We're runners. We love to run. It's what we do. But two questions I've seen posed, both to me and in other forums, are 1) how do I know when I'm ready to move up in distance and 2) how often should I race?
The best response I have as a coach is : it depends.
Each runner is unique and you need to listen to your body to decide what is best for you. However, there are some things you should consider.
There may never be a time when you are "ready" to move up in distance. There is a certain extent of trial and error, and your first race may not go 100% as expected, but it will help you learn and prepare for your next race. Of course, there is a logical progrssion (5k, 10k, half-marathon, etc.) although some have found success in jumping from a shorter difference to a longer distance. The key, as with any running goal is to:
Have a reason WHY you are moving up, as this will help motivate you to stick to a training plan and push through difficult times during the race.
Set a realistic goal.
Give yourself enough time to train. Ramping up to fast can lead to injury and burn out.
Set up a training plan, through a coach or your own research, and stick with the plan.
Keep yourself accountable. For some people this means sharing your plans with friends, others it means a training log, others it means finding a training buddy to meet you for runs.
Once you finish the race take time to celebrate what you have accomplished, and then use what you learned from the race to plan for your next adventure. And if you don’t finish, still appreciate the work you put towards the goal, and you likely have even more lessons to apply to the future.
There are some runners (Catra Corbet and Michael Wardian to name a few) who race often and run lots of miles with seemingly no ill effect, while other athletes limit themselves to only a few events a year. Each runner is unique. To plan your own race schedule:
Consider your experience. Veteran runners are more likely to be able to handle more frequent racing than brand new runners – but not always.
Know that you can’t literally race everything. Some races will be A races that you focus on performance, some races will be B races that are part of the build up to the A race.
Remember that higher mileage means more recovery in general. So running back to back 5ks is different than back to back marathons.
Listen to your body. It will tell you if it’s recovered or needs more rest. If you still feel like you’re dragging and not fully recovered from your last race running another race is not going to be productive, and could even be harmful to your progress or lead to injury.
Don’t get swept up by FOMO. There are tons of races out there and it’s easy to get swept up into signing up for all of them. You may need to be selective about which ones you actually choose.
Hopefully these tips help you in determining whether you’re ready to increase your mileage or step up your race. And remember, a running coach can help you to plan your races and training to set you up to achieve your goals, whatever those may be.