground between "A" races and "C" races.  They are more important than "C" races and you want to be more rested up, get a clearer picture of your form and perform better.   But they are less important than "A" races and you don't want to risk losing fitness and detract too much from the greater goals.

Tim racing himself into shape with a B- 10km a few years ago

Practically speaking, training before an "A" race can change a typical training routine for a week or, occasionally, even 2 or 3 weeks while, as we have seen, a "C" race does not affect it at all.  For  a "B" race I would adjust training for just 1 day typically; 2 days maximum.  My sons and youngest daughter are racing with me tonight and for them this same race is a "B" race, but perhaps closer to "C" than "A".  So they all had an easier day's training yesterday so that they come into this race a little bit fresher.  In comparison, yesterday I did a total of 22.5M in two runs and even did some weights too. No resting up for "C" races!

The extremes: A+ and C-

You can, of course, continue to distinguish races even within those three main categories; as I said, the kids' race tonight is close to a "C" than an "A" and so we could split "B" races into "B+" and "B-".  The "B+" races would be the 2 day adjustment races typically and the "B-" races would be the 1 day adjustment ones, though this of course would be affected by training, fitness and other factors.

The other two further distinctions that I find handy are at the extremes: "A+" and "C-" races.  For me, tonight is definitely a "C-" - I opted for the longest option for my morning run and, when the rare opportunity arose, squeezed in a bonus weights session yesterday without a care for the race ahead of me.  It is a glorified workout with the benefit of the competition, the timing and the all the small scale pomp of number pinning and the like.

The ultimate goal is the "A+" race.  You only get one per year. if you have two then at least one of them, truth be told, is an "A" race.  It is the "big dance"; it is what you are thinking of each training session; it is what gets you out the door when you are tired and it is dark, cold and wet; it is what you dream about; it is what all the training is working towards. It is D day.
Nailing the big one: winning my A+ race of 2005, the North Downs 30K

Summary and Conclusion

So here is the summary of my categorisation of races:
A+  - one race - all year works towards this big goal
A    - 3-5 races max - you turn up tapered and ready, adjusting the training wherever necessary to ensure that you do.
   - races you want to do well in and allow modest training adjustments so that you get a good result; B+ races will have more training adjustment, sacrifice to the "A" race goals and resting than B- races.
C   - the "filler" races that you do to test yourself without any major alteration from the training plan.
C-  - glorified workouts with numbers, timing and more company than usual.

The advantage of thinking to this degree about race categorisation is that you ensure that you are forced to consider why you are racing, what you hope to acheive and what you are (or are not) prepared to sacrifice for it.

I will be referring back to this post throughout the year as we do our races.

And, in case you wondered, my A+ race is the North Downs 100M in August :)

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