After weeks of mulling it over in the back of my mind I sat down this morning to plan out my calendar for 2023. With an ever increasing number of races, inspirational routes and growing ambitions it can be a daunting process. All over the country runners are sat in front of spreadsheets trying to work out what events and aims they will focus on this year - but where to begin?
Below are a number of pointers and tips that I use to structure my plan for the year. It doesn't matter if you're planning to expand your technical skillset, stick to parkruns, explore the world of ultras, or anything in between! These are common sense tips that will hopefully help the decision making process a little easier.
What races/events should I sign up to?
There are so many races out there and it can be increasingly difficult to whittle them down to an achievable (and affordable!) list. A couple of the main questions I ask myself are:
- do I want to return to races I've enjoyed previously, or do I want to try something new?
- do I want to do a race series or stand alone races that look the most fun?
Signing up to a series (like Golden Trail UK or Skyrunning series) can make planning your calendar a lot easier: with only a limited number of races to choose from it can focus your attention away from other events. And there's no need to be challenging for the podium to commit to the series, they're just as much about the racing community as racking up points. Although, of course, a competitive edge doesn't hurt!
Series are also great because they often cover races you've done before and ones that are new to you. If you want to focus on individual races though I'd recommend incorporating it into a trip. Within a weekend it is possible to travel somewhere new, explore the hills and villages, and get a race under your belt. Combining travel and racing is one of my favourite ways to explore.
What should I avoid?
Avoid signing up for anything that doesn't inspire you - it is good to challenge yourself, but if you feel dread rather than excitement then it is probably best to choose something else. An event shouldn't give you 'the fear' and it shouldn't lead to panicked overtraining. Only enter events you feel happy and comfortable with - it is possible to do this whilst also challenging yourself!
Importantly, don't sign up for anything because you feel you should. Sometimes I feel the pressure to commit to high profile European races, sometimes a runner caves to the endless assumption that you're no good unless you've done a marathon - if you sign up for a race you're not in love with you might end up falling out of love with the sport altogether. It's not worth it, stick to what is fun!
What are my long term goals?
Think about your bucket list races - the ones you'd love to do someday, but which feel a little unachievable at the moment. This could be something like the Glen Coe Skyline which you need to develop skills for or an ultra event which you need to build up the mileage for. Maybe you need to collect points through smaller races to gain an entry to a bigger event. Think about the steps you can take this year to achieve what you want in a few seasons time.
Personally, I'd love to do a long stage race like TransAlpine one year. I don't have much experience of stage racing though, so this summer I hope to enter a three day stage race before committing to a nine day version!
What are my back up plans? What goals do I have outside of racing?
Races get cancelled, weather stops play, illness strikes, injuries linger, life gets in the way.. whatever you plan for 2023 the only thing guaranteed is that it won't go to plan!
It's a good idea to have back up plans - I often outline a Plan A, B and C for the year ahead. This doesn't have to mean entering lots of races either; running goals outside of racing can be just as rewarding. Develop personal running goals based on exploring new locations (e.g. I want to run in the Cairngorms this year) or home based challenges (e.g. I want to run up every hill within 10 miles of my house this year). It is also wise to have some injury proof goals for the year - learning to read a map, building confidence bivvying, finding a form of cross training you love.
It's good to have a long list of things you want to achieve - not to create pressure to tick them all off, but to have contingency plans so that you still feel like you achieve. My race plans fell apart due to injury last year but at the end of 2022 I was still able to feel proud of my early season Lewis round, becoming more comfortable climbing, and experiencing high altitude environments.
The most important question of all: why do I do this?
We all run and race for a range of personal reasons. Often it is a cocktail of challenge, satisfaction, health and community. But above all else, the process should be fun! This applies to both the training and the event itself. Remember this simple rule when planning and entering and you're sure to have a fun season ahead of you.