Racing With a Purpose

The Surf City half marathon was my slowest half in almost two years. Given that my injury is better and my training more consistent, I was disappointed that I was unable to have the breakthrough race I was looking for. Then something very interesting happened. My run workouts after the race took a leap forward. Even though I did not achieve a PR, I made noticeable gains in fitness (without the soreness that accompanies a PR effort) that will serve me well for the LA marathon next month.

Most of us race only 6-12 times each year. That is quite low in comparison to the amount of training that we do. It is no wonder, then, that we want to PR at every race, even if at the outset the race was designated as a lower level race in importance. Every race has a purpose, but not every race deserves a full scale taper and gut-busting effort. When planning a race schedule, it is imperative to understand which races are the “A” races and will receive the royal treatment and which races serve a supporting role in pursuit of that perfect “A” race.

Lower importance races can serve many functions in both running and triathlon. Here are 5 things that a race can provide besides a PR.

1.    A chance to experiment with nutrition. What works in training does not always pan out during a race. A half Ironman prior to an Ironman is a perfect opportunity to try out something nutritionally that has worked in training but has never been implemented in a race.

2.    Work on pacing strategies. Usually go out conservatively? Maybe try a race where you go out a little harder and see if you can hold on to it. Usually go out like a bat out of Hell and then crawl to the finish? Start a little easier in your next race and try to finish stronger.

3.     Use shorter races to dial in pace or wattage for something longer. A 10k is a good marker for a half marathon and a half marathon is a good marker for a marathon. Training for an Ironman? A half Ironman is good place to practice pace and watts for the big day. If it feels too hard during the short race then you can bet it is much too hard for the longer distance.

4.    Just for fun. Sometimes a destination race is just that – all about the destination.

5.    In lieu of a workout. Running races, time trials and swim meets are excellent substitutes for a regularly scheduled training session. A race that is used a training session keeps you in the racing mode, allows you to go harder than you would during training and helps you boost your fitness and confidence going into the “A” race.

On Saturday I am running a 10 miler. This race fulfills 3 of the 5 parameters mentioned above. I am going to work on pacing – I would like to negative split. I am using this shorter race to dial in my pace for the upcoming LA marathon. And, the race will substitute for the longer tempo workout I usually do at the end of the week.

Now, that being said, this race will be a PR, but only because I have never raced over this distance. How convenient!

Determining a specific function for a race is something new for me. As a professional triathlete, I felt like I needed to be on my game every single time I toed the line. I put pressure on myself to perform at the highest level at every race, and I raced HARD all season. This is mindset that led to plenty of wins, but it also led to plenty of unmitigated disasters. I have learned that all races have a purpose, and that purpose cannot always be an all out effort. Define what that objective is prior to race day and race accordingly.

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