How to Plan a Year of Running

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As the door closes on 2015 and another opens on 2016, it’s the most magical time of the year, time to plan your races for 2016. 2015 saw the most participants ever in marathons world wide, as well as the biggest increase in half and full marathons ever recorded. While this means there are more great races than ever before, it also means some are harder to get in to and planning a schedule is more important than ever.

Here is how I plan my racing calendar for the year. Hint, it’s a huge spreadsheet.

I keep this spreadsheet each year, continuously adding races to it as I hear about them. I keep past races on it to, just to keep track of the details. Sadly, I probably won’t be running in Belfast again this year.

This list gives me a selection of races to choose from. From here, I do some Googling to get the most important details of each race, mainly date, start time, registration cost, and when registration opens and closes. This way, I don’t need to go back to multiple sites to get details later. 

Living in the New York area, most of the races I pick for convenience are NYRR ones. These tend to either be a lottery that I never get into (New York Half, New York Marathon), or sell out within hours of opening (Brooklyn Half). For these it’s especially important to know when to apply or register. This year, I used the New York City Half in March as a pivot for deciding which races to do. I chose a set for if I got in, and a different set for if not. 

Normally, you’ll want to choose races based on your goal race and training schedule. For example, last Fall, my goal race was the Philadelphia Marathon in late November. This meant I’d be heavily training in September and October, then tapering in mid November. Since I’d be trying some long runs around 20 miles in late October and early November, I didn’t want to have any other races to distract during that time or interfere with the training schedule. In late September and early October, I had several weekends with 12-14 mile long runs. These were perfect for a half. The half gave me a good reason to get up and run in the middle of the training, and also helped test out pacing and race conditions. Therefore I chose the Brooklyn and Philly Rock and Roll Marathons in Sept and October. I stupidly added two others, so be careful of being over exuberant because your training will suffer.

This spring, I don’t have a big marquee race, so I’m concentrating on just keeping in shape and maybe setting a PR in the half. So the focus is on spreading out a few races, and enjoying those that I do. Because of race schedules, you are unlikely to find many races in June, July, or August. This helps break up the seasons. Right now, I’m focusing only on the Spring and will figure out my Fall agenda based on Spring performance. This also means unless you want to run every weekend, you’ll most likely be choosing between races in April and May for the Spring.

Once I decide the big races I want to do, I mark these out (here in blue), then see where there are big gaps, and find another race for there. My color coding is as follows. Blue is a race I plan on signing up for. Green is already registered. Orange is awaiting lottery results. Light blue is one interested in, but waiting for lottery to decide. Since I just got the notice that I didn’t get in to the NYC Half Lottery, I’ll be signing up for the Sleepy Hollow Half next.

You’ll notice I use Google docs for this. That makes it super easy to share my schedule with my wife (for getting the support squad ready), or my fellow runners. I actually also track my running buddies’ races in here too to know what races I’ll have company on. 

Lastly, I set up Google calendar reminders for each registration opening date and lottery application opening date, just so I don’t forget.

Hope this helps you plan your equally crazy running schedule. It takes a certain kind of crazy to pay, or even more so to wait in a lottery, hoping for the chance to be able to pay for an early morning spent running. That kind of crazy likes spreadsheets though.