Off season, pre-season, build, peak, taper, race. Athletes train and work hard for months, sometimes years to prepare for a race. Especially an “A” (most important) race. Most athletes also have “B” and/or “C” races on their calendars. These are generally considered less significant than the “A” race, and are sometimes used as “back-up” races. Someone looking for a Boston qualifier, for example, might plan a spring and a fall marathon, in order to have 2 chances to achieve a qualifying time. This can put less mental stress on the athlete, which can actually have a positive training effect. “B” and “C” races are also helpful as training races for a longer event. An early spring sprint tri, as a brush-up for a longer summer triathlon, a half-marathon a few months out from a marathon, for example. Practicing racing strategy, nutrition, pacing, transitions (in triathlon) are all good ideas before an “A” race. However, both the coach and the athlete need to make sure there aren’t too many races on the calendar. Too many hard efforts, too close together, with too little recovery in between can leave the athlete mentally and physically fatigued, which will hinder further gains in training. It is important in training and racing to make sure there is adequate recovery time between hard efforts. Adequate recovery time could be weeks (for long distance races) or just one or two days (after a hard training workout/ effort). Heart rate (resting, during workouts, and post-workout), rate of perceived exertion of workouts, and mental and physical well-being should monitored and taken into account. The importance of enough recovery between hard training efforts and races cannot be overemphasized. When an athlete pushes too hard without giving their body time to heal and adjust to the stresses put on it, they are putting themselves at risk for overtraining, which can lead to injury. Overtraining is a serious problem. Recovery from overtraining/overracing takes time away from what should be valuable training. Racing can be just as much mental as it is physical. An athlete who competes too much is at risk not only of physical injury, but of mental race “burnout.” Mental burnout feels different for everybody, but generally is a feeling of disinterest in racing, not caring about the outcome, or even can manifest in an over-interest in outcome. Worrying too much can be a hindrance.
Athletes work hard to be able to race, and they do it for a variety of reasons. As training for a longer race (as mentioned above), for competition (relative to themselves, or competitors), for a specific distance or time goal, for a new experience, or just because they find racing to be enjoyable and exciting. How do you find the balance between racing for PRs, racing for fun, and racing as training? The athlete and the coach must have a good relationship (feel comfortable communicating) and the athlete must be willing to communicate how they are feeling both mentally and physically. How many races an athlete can compete in depends on the distance of the race, the physical conditioning of the athlete, and the level of intensity of racing. A runner may be able to intensely race a 5k once or twice a month, but racing hard (going for a specific time or PR) in a long distance such as a marathon is generally better left to twice a year. A triathlete might be physically and mentally capable of racing multiple shorter distances throughout the year, but intensely racing full Iron distance is generally best left to once a season (or longer). Whether or not you are at risk for overracing depends quite a bit on the intensity of the race. Again, the coach and the athlete need to work together to avoid too many back to back hard efforts without proper rest in between. Runners and triathletes tend to be a very committed group. We enjoy training and competition. Some of us even live for training and competition. The key is to find balance so racing and training can be a lifelong endeavor. Work with your closely with your coach. Keep diligent training logs. Take a step back and look at your previous race history in regards to injury and mental attitude. What correlations do you see? Look at your best races (PRs in particular). How much were you training and racing? Taking time to look at the past experience bigger picture will help avoid overracing in the future. Being honest with yourself and your coach is key. The goal is to stay healthy and happy so running and triathlon can be a lifelong journey.
Be Healthy. Train Smart. Have Fun.