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A Guide to Race Planning in the New Year

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I didn’t want to race this morning. It was cold, pouring with rain and the combined effects of midnight fireworks and a dodgy Chinese takeaway meant I was feeling like starting the year with a lie in rather than a run out. But all good plans have to start somewhere, and so it was with heavy legs and a heavier stomach that I took in the New Year’s Day parkrun to get my ‘racing’ programme into full swing early in 2018.

Runners tend to be creatures of habit, preferring to stick to the same well-trodden paths and races. But this tends to make you mentally stale. So now is the time to rethink your training and racing goals for 2018; not only to make sure you perform at the top of your physical powers, but also to ensure that you give your brain the workout that it needs. 

So how do you set your goals? Clearly, it depends on what type of runner you are and how long you’ve been running, but most goals fall into two camps: performance-based or challenge-based. You might be targeting a new personal best over 5K or 10K, or you’re upping your distance and targeting a first marathon or even ultra. Your goals should be personal to you; it’s nice to run with friends for motivation, but if you want to run the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and they want a new parkrun best, your goals – and your training – are likely to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Some people like to race every week: Guinness World Record holder Steve Edwards has run one marathon every 14 days for nearly 30 years. But, unless you’re superhuman or a world record holder, this strategy is unlikely to result in the best performances. It’s far better to target a handful of races over the year – we’ll call these A goals – interspersed with some secondary targets (B goals) and maybe a regular parkrun (C goal).

It’s unlikely that you’ll target more than one A goal every other month. You need to give your body time to benefit from the training demands your putting on it and you’ll need to taper and recover for each one too. B races can just be done during the main run of training; they’re a good gauge of fitness without being too demanding both in terms of physical and mental effort. And C races can just be built into the training as indicators of how you’re progressing (parkrun is excellent for this).

Once you’ve identified what your targets for the new year are, then you can begin to shape your training programme. The A goals are the bi-monthly peaks, so you need to build a programme that develops incremental gains across the whole year that can be reflected in your race performances. So a gradual approach to building mileage if you’re doing a marathon or interval sessions that develop speed and speed endurance over a longer period of time.

Whatever your goals for 2018 are, we hope that you’ll enjoy trying to reach them. Good luck and happy running!

David Castle

Editorial Director, Men's Running magazine