Fitness Training and Obstacle Racing

Best Performance Vs. Annual Improvement

You’re probably pumped up for the race season. Maybe you have six or eight races lined up in the next six months. Maybe even more. This post goes out to the people that want to have goals, race because it’s a lot of fun, but still need to be smart enough about training to minimize risk of injury and burnout.

Almost all athletes periodize their training in some form. They need ups and downs in the season to recover and re-energize. They need an off-season. If they went hard, running 50+ miles a week, it would only take months or a year or two if you are seriously mentally tough, to burn out. Chances are you’d get injured first.

With a stacked race season and your heart burning to place well (maybe in your age or maybe setting a personal best speed) you can’t take every race seriously. If you have one race a month and planned to be at your best for each race, you’d be spending half of your month tapering for the race and barely any time doing serious training. You can do it, but your gains would be minimal in the race season and your overall athletic performance will suffer.

Here is what I do: I rate my races according to their importance.

A – Choose one or two maximum A races that you plan to make a big priority in your season. All your training will come down to this one race (or these two races). No more than one or two in a season should be this important to you.

B – Choose two or three maximum B races that you will taper slightly for, but aren’t the most important races to you. B races might be qualifiers for A races or races that you would like to use for high intensity training and to gauge where you are at in specific skills, but you don’t plan to make it a huge priority. As an example, you can do a trail B race with lots of hills to see how you are doing on hills. Or you can do a B race at Spartan (like my Sprint this weekend) to see how you are doing with obstacles and to get some pick-me-up for the race season (because racing is a lot of fun and you get a lot of energy from the people doing it around you).

C – Choose as many of these as you want and can realistically afford. A C race is a race you don’t really go all out for. You might hold back a bit, enjoy the scenery, meet new people and have a great time. You don’t taper in any form and treat it like a training run. If you want to race it hard, you can treat it as a high intensity session for that week in your programming, or you can treat it as a long run in your training season if the race has a distance that compares to your A race or a buildup to it.

When you have a system like this in place and you’ve rated all your races, you can start to look at your season a little more realistically. You won’t be trying to taper too often and losing results, or going too hard for too long and getting injured.

I personally find that when I’m healthy, I’m always pushing the limits of what my body will take in a given week. Some weeks I realize I did too much, and I back off the following week. If I do get injured or sick, it doesn’t feel like a big loss because I was ramping up and a week off never hurt. If I didn’t train when I was healthy and had no reason to be resting, I would feel very discouraged when I did get motivated again but got sick or injured and lost momentum. You must get to know your body because there’s lazy and tired (not wanting to get out of bed mindset) and there’s truly needing rest because you’re overdoing it, sick or injured.

Some signs that you’re doing too much:

  • If you start feeling more “niggles” in the morning and they aren’t gone the next day
  • You wake up completely exhausted no matter how much sleep you get
  • Your injury rate increases
  • You lose the will to exercise (take this one with a grain of salt depending on your personality. A lot of people don’t have the will to exercise at any point, no matter how little they do).

Listen to your body and you’ll know what to do. Take your season seriously and intelligently and you’ll have a lot of fun and see a lot of improvement year to year with consistency.

Good luck!

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