Using races in training: set goals and track progress

Beki Cadd / 27 Oct 2015

This article covers some of the benefits of using races as part of your schedule. It’s a great way to set yourself goals along the way, and help you to assess your progress so you achieve the result you want on the big day!


Benefits and Implementation:

1. Break down longer distances

Races can be used to break down longer training runs, by tacking a few miles onto the start. To do this successfully you’ll need to try and time it so you finish your first miles as close to the start of the race as possible. The shorter the time you’re standing around in between, the more closely you’ll be mimicking a true long run. This can be difficult in bigger crowded races, so it might be best to sign up to a smaller local race if you fancy giving this a try. For me, I did this when the distances started getting into the unknown territory when training for my first half marathon. It made 8 or 9 miles seem a whole lot more achievable if I thought of it as just another 10k race with a couple of miles warm-up jog to the start.

2. Motivation
Using races for long training runs is a great way to keep you motivated, with the promise of a shiny medal and tasty treats at the finish line! Having signed up to a race, and paid the entry fee means you’re less likely to bail too.

3. Atmosphere
A race atmosphere makes a change from solitary training runs. It’s great to be surrounded by other runners, with enthusiastic marshalls or supporters to cheer you on. You can even get together with friends and tackle the distance together, turning it into a social occasion. You’ll be surprised how quickly those miles go by when you’re chatting! 

4. See if your training is on track
A race can be a great way to check up on your progress, especially if you’ve never run that distance before. It can be a huge confidence boost to complete a 10k on the way to a half marathon for example, and give you an indication of how long it will take you. Conversely if you’re aiming for a specific time in your “Big Race”, or trying to improve your speed, a race is a great opportunity to do a timed Tempo Run and push yourself a little bit harder. I did this with the Greenwich Park 5k before Christmas, emerging with a 5k PB and proving that all the treadmill intervals are paying off!

5. Practise fuelling for the big day
If you are training for a bigger race, then having a race part-way through your training is the perfect occasion to practise your fuelling plan. It’s a great way to simulate taking any energy gels and fluids you want to use, as well as trialling your pre-race breakfast and finding out what does and doesn’t work. It’s a good idea to check if your Big Race is using certain brands at their fuel stations, if you want to use them, and decide whether to carry your own water bottle or rely on the drinks provided.

6. Race Day Nerves
Pre-race nerves can creep in over fear of forgetting something, or fear of the unknown so getting used to the routine can help you to feel more comfortable. If you’ve never run a race before, knowing what to expect with collecting your race number, finding the correct starting pen, and navigating the drinks station en route will reduce stress when it comes to your Big Race. With more races, you’ll become more confident and will be able to deal with any unexpected situations that may arise.

6. Support
Aid stations and a pre-planned route make a race an easy option for completing the distance with minimal effort on your part. The logistics are planned out, you just have to turn up and run! A race somewhere you haven’t run before is a great way to get a change of scenery too and make your training runs more interesting.

7. Challenge Yourself
Tackling a race that addresses some of your known weaknesses can be a good way to challenge yourself, in a safe environment. I recently took on the Trailscape Ashurst 10k which was a very hilly, muddy trail race! Hills are definitely one of my weaknesses and completing this race was a great way to add some targeted training to my schedule, and develop the strength in muscles I may not normally use on fast flat runs.

8. How to adjust your training schedule
If you decide to incorporate some races into your training schedule, it’s a good idea to think about how they’re going to fit in. Every race should have a goal, even if that’s just to race for fun and take it easy.

Firstly, don’t taper unless you’re intending to use the race as a test of fitness. If you decide to just run it for fun, then don’t let the race adrenaline lead you to push too hard. You’ll end up suffering in your workouts the following week, and it could have a knock-on effect on your eventual “big race”. Similarly, if you are going all out and trying for a certain time, then allow yourself enough time for recovery. A race effort is always going to be harder than a normal workout would be so make sure you give the muscles time to repair and rebuild.