How to Choose a Race Schedule that gives you the Best Chance of Achieving Your Goal

What's one of the most important, but underestimated, factors you should consider when deciding what races to enter? 

The answer might surprise you.

Many coaches suggest you look for races that suit your strengths. Perhaps you’re suited to a flat and fast course or perhaps your strength makes you better suited to a hilly course.

Sure, they’re important considerations. But I think there’s a deeper, more important question you need to ask yourself first ~

Are you motivated by chasing times or by chasing experiences?

Knowing the answer, and entering races that reflect that answer, is the secret source of your unlimited motivation over the long haul.

Perhaps you love improving by chasing times and PBs.

Calculating how much faster you can go at the same event or over the same distance. Testing, plotting, dreaming and wondering how and where you can shave time off and how big your PB will be.

Plan your race schedule guided by what motivates you

If you’re motivated by time, then going back and doing the same event(s) year in and year out is a great way to keep your love of the sport. You’ll be focused on, and excited by the idea of, going even faster!

I was speaking with someone recently who was returning to do the Ultra-Trail 50km (formerly the North Face 50km) in the Blue Mountains next year because he wants to shave 30 minutes off his PB from this year and break 6 hours.

You should have seen how his eyes lit up when he mentioned the race and his goal! He is clearly someone who is motivated by chasing times and that motivation and desire will carry him through all the tough times, injuries, early mornings, late nights and challenging training sessions between now and then.

Or maybe you’re like me.

I love chasing experiences. I don’t care about times. Chasing a faster time doesn’t motivate me. Going back and doing the same event each month or year sounds like as much fun as going to the dentist.

Choose a race schedule that reflects what motivates you

Last month I did a 23km trail run through the Blue Mountains outside Sydney with massive elevation gain and loss (think 8 x times up and down Centrepoint Tower in Sydney). It was the first time a trail race has ever been held in that part of the Blue Mountains and I felt really blessed and lucky to be one of the few who have raced through that special place. Now I know I can go faster next year. If I was motivated by time, I’d be inclined to enter the event again next year to see how much time I can shave off my result and how HUGE my PB could be.

But guess what? I know 2 things: firstly, that I can go faster and secondly, that knowledge alone is enough for me. I don’t need to prove it to myself (and I certainly don’t need to prove it to others) so I’d rather have another, different experience than go back and do the same race again.

A woman I know has just entered a solo 100km trail race, despite the fact that she hasn’t done a 50km event solo yet (although she’s done one as part of team with me!). She knows she can do the 50km well within cut-off and so there’s no challenge for her; it doesn’t motivate her. So she’s decided to step up and chase the experience she wants, rather than the time over 50km some think she should. And I take my hat off to her - I wish more people would know what they want and go out and get it, rather than be swept along in the tide of doing the same race/s as “everyone else”.

Why is this an important question to ask?

It’s the key to your love of the sport, and the source of your motivation, on a long term basis.

Plus it should be one of the most important factors guiding your race schedule.

If you’re motivated by experiences and you deliberately fill your race schedule with races that are new and completely different - races and distances you’ve never done before - then you can probably place money on the fact your butt will be out of bed and you’ll be driven to do the hard work and/or the tough sessions that count. But if you enter the same race every year, because it’s the race that “everyone” does, you’ll find 1,000 reasons not to drag your tired butt out of bed early on a dark morning.

Trust me - I know I have 😉

If you’re motivated by time - my hat is off to you. You know what you want - so go fast and go get it! And maybe you should stick to entering the same races and distances regularly because watching your Garmin and Strava show gradual but continual improvements in your speed will motivate you enough to get out the door when it’s raining or cold or hot or you’re simply exhausted.

Have you ever been swept up in the excitement because everyone around you is talking about or training for a particular event and you eventually sign up for it knowing (when you’re honest with yourself) that it doesn’t really rock your boat? I know I have. But if you know the answer to the question, you have the secret source of unlimited motivation and will help you:

  • make smart decisions about what races to choose,
  • stay strong when peer pressure mounts, and
  • stick with your program, train consistently and stay motivated during the tough times, early mornings, late nights and leg-burning training sessions needed to achieve your goal.

So what motivates you - chasing times or experiences?

Leave a comment below and share (1) what motivates you and (2) will you make any changes to your planned race schedule as a result?