By Smruti Shah
Things have changed in the endurance community. The old formula of one ‘big’ race each year is being replaced by a new trend of competing in multiple events within months, weeks, or sometimes even days. Why not? With so many great races it is hard not to compete more frequently, I call it ‘serial racing’.
A key benefit of serial racing is learning how to race in a shorter timeframe. Each race is an opportunity to experiment with various fueling, pacing, and pre-race strategies, figuring out what works best for you. Then you use what you learned to fine-tune methods for future races. No training run can mimic your adrenaline-fueled state of race day. Knowing what works best for your body in this state improves your chances of a successful race.
On the other hand, stressing your body too much and too often can cause more harm than good. Serial racing may not be a good idea when recovering from an injury. Take time to repair completely before starting a training plan for back-to-back races. A good strength-training program is essential to injury prevention. This reduces the chance of a more debilitating long-term injury. It may help to have a solid foundation of miles and races under your belt prior to attempting serial racing. The longer the distance, the more experience your body needs.
One thing is clear, frequent racing requires a serious change from the typical 12-16 week training plan. Since most running-related injuries are associated with overtraining, planning and recovery are key components to meeting race goals without injury.
Ready to try it? A good start to serial racing would be scheduling shorter races leading up to a goal race. For a half marathon goal race, this could be a 5K focusing on speed at the beginning of the training plan and a 10K focusing on pacing in the middle. If spaced with enough recovery time, this allows the body to reap the benefits of serial racing with minimal injury risk. If you plan to undertake back-to- back marathons, a challenge people take more frequently, choose one to be your PR/goal race and the other to be a less serious race, taking pictures and high-fiving other runners and spectators. Be flexible with this, You may be feeling really good and have perfect racing conditions to PR on the ‘fun’ race, in that case, go for it! Adjust the goal for the next race to be the fun one.
Between races, take 1-2 weeks for recovery with easy runs, massage, ice, low impact cross-training and include a 2 week taper before your next race. Active recovery with low impact activities is crucial. Include cycling and easy running on softer surfaces, such as packed dirt or gravel. It is also key to know the signs of overtraining, fatigue and sleep changes. It is better to skip a run or a race when your body needs rest than to risk an injury taking you out of running for much longer.
If you have less than 4 weeks between goal races, the foundation you built leading up to the first race will be the training for the second. One week before the second race is not the time to squeeze in hard intervals and/or long runs. I tend to see more running related injuries associated with high volume/high intensity training too close to race day than with undertraining. If there are more than 4 weeks between races, you may be able to include a few speed and strength runs in the middle weeks before the taper. Again, listen to your body – it tells you what you can and cannot handle.
Wishing you happy and healthy serial running.
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Smruti Shah, DPT is a physical therapist at ATI in Carrboro. She loves working with the endurance athlete community, marathon running, and hanging out with her husband , two daughters, and fluffy dog.