The 2016 racing season is right around the corner! To help you plan and organize your running goals, we talked to two running coaches – Jason Saltmarsh from North Hampton, NH and Albert Dell’Apa from Toronto, Canada – about the pros and cons of big goals vs. mini goals and why most runners would benefit from both.
What are the pros and cons of a runner setting their sights on one big race goal for the upcoming year?
- Saltmarsh: A runner with only one race on the calendar will possess laser-like focus, and an uninterrupted training schedule. On the downside, that can be a very tough way to pass the time with only training runs and workouts to mark your progress. And, if something should go wrong as the race approaches, the consequences could be traumatic for the athlete.
- Dell’Apa: I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a big race goal as your main target for the year, whether it’s a big marathon, your first half marathon, or a local 10K. However, I do think it’s important to have smaller targets along the way. This keeps a runner’s motivation high and also allows you to be “race-ready” when the main race goal comes. For example, if I have a runner that is planning to run a marathon in the fall, I might recommend running through a cycle of 5K, 10K, and half marathon races in the earlier part of the year to get faster and have a good base of fitness leading to the marathon training. Once we start the training buildup for the marathon, I would still usually build in a couple of shorter races in the training plan to have mini-targets along the way and keep the athlete mentally and physically sharp.
Could it be more beneficial to instead focus on smaller goals with multiple races?
- Saltmarsh: Absolutely. For race distances less than a full marathon, you may even run a couple of practice races to test your fueling strategy, pacing, and running fitness. It’s not uncommon for runners to pick a couple of half marathons to sharpen their competitive edge on the way to a larger marathon goal race. For runners training to run shorter distances, the recovery period is much quicker so it makes good sense to throw in a road test every month or so. Running well in these preliminary races can boost a runner’s spirits and make their big goal race less intimidating.
- Dell’Apa: It really depends on the runner. I work closely with each runner to arrive at specific goals, but ultimately each athlete needs to determine what their motivation is. Some runners just love to race a lot, while others don’t. Some runners can also handle the strain of frequent racing, while others cannot and break down. A good coach will work with the athlete to sort out the best approach for the athlete and both the coach and the athlete need to be nimble enough to adapt along the way.
Are there certain kinds of runners that tend to do better with either one of these scenarios?
- Saltmarsh: Shorter distance runners will benefit from more frequent racing at their goal race distance throughout the training cycle. But longer distance runners may choose to run shorter races to test their fitness and gain racing experience. Some runners need more positive feedback and a chance to celebrate small victories along the way. Other runners like to hide themselves away like devout monks and train in isolation.
- Dell’Apa: Yes, there definitely are runners that benefit from focusing on short term goals, particularly when there is a longer race like a marathon looming in the distance. Some runners may be overwhelmed by the enormity of the distance and the training that has to be done to achieve the goal. In those scenarios, I like to “chunk out” the training into more manageable blocks of training that don’t seem as daunting to the athlete and build in some shorter races along the way. I’ve found this to be extremely beneficial to a certain breed of runner.
What about a hybrid plan – using smaller races as a build-up to one large goal?
- Dell’Apa: In most cases, this is what I recommend to my runners. Having a few races under your belt leading to the bigger goal instills confidence and mental strength. At the end of the day, racing is primarily mental, and the best and most effective way to build that mental strength is to test yourself along the way by racing. As I say to my runners, the only way to get faster is to learn to run faster. That is accomplished through shorter, faster races that will give the runner the leg speed necessary to run faster times.
Written by Rob Haneisen.
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