Last year, I made it onto TeamUSA for ITU Long-Course World Duathlon Championships (Powerman Zofingen). I trained all season really hard, averaging 40+ miles a week of running and 200+ miles a week of cycling. I didn’t race more than a half dozen races. I hated my life and I barely spent any time with my wife. While my endurance was fantastic, my speed sucked. Then, three days before the race, I severely strained my right soleus while jogging the running course of the race and my season was over.
After the race, I spent a lot of time looking back over my race history and I remembered that I tended to be happiest when I raced a lot. My all-time record was racing in 23 races in one season. While almost all of these races were lower-priority “B” or “C” races, they all still brought a greater sense of satisfaction to my athletic season than my one or two “A” races. And, as Zofingen had proven to me, putting all of my eggs in one basket puts my overall happiness in a very precarious position.
Apart from risk management, there are a number of other reasons I like to do a ton of racing.
- Racing a Ton Eliminates Nervousness. When you race every other weekend or more, there’s a part of the brain that starts thinking of racing as your job. “It’s just another race,” you can tell yourself, even if it’s the biggest race of the season. This is an amazing feeling when everyone else around you at the start line looks like they are about to jump out of their skin– and will probably go out way too fast as a consequence.
- No Training is More Specific than Racing. I’m all about trying to make training as specific as possible. And nothing is more specific to a race than doing a race. Unless you have a will of absolute iron and zero stress in your life, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to push yourself as hard in your training workouts as you do in a race. Well, unless you happen to train along paths frequented by angry bears.
- Racing Can Fit In Well with Weekly Training. If you keep your smaller races short enough (e.g. 5-10 kilometer running races are perfect), you can recover fairly quickly. Then, you simply replace that week’s tempo run or track workout with the long run that you probably missed because of your weekend’s racing adventure. Quick little switch and no one is the wiser– but you’re a lot fitter and faster.
- Racing Makes You Fast. Here’s the real reason to race more frequently. Want to get faster in your Olympic or Sprint distance triathlons or duathlons? Run more 10-K’s and 5-K’s in the early season leading up to the race. You’ll run a lot faster in these races than you will in a multisport race, but your brain will know how much of a buffer you can dig in to if you had to.
Now I’m not perfect when it comes to the types of races that I choose. I tend to do a lot of duathlons as my “filler” races throughout the summertime. While some races can be duathlons or triathlons, I think it should ideally be no more than 40% (my ratio is more like 80-90%)– I just do multisport races because they are so damned fun! There are two reasons why I think single-sport races are probably better for the majority of these filler races.
- Multisport Races are Expensive. Doing a multisport every other week really adds up. Around where I live, multisport races are usually $100+ each. Add in a hotel room ($150?), gas ($40?), and meals ($30?) and we’re looking at about $650 a month to race in the summertime. By contrast, smaller running races are usually less than $50 and don’t have the travel costs. Cycling races (like TT’s) are even cheaper but includes a little more travel costs.
- Multisport Races aren’t as Good for Training. Running and cycling are two totally different sports for the body. Running is lots of eccentric movements and more aerobic, while cycling is concentric movements and more muscular. Translated in another way, while a multisport race is obviously highly specific to a multisport race, it isn’t very specific to the components of that race. What I mean by that is to say that doing a duathlon or triathlon isn’t really going to make you a faster runner or cyclist. By contrast, doing a 40K TT will make definitely make you a faster cyclist and doing a hard 10K will make you a better runner. And, if you selected a single-sport race in your weaker event, I really think that you’ll become a better duathlete or triathlete from the effort versus doing a multisport race that includes that same event.
There is one “negative” effect that can creep in from doing too many races. When one race starts looking like the next, it’s easy for my brain to let up on the gas just a tiny bit. There was once a time (when I was younger) that I would just kill myself in the few races that I ran. Really, I didn’t just “go the well”– I dove in, swam to the bottom, and had to own the freaking well. I’d have blisters covering my feet and sometimes blood seeping through my shoes. My (much younger) legs would hurt for a week. Maybe that kind of over-the-top effort might not be possible for me with the aging process just because my brain is getting smarter at self-preservation. But I also think that constant racing also makes this kind of intensity feel impossible except as the end of the race draws very near. In the grand scheme of things, that’s fine because (1) the constant racing is making me faster overall so I don’t have to dig that deep to get the same results and (2) keeping races at a sane level of intensity lowers my overall risk of injury (the last time I even came close to that kind of effort left me with a hamstring tendinitis that almost ruined a season).