Race Planning 2018: Plan Your Most Epic Year Yet

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Some people don’t really have or make plans when it comes to running and racing. They just register for whatever events tickle their fancy or show up on their Facebook feed. Others race everything.

Somewhere in between these two extremes are the smart folks who plan their season in advance. A solid plan for the year ahead can do wonders for your motivation and improvement as an athlete. Setting a goal is one thing, but making a plan for achieving it is what will, in the end, enable you to make it happen.

Let’s talk about planning your 2018 race season, then. The process I’ve described below is meant to supplement the 2018 Race Planner I created for California Running Lab. You can download it here, or just freestyle your own on a blank piece of paper, cocktail napkin, or whatever app you use on your phone or tablet (and, clearly, you are not as old - or old fashioned - as I am, what with my habit of writing everything down, pen to paper).

all great things start with a plan.png

1. First, dream big

Start by filling in the blank: 2018 would be the most amazing year if _______.

Let your mind wander. What is the one BIG goal you’ve dared to dream, but have been too scared to give yourself?

Write it down.

Now ask yourself, is that a realistic goal to pursue in 2018 -- or is it still some years removed?

Give that some thought; sleep on it, even. If you decide that goal is achievable in 2018, then that is your “A” Goal for the year. And if not? Then it must remain a long-term goal as you work your way to it.

So, what are some challenging, but achievable goals that will move you closer to your dream goal? Make a list of at least three to five goals, then pick your top three.

2. “A” goal examples

In the context of race planning, your “A” Goal could be a tied to completing a particular race or race distance (your “A” race), but it could also be achieving a particular time, or completing a process. Here are some “A” goal examples:

  • Run a marathon (or half-marathon, 10K, 5K, 50K, 100K...)
  • Run a specific distance or race PR

  • Qualify for Boston

  • Complete a triathlon

  • Qualify for Kona

  • Run every day for a year (otherwise known as “streaking”)

  • Learn to swim

It is much more common among runners to tie goals to specific results, or outcomes, rather than processes. If you look at the seven examples above, the first five are outcome goals; the bottom two are process goals. (Although you could argue that learning to swim is the outcome of the process of learning to swim… confused yet? Keep reading, I’ll explain.)

3. The steps to get there

If you had to build a three-step ladder that would take you to your “A” Goal, what are the three most important steps on that ladder?

When thinking of these steps, be as specific as possible, and this time focus not on outcome, but on process. For example, let’s look at three smart steps for a runner striving to run their first marathon in 2018:

  1. Build a solid base in the first three or four months of the year, by running four or five days a week and cross training on one to two days a week.

  2. Gradually build weekly mileage to at least 15-20 miles a week, before starting to train for the marathon.

  3. Research, find and follow a marathon training plan with XYZ (friend, coach, any other external support network you have available to you).

As you can see, while the “A” Goal is tied to a specific outcome (run 26.2 miles), the steps are tied to processes that will help you get there. Those processes are what you would need to do -- or what you think you would need to do -- to achieve the specific outcome.

Be careful not to mix up outcome goals and steps. This happens often if you have time-based race goals such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon. A runner might think, “I want to qualify for Boston, which means I need to run a 3:40 marathon or faster; therefore Step 1 towards achieving this goal would be to run a 1:44 half marathon.”

Running a 1:44 half marathon is not a Step, however; it technically would be your “B” Goal for the year. That’s because achieving it will neither be absolutely necessary, nor guarantee that you can run a BQ marathon. You could run a 1:46 half marathon and still BQ later in the year, or you could run a BQ marathon without racing a half at all.

On the flip side, you could run a 1:39 half marathon as prep for your big race, then flop your 3:40 marathon goal and run 3:45. (Why? Maybe your training was more focused on running a strong half, but failed to extend your race fitness to the marathon distance.) I hope this helps explain why an outcome goal should not be used as a Step towards achieving another outcome goal.

So, if we need to think of three Steps that would get you to a BQ marathon, they might be something along the lines of:

  1. Build weekly mileage to at least 45 miles over the first three or four months of the year (before your actual marathon training cycle begins).

  2. Determine your proper training paces for key workouts like tempo runs and long runs.

  3. Follow a training plan with XYZ (friend, coach, support network) that incorporates the necessary quality work - and recovery - to get you to your goal marathon time.

4. Plan for obstacles

With any long-term goal or plan, running into hurdles is to be expected. The difference between overcoming the obstacle or letting it derail you is planning. One thing you can do to improve your odds of overcoming the obstacles that will invariably present themselves as you work towards your goal is anticipate them -- and plan ways for overcoming them.

Something I often ask of the runners I coach is to write down the top three obstacles that get in the way of them completing their workout schedule for the week -- and then for each obstacle, write down three ways to prevent or overcome it.

For example:

Problem: I often skip runs because life gets in the way and I can’t find the time to get it done.

Obstacle: Busy at work or with family.

Strategies to overcome it:

  1. Make time: wake up an hour earlier and run first thing in the morning. Set out running clothes the night before; go to bed earlier; find a friend to join you for accountability; etc.

  2. Find time: Can you run during your lunch break at work, then eat lunch while doing routine tasks like checking email or scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed during a lull in the office?

  3. Make it appealing, so eventually it becomes a priority: When training for my third marathon a while back, I was struggling to find motivation to run during the week. Long runs got done, no problem; but those shorter weekday runs were a chore. Back in those days, I was all into topping my coffee with whipped cream, so I made a deal with myself: I can only add whip to my espresso if and after I have done my training run for the day. What happened next will surprise absolutely no one: by the time I've had so many espressos with Reddi Whip that I grew tired of it, running during the week had become a habit -- just like drinking coffee! [For my fellow nerds, this strategy is called premacking: a positive reinforcement that involves pairing an unlikely behavior with a likely (common) behavior.]

5. Line up support and accountability

After some thinking, soul searching and planning, you have mapped out your 2018 dreams and a plan to make them a reality. Now comes the true test: sticking to the plan.

Everyone knows that New Year’s resolutions get ditched by February. Don’t be part of that statistic. The following strategies should help you beat the odds:

  • Pin it where you’ll see it. The reason why the 2018 Race Planner is a one-sheeter is simple: so you can put it up in your office, on the fridge, by your running medals display… wherever you will see it often. Let it be a reminder of your big goals, so you never lose sight of them once the daily grind of 2018 takes over your life.

  • Line up support and accountability. Team up with friends or family in your goal pursuit. Having a running buddy wait for you at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning will make it that much easier to get out of bed at 5.

  • Stay accountable. Keep a daily log of everything you do to progress towards your goal.

  • Celebrate your victories. Set mini-goals or milestones and reward yourself in small ways for achieving them.

And when you achieve your main goal for 2018: Celebrate Big!

Ready to get started? Download your digital copy of our 2018 Race Planner. If you would like us to mail you a high-quality color-printed copy, order yours here for a minimal cost to cover mailing expenses.

Coach Aleks