How Many Races Is Too Much?
While it is true that many runners practice the sport for the sheer joy of it, many more find that participating in the occasional race pushes them to progress faster and deepen their sense of enjoyment. And, once they experience that first race, runners are typically hooked. So, since runners are a passionate group, it’s common for these excited athletes to seek out just about every race they can possibly sign up for.
But, is this a good idea? After all, running, and indeed any athletic endeavor, puts an enormous amount of stress on your body. In order to fully recover and improve from that training, rather than be harmed by it, significant rest time is needed. So, how can you feed your racing habit while still giving your muscles enough time to properly get over each event? How many races should you plan on running each year?
Like so many other aspects of health and fitness, the real answer to this question is based on a number of highly personal and individual factors. So, unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible for us to provide you with a concrete answer right here.
Your fitness level, for example, will typically allow you to train more intensely and frequently than newer runners. Of course, this will also depend on your training style and the type of races you participate in. The training routines that you’d use for a 5K and a marathon emphasize totally different aspect of your fitness and push you in complete different ways. Things get even more complicated if you’re involved in more sprint-centric events, trail running or adventure races, which each present their own unique challenges.
It’s also important to realize that the amount of races that you have access, something that’s almost entirely out of your control, can also have a pretty big influence on how many events you sign up for each year. The area in which you live may have a longer and shorter running season than other regions. Or there may simply be fewer races organized within a reasonable travel distance. Other responsibilities could also keep you away from a given event.
All that being said, though, there are still some universal principles that you can use to plan your racing schedule and estimate how many races you can reasonably plan on running.
Regardless of the type of race that you plan on tackling, you will need several weeks to get yourself into race-shape. Generally, this can take anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks depending on your initial ability and the length of your target race. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you take 10 weeks to train.
That’s a considerable length of time dedicated to the sport right there. Unfortunately, while this training will adequately prepare you for just about any race, it will also take away from the amount of time that you can spend on those races. So that’s the first part of this equation.
It’s also very important to note that it takes several races for you to get into peak running condition. As a result, experienced runners will usually schedule one big, important target race preceded by three other events.
This practice has several noteworthy benefits. First and foremost, this is a clever way to squeeze in more races while not overtraining. But these practice races can also help you prepare mentally for that one event that you really want to tackle. So, if you’re working on your first marathon, you can train for ten weeks and then plan three shorter races of gradually increasing lengths, like a 5K, 10K and half marathon, until it’s time for the main event.
Right there, then, you just found four races that you could feasibly run in a given year. But, realistically, you could repeat this cycle twice. Really, then, you can plan for about eight races.
Allow For Rest
But these factors ignore a very important part of any training routine: rest and recovery. During that stretch of races, you should give yourself at least two weeks off between each event. Of course, we’re not talking about total inactivity. Just lower the intensity of your training and don’t participate in any other events during that time.
This consideration, then, spaces out your running season significantly. But there’s also another factor to think about. Once you finish that circuit of races, you’re going to be spent and will need even more time to fully recover before starting over again. Generally speaking, three weeks of activity recovery is usually a safe estimate.
Putting It Together
Sticking to these numbers, then, you could potentially fit a total of eight races into your year without worry of overtraining or overuse injuries. Of course, all of this depends on some pretty bold assumptions. You may not have access to all of those incremental races every two weeks. Or you might just have no interest in taking on a full marathon. Or, you might just be a really incredibly athlete.
Still, the guidelines drafted here can give you some things to think about when planning your competitive season.