How to Plan an Effective Racing Season

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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How to Plan an Effective Racing Season

Now is the time of year to look back on your racing season in order to plan for this coming year’s season. One big reason to plan ahead is that many races fill up early —  half-marathons, marathons and even ultras are filling up faster than ever. But another reason to take stock of your races early is to make sure you don’t sign up for more than you can handle.

Planning a productive, effective season of training and racing takes some foresight and a little restraint. But if you use the following five reminders, you’ll be able to create a well-designed plan to help you accomplish all of your goals

1. Prioritize

Planning an effective season starts with establishing your priorities for the year ahead. Do you want to set a PR? Tackle a new distance? Or try a new type of race, such as a trail marathon instead of a road marathon?

By prioritizing your goals, you can keep your training from being too scattered or disorganized to be effective.  

2. Pick Your Goal Race

Once you determine your racing priorities for the year ahead, then it’s time to choose your benchmark race. Because certain races are insanely popular, you might run up against constraints such as a lottery system or qualifying time, so make sure you have a backup plan in case you’re unable to get into your top choice.

You may pick a goal race based on its location, crowd support, speed of the course or any number of other factors. But this, too, should factor into your planning. If you’re aiming to qualify for Boston, it may not be ideal to pick a challenging, hilly marathon course if reaching your qualifying time is already a stretch goal!  

3. Establish Your Training Cycle

The length of your training cycle will vary with both your goal race and current fitness level. The following guidelines are geared toward runners who have some previous racing experience, while new or recently injured runners may require a more gradual buildup.  

  • 5K–10K:  These goal races don’t require as long of a training cycle so they can be completed in with a 10–16-week plan.
  • Half-Marathon–Marathon:  Plan for a 12–20-week training cycle.
  • Ultramarathon: A goal race of 50K or longer should have a 16–24-week training cycle.

Within each training cycle (no matter what the length), there should always be three general phases:

  • Base phase (4–8 weeks): Builds your endurance and prepares you for harder workouts.
  • Race Specific Phase (4–8+ weeks): Workouts that are race-specific and get you used to running at your goal race pace.
  • Taper (2–3 weeks): A period of reduced mileage prior to your goal race, though with similar or even slightly increased intensity to leave you sharp and ready to go on race day.

4. Specificity and Tuneup Races

Specificity becomes more important the closer you are to your goal race. As you can see in the phases described above, this simply means that you are doing workouts that more closely resemble your actual race as your training progresses. Marathon training, for example, will likely include long runs with an increasing number of miles at your goal marathon pace.

Scheduling tuneup races is also an important part of this process. The following guidelines will help you fit these into your schedule for various race distances:

  • Marathon: Schedule a half-marathon tuneup race 4–6 weeks from your goal marathon.
  • Half-marathon: Schedule 1–2 tuneup races (8–10 miles) in the 4–6 weeks before your goal race.
  • 10K: Schedule 2–3 tuneup races (5K–10K) in the 4–8 weeks before your goal race.
  • 5K: Schedule up to 4 tuneup races (800m–5K) in the 8 weeks before your goal race.

For more details, watch Coach Jason Fitzgerald outline effective season planning:

5. Allow for Recovery and Downtime

No matter what distance you’re training for, make sure you taper appropriately. Trust in your training, and don’t be tempted to cram in one last workout before race day. Give yourself adequate recovery time between races as well as a dedicated recovery period after your season in order to stay fresh and excited about your running.


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About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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