Running Race and Event Planning – Setting Out Your Training Year

TRM Edition 49 Cover

This article first appeared in TrailRun Magazine Edition 49

Strategising Your Race Year: Planning, Categorizing, and Long-Term Prep 

Following a couple of years of disruption to the racing calendar, we are now in a position where all races are back on their original dates. With this increased certainty we can now plan out our racing year, confident our training will not be wasted due to cancellations. With many great races included in this edition, there is a wide variety of trail events to pick from. What is the best approach to planning out your racing year, through understanding why you race, categorising your races, and then implementing a long-term training plan? 

Why Do I Race? 

Before we get into how to plan out your racing year, there are a couple of key questions, you need to ask yourself, “Why do I race, and which races mean the most to me?”  These questions will have many different answers, are individual to each of us, and are important to driving our training for the coming year. With such a variety of events from distance, terrain, elevation, and support provided, there is certainly an event out there for you. With most of our time spent training compared to racing, we want to make sure training is an enjoyable process and can mimic some form of the events you have chosen. 

Categorising Your Chosen Races. 

Now you have chosen races, the next step is to break your races down into three categories, A, B, and C. Your A Races are typically the most important races of the year and the ones where our training is most focused. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules on how many A Races we can run, you should consider how much time you can commit to your training, This will influence the distance, what terrain, and elevation you have access to, and the time between races, you need to recover fully! Most people focus on two to three A Races a year. 

B Races are generally shorter in distance than your A race and can be more frequent. We use B Races for trialing and testing aspects of our A Race. This can include pacing, nutrition, equipment (think new trail shoes), and potentially race logistics, depending on the distance.  We may also incorporate a mini taper into our B Races. The key rule is, that we do not want our B Race to overly affect the ongoing training for our A Race (think recovery). Lastly, C Races, we complete as part of our training, with no specific preparation or taper, with the result having minimal importance. This could be just a local run that we are interested in completing or supporting a friend. 

Long-Term Planning. 

With your A Race now locked in the calendar, and you have told your family and friends your goals, the hard work starts. Let us lay out the process and principles for long-term race planning. 

The process - Start your planning at the end, i.e., from the date of your A Race, and work backward. This period is technically called the macrocycle and covers from now till race day. Your plan at this stage is general and focuses on groups of weeks broken down into 3–6-week blocks, with a potentially easier week at the end of these blocks. The technical term for these shorter blocks is mesocycles. 

Next, write down, understand, and clarify your running abilities and those needed to complete your A Race. Are you a stronger runner on flatter terrain (roads), yet struggle on the hills and stairs? Is nutrition an area you need to work on, do you need to practice and use poles, and how do these relate to your chosen event (vert, distance and terrain)? 

With this information, we can now set a training theme for and schedule each block (those mesocycles) in the calendar. Using the following principles: 

Training blocks nearest the A Race should focus on things most specific to that event, and those blocks furthest away should work on the things least specific to your event. Think of a mountainous trail race, with lots of steep elevation. Practising hiking and pole work should be done in the last couple of blocks (several weeks) before the race, with flatter, speed work done in the earlier blocks, further out from the event. The final couple of weeks should always be reserved for your taper. 

Incorporate all the different types of runs into your plan. Your training should involve all types of runs throughout the entire training period (macrocycle), regardless of the event. Using the first principle above you will be able to build speed work/interval, hills, tempo runs, and steady-state runs somewhere in the plan. Of course, these will always be supplemented with easy and long runs throughout all your training.  Generally, for longer trail events, your speed work is going to be done earlier on. 

Focus on your strengths nearer the event and weaknesses furthest away. By understanding our strengths and weaknesses, captured earlier and the specific requirements of the event, we can focus and develop these in a timely fashion. We do this by incorporating our weaknesses into the earlier blocks of training. As an example, you may struggle on technical trails. Using this principle, we would incorporate technical trails, as part of the runs in the earlier blocks of training. 

Using the process and principle we now can schedule our training, broken down into blocks, with each block having a specific purpose. All these come together to form our long-term plan. 

Finally, regardless of the race and when it is scheduled, my key piece of advice is “Start your planning and training now, it is never too soon.” Do not wait for an arbitrary date in the future to begin. The sooner you start, the better and more enjoyable day on the trails you will have! 

 Ash Daniels is a Level 3- Athletics Australia Performance Development coach at Journey2Ultra coaching, where he specialises in Trail and Ultra running.  He coaches runners of all abilities and distances, believing everyone is a runner, some of us just need a bit more help in getting going.  Ash can be found at