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How To Extend Your Racing Season

Adding a race or two at the end of your season can be fun, but you have to do it right.

Adding a race or two at the end of your season can be fun, but you have to do it right.

If you compete long enough, there’s going to come a time when you want to extend your racing season or need to maintain your peak beyond your goal race. Perhaps your awesome performance qualified you for another racing opportunity — like a masters or local championship. Maybe you didn’t run so well and you are looking for another opportunity to capitalize on your fitness. Or, as sometimes happens, weather, family or work prevent you from actually running your goal race.

Regardless of the reason, extending a racing season isn’t easy. You need to find the right balance between recovery from the goal race and a lack of training coming off the taper, all while getting in enough workouts to maintain your fitness. It’s no surprise then that many athletes struggle when trying to lengthen a training cycle.

In this article, we’ll show you how to structure your training to keep performing well beyond your goal race. Specifically, we’ll outline some of the important considerations and most common mistakes runners make when trying to extend their peak.

Extending A 5K Or 10K Season

Most runners don’t appreciate how difficult it can be to extend 5k or 10k fitness because of the cumulative training effect of both the race itself and the demanding speed training. Both can take a toll on the body, leaving runners burned out as the season extends. Here are some helpful guidelines to prevent overtraining:

Get Your Mileage Back Up
When we examine the specific demands of long distance running, we clearly see a heavy reliance on aerobic respiration as a primary energy system. For the 5k and 10k, the aerobic contribution is between 88 and 95 percent.

When extending your racing season, you’re already coming off a taper and a short recovery period after the race. Both of these factors result in a significant mileage drop for one to three weeks. Therefore, it is critical that you bring your mileage back up to pre-taper levels to ensure you maximize your aerobic potential. As long as you keep these runs easy, they won’t reduce your ability to recover.

RELATED: How To Become A Runner

Don’t skimp on the strength work
If you’re following a training plan that progresses from general to specific, you’ve probably focused primarily on 5K and 10K specific workouts over the last few weeks. That’s perfect training for your goal race. However, it likely means that you’ve neglected tempo and other longer, strength-oriented workouts.

Be sure to include at least one tempo or steady-state effort each week to maintain your strength. Don’t fall into the trap of only doing speed work or race specific workouts as you extend your season.

Back off the speed
On a related note, performing intense speed workouts for more than eight consecutive weeks can result in the raising of pH levels. Researchers have found a strong connection between a rise in pH levels and overtraining.

If you’re trying to extend your season by three weeks or more and have already done some serious speed workouts, consider backing off speed work for a week or two and getting back to more strength-based workouts.


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Extending A Half-Marathon Season

While the half-marathon distance doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of runners like a marathon does, it’s still a long distance to race. Most runners underestimate the amount of recovery needed after a half-marathon and therefore struggle when trying to extend their season.

Make Sure You’re Fully Recovered
The extreme soreness that typically occurs after a full marathon is usually not present after a half-marathon, and thus it’s not uncommon for runners to feel back to “normal” after only a few days. However, while you may feel recovered, research on biological markers, such as DNA damage to leucocytes, creatinine kinase (CK) and muscle fibers, clearly shows that the body is still under repair.

RELATED: Rest, Recover And Run Injury-Free

Therefore, to prevent overtraining, don’t schedule your first hard workout post race for at least four to five days. Even then, this should be a lighter, easier workout designed to get the legs moving rather than an all-out effort. Taking the time to fully recover post race will ensure that you’re able to run hard, recover, and adapt to the few workouts you can squeeze in before your next race.

Race-specific work
With likely limited training sessions between your races, it’s important that your workouts be as race specific as possible. Don’t “waste” the few workouts you can squeeze in on 200 or 400 meter repeats. Instead, pick a few of these race specific workouts to maximize your training potential.

Maintaining A Marathon Peak

Offering generalized advice on how to maintain a peak for a marathon is a little complicated, since there are more variables to consider. Did you run hard, did you bonk (thus suggesting the race was very taxing), or are you a high mileage runner? These factors, among many others, will change exactly how you should approach your attempt to run a second marathon after the first. However, here are some helpful guidelines:

Running marathons a few weeks apart
If your second marathon is within three weeks of the first one, there is very little you can do to increase your fitness level. Instead, you should primarily focus on recovery and getting your legs as fresh as possible.

In the first few days, you want to get your legs moving to help bring fresh blood and nutrients to your damaged muscles. Sitting around and resting will only make you stiff and sore. After three or four days, your legs should start to feel more normal. At this point, you should ease back into normal running mileage.

RELATED: Marathon Recovery Time

Chuck Engle, who has won 148 marathons and is the only person to ever win 50 marathons in 50 states, suggests bringing your mileage back up to 70 percent of your weekly max. Maintain this volume for the next 10 to 14 days.

You can perform some light, marathon paced workouts. However, you don’t want to do anything too hard or too long. You can easily maintain fitness for a two- or three-week stretch without many hard workouts.

Running marathons a month or two apart
If your second marathon is a little further from your first race, you’ll need to put in a short training block so you don’t lose the fitness gains you acquired in the training leading up to your first race.

During the first two weeks, you’ll still want to focus on recovery and getting your volume back to 70 percent of your normal training mileage. After this two-week recovery cycle, bring your mileage back to 90 to 100 percent of your pre-marathon volume.

In addition, you want to keep your workouts moderate — at or around marathon pace — and on the shorter side, about six to eight miles. For the long run, 16 to 18 miles is an ideal distance to target. It’s a good balance between getting the benefits of a long effort in without overstressing the body.

You’ll also want to execute a modified taper that lasts just one week. Keep the long run at 10 to 12 miles, freshen up the legs with an easy workout, and then reduce the volume in the final four days before the race.

Good luck extending your racing season and remember that whenever you try to extend a peak, it should be frosting on the cake. So, relax about your performance and have fun with it.


To find a race near you, click here.

To get your Training Plan, click here.