Tired After Run

Why Racing Too Often Can
Kill Your Performance

December 15, 2016

If you plan on setting personal bests this new year, avoid making this common mistake.

It’s the end of the year. You might be in a reflective mood, pondering over your performances this year, celebrating the highs while thinking about the lessons you’ve learnt over the months of training and racing.

If you’re anything like our new athlete, Rita (not her real name), you may find that you have some big changes to make for your next season.

An Exhausted End to a Season

Frustrated with her performance during the Singapore Marathon, her ‘A’ race for the year, Rita came to us to help her do an assessment of what went wrong in 2016 and to put in place a training programme leading into 2017.

Upset with both her results and constant bouts of illness, old injuries, and most of all fatigue, she was open to any suggestions we had to offer.

To understand what may have gone wrong, we put Rita through a series of tests and had her list out all the races she had done throughout the year. It was quite a list.

In the list there were several marathons, some trail races, a few 10k’s, half marathons and even an ultra; this made for a frequent and varied race schedule.

We now had a pretty good idea of the problem, a problem common among many runners and triathletes. For Rita,  she was racing far too much, leading to a declining ability to race to her potential.

With such a busy and demanding schedule, it’s no surprise that Rita’s performance was suboptimal,  causing her to fall short of her main A race goal at the Singapore marathon.

There’re not many professional generalists

The training requirements of a race differ based on the distance, elevation, conditions and many other things.

When you race over varied distances, or terrain (on the roads and trails) and you do it at different times throughout the year, it makes preparing specifically for any of them nearly impossible.

Yes, you may build a general level of fitness with this approach, but there’s a reason why professional runners specialise in specific distances such as the 10km or a marathon. This goes for their professional triathlete counterparts,  who specifically specialise in either short course or long course racing.

This is where focus pays off.  You need to be precise in what you show your body in training and you need to allow enough time between races to adequately recover.

Recovery matters

When you race too often, you not only compromise the quality and consistency of your training, but you also negatively affect your recovery and run the risk of becoming over trained.

This is a formula that I use, as an illustration to my athletes:

Performance = training/racing + recovery.

Conceptually, what this underscores is the need to balance training with races.

Had Rita understood these signs, she may have been able to correct her course earlier in the year by dropping some of the less important races in favour of more recovery and longer, higher quality training blocks.

Hydrating During Race

Bringing Your ‘A’ Game

At Coached, we believe in preparation and working towards reaching your athletic potential. This means that you should be training, eating and recovering to the best of your ability, so that you can perform at your best when it counts.

This also means that you must find an optimal balance between training and racing, so that you are fit and fresh on the days that matter most and you aren’t sabotaging your chances for success.

Here are three ways you can avoid making the mistake of racing too much.

Plan your season and training carefully

Pick the 2 to 3 ‘A’ races you want to do best in next year and structure your training around those. Once you know how your training fits together, look for additional races that compliment your ‘A’ races and act as stepping stones towards these main goals.

We’ll be sharing a more detailed post on season planning shortly — stay tuned for that.

Adjust your plan as needed

Make regular assessments of how your training is progressing. Don’t be afraid of making changes to your plan or racing schedule,  so that it aligns better with current life stressors and progress. Constant refinement helps you to stay healthy, injury-free, and consistent in your preparation.

Speak to a coach

Seeking professional advice before tackling an increased training and racing schedule is important, not only to prepare yourself, but also to seek an objective and informed opinion on how realistic your goals are. Here at Coached, we believe in supporting lifelong athletic aspirations, which means we have a long-term view of training and racing. If racing safely, healthily, and at your athletic potential is your concern, consider getting a coach to point you in the right direction and keep you on course.


Ben Pulham
Ben Pulham is a former professional triathlete and the founder of Coached, a heart rate training programme that helps you optimise, track and enjoy your training.

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