Long days, warm weather and road races on any given weekend – it's enough to make a runner giddy. But before you wallpaper your garage with race numbers, consider the race strategy of Kenenisa Bekele, the current world record holder in the 5,000m and 10,000m.
Last year, the Ethiopian competed in two 10,000m events. He won both. But from May to September, he entered only six other races. You'd think a guy who makes his living by running would step to the line as often as possible, but Bekele realises that to capitalise on his performance, he needs to plan his racing wisely.
That doesn't mean you have to skip summer 5Ks. Like Bekele, you just need a plan that optimises the combination of participation and performance. To do that, pick your target races (events you'll finish as fast as possible), then add tune-ups and supporting races to your season to fine-tune your training.
You can race well every two to three weeks for three to four months. Race more than this and your performances will suffer.
When you race all-out too often, your body secretes less cortisol, a hormone that aids recovery, and it slowly becomes immune to the hormone's effects. The result is constant fatigue and a depressed immune system. A good rule of thumb is to schedule one target race a month. You can sneak in another if you're doing 5Ks and 10Ks, but not if you're targeting a half or full marathon.
Bekele has used 5Ks, 3Ks, and 1500m races to prime his speed for a 10K. Tune-ups are done two to three weeks before a key event and should be shorter than your target race, but run at full effort. This ensures that your fast-twitch muscle fibres and neuromuscular coordination are high; the shorter distance ensures you won't need a long recovery.
Run a hard mile one week before a target 5K; a 5K two weeks before a 10K; a 10K two weeks before a half-marathon; a 10K or half three to four weeks before a full marathon.
Run some events as training sessions. By running them at a lower intensity, you avoid over-racing. Another option: make them part of a long run, or your weekly tempo or speed session. You could do mile repeats (alternate between a hard and easy mile in 5K or 10K) or a negative split workout (run the first half easy, then see how many people you can pass).