A Lesson in Plan B Competitions

For years I have advocated a couple specific elements to enhance distance racing success.

1. Always have a second, third or even fourth back-up race in line in case something goes wrong on that ONE big day you’ve targeted all your training for months.

2. Always have tiered goals to increase opportunities for success. (See next post on this.)

Element #1 is much more specific to distance running – half-marathons and beyond, yet most commonly the marathon itself. It is a distance that requires months of training and a target date to prepare for with a planned couple weeks of tapering into that big day. Your objective is to have a great day – the perfect day – a PR day – on that one day four-plus months in the future. Shorter races like a 5K allows for many more opportunities for “redos”.

So many months in advance you do not know what the weather will be like. Historical data is nice but anything can happen. There are no guarantees. Heat, head winds, rain, or snow could adversely affect your performance. Just look in recent years at death-marches in Boston and Chicago.

You also do not know if you will catch an illness in your final weeks leading into the race (a very common occurrence due to your immune system depletion from hard training). That sure would throw a monkey wrench into running your best wouldn’t it?

And what about an injury that derails your training. So now you either go in under-trained, or you modify paces. In either case you are not set up for that big performance are you?

You could simply have a vehicle flatted tire or breakdown on the way to the race, a bus that is late or a train that isn’t on time and you miss the start.

Then again, there could be catastrophes (New York) that wipe out your race entirely. Now what?

For so many runners it means huge disappointments and they are left scrambling for a back up race and then trying to figure out how to train for it.

If you are serious about running your best marathon time and not just completing another marathon then we need to get smarter. When I talk to my runners about marathons I’ll introduce options for back-up races should any of the previously mentioned issues arise or if simply, training itself hasn’t progressed as well as planned or anticipated. This is about getting smarter with our marathon racing

Note: Please be clear I’m addressing runners who want to race, set PRs, and improve and not for someone trying to complete another marathon. This is about setting yourself up for success instead of leaving so much up to chance.

Here’s how to use this practically:

Plan and train for your “A” Race. Have a “B” Race lined up 2-6 weeks after. And have a “C” Race another few weeks after that.
Follow your A-Race training program. Should there be issues (illness, injury) that derail your training significantly enough then you go to the B-Race and extend your training plan.
If on A-Race day the weather, or nature, your own bodily functions choose to not cooperate for an optimal performance then do one o the following:
Use the A-Race as a training run. Run it as an easy long run – or pace a much slower runner (This is quite gratifying actually – try it sometime) preparing for your B-Race.
Use part of the A-Race as a training run. Don’t complete the whole race. Race or run some portion of it mostly at your goal pace. Use it only as a test run.
Bag it – call it a day and move your focus to your B-Race.
This is where age-group runners need to take a lesson from elite runners. If elite runners are falling apart, off pace, dying, or otherwise out of it most of them will drop out – yes – the dreaded “DNF” rather than trash their bodies and take more time to recover. Instead they retreat to fight another day AND save their bodies for that day! Their attitude is that they want to run fast, not just complete another marathon.

4. Have your training plan set up so that you know exactly what you will do in the event you’re now training for a B-Race or C-Race.

The important lesson is that you do not have to approach marathoning (or distance running) as an all-or-nothing, win-lose, succeed-lose venture. If PRs are what you seek, take more control over your destination and set yourself up for success. Having a back-up plan is not just a sound business practice – it’s sound marathoning practice.

(Next I’ll address tiered goal setting as a method to increase success.)

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