I get it - some people either LOVE the sport, or are new to it so much so that it just consumes their life. And what better way to show how much you love a sport than to do a race every weekend right? Well...maybe not...it depends. Let me explain what I mean.
Whether from people I know personally or through various blogs I follow, there are quite a few people who tend to race a lot. Like every weekend, which I consider a lot (unless it is just a 5k, which you can easily recover from). Not that there is anything wrong with that per say if that is what you want to do.
But, depending on the distance and the effort expended during the event, you may be doing yourself more harm than good in the long run (pun intended). I mean, if you have enough self control to race a lot, but train through a race and not go all out, then you won't be doing nearly the damage to your system as you would if it were an all out effort at each and every race. But here's the thing with this mentality - people want to have their cake and eat it too. And it most cases, you might end up with a little cake on your face, because you lost focus of the big goal (eating the whole cake)....has this analogy gone too far???
I think you get the point though - racing creates a certain amount of stress on your body and mind and we need to recover from that stress to build fitness. Otherwise, you dig yourself in a deeper hole (physically and mentally) that sometimes only injury or worse forces you out of. This can also leave you feeling flat on race day, because you have no more "juice" left. The stress created during a racing event is typically more than your average training run, mostly due to a shift in mentality and nerves/endorphins on race day to dig deeper and push past physical and mental barriers that are there during everyday training runs. Despite thinking you might go easy or moderately hard, most people tend to throw caution to the wind and go for it because "they got caught up in the moment" or "they were feeling so good". But that fatigue may not rear its ugly head until it is too late.
Let me put it another way - if you were faced with two options, which one would you chose:
Option 1 - You can try to race to your potential by training hard with a few races thrown in during your build up to simulate your goal race, but mostly train with the intent on peaking for a given race.
Option 2 - You can race lots of races and have fun being out there, but performance will be somewhat limited due to progressive fatigue and a failure to peak for a particular race.
Well, which one do you prefer? Some people fall squarely into one of those options, but many people want both. And that's the problem - too much of anything will limit your potential. People want it all, because it is difficult to make a decision and stick to it when friends and others are out there doing something else.
So here is what I would like to say:
- If you are looking to PR a race, develop an approach that builds you to that race, train as if that is the goal, and use all that extra energy and enthusiasm for the sport to propel you on race day. I can assure you that the patience you exhibit saving your racing legs for your goal race will result in a better chance at a good race than if you just went out and raced a ton. You will still have fun in the races you do and will get to experience race day as everyone else. But if you decide on this path, stick with it. You made a thoughtful decision to run to your ability, so don't sell yourself short for short term gratification.
- If you are just looking to get out there all the time to have fun with friends, experience a lot of races, get some cool shirts, travel to cool towns, then by all means go for it. Sure, you may pick up a PR here or there if you never trained hard enough to race to your potential, just based on the general fitness you'll build over time. I mean, its not as if running races all the time is worse than not running at all. You are going to build some fitness along the way. But don't go into that situation under the impression that you'll still be able to race to your potential. Without being able to focus your efforts, due to it being spread over a number of races and overlapping fatigue, it is very difficult to consistently race hard and most often, results in mediocre results.
There are generic freaks out there that tend to challenge this assumption, but the vast majority of us "normal" people aren't machines. So when you are considering your approach to training and racing, be sure to consider what it is you want out of your sport. Whatever your decision is, remember that you made it for a good reason, and remind yourself frequently of that reason anytime you find yourself drifting away from that goal.
So which type of person are you - seeking a PR or doing lots of racing and getting out there for the experience?