How to Plan Your Race Schedule for Better Performance—and a Few PRs

Strategic planning means you put your best foot forward in everything from the mile to the marathon. Here, your guide to creating the ideal 2022 race calendar.

how to plan your race schedule
Patrik GiardinoGetty Images

The start of a new year is an inspiring time for runners. It presents a clean slate full of opportunity—a time to celebrate your good races throughout the past year and move beyond your bad ones.

The simple process of researching races can be incredibly empowering—after all, a limitless year full of PRs lies ahead. But before you frantically sign up for every race that sounds even a little exciting, ask yourself a question: How do these races fit into my greater goals?

When it comes to planning out a year-long racing calendar, running is genuinely unique. If you look at most sports, there’s a competition phase and an off-season inherently built into the schedule. In football, for example, the competition phase spans from September to January. Then the rest of the year allows players to recover, reflect, and train for the next season. It follows the same predictable pattern year after year.

By contrast, running has no universal competition phase and off-season. You can pretty much find a race every weekend, year-round, leaving no clear delineation between competition phases and recovery or base phases. That means many runners find themselves in a perpetual competition cycle, going from one race to the next without considering the bigger picture. They fail to think about how all these races fit together—and how they can ultimately make them faster.

If you aimlessly go from one race to another without regard for how they affect one another—or if you’re just looking for a way to PR a couple races in 2022—here’s a step-by-step guide on how to plan out a racing schedule that optimizes performance in every distance, from the mile to the marathon.

This content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Avoid Overcommitting

Elizabeth Carey, an online running coach and author of Girls Running: All You Need to Strive, Thrive, and Run Your Best, explains, “When people are looking at building out a year, it's an exciting time. It’s very common to bite off more than we can chew. It can be very tempting to over-commit ourselves, and I would encourage all runners to be more intentional and purposeful about focusing on the process, and not just a key race.”

This point can’t be emphasized enough: Be intentional and purposeful when building out your race schedule. Our bodies have a limited capacity to handle the stresses of hard training before they break down and our performance starts to stagnate or decline. It’s perfectly okay to race a lot, but you can’t race a lot at your very best.

If running your best is your ultimate goal, you need to focus on quality over quantity—that’s especially true if you have your eye on your fastest marathon. Too many races during a marathon, or even a half marathon, build-up can erode the effectiveness of your training.

So this begs the question: If running doesn’t have natural delineations between competition and recovery/base phases, how do we build both into the year? Read on.

Plan Around Peaks, Not Individual Races

“There’s going to be a period where you’re going to be stressing yourself and running and training to your highest level. And then you’re going to need a recovery phase,” says John Goldthorp, certified running coach and owner of Fix Your Run. “Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we typically have our most popular races in the spring and fall. So the winter and the summer tend to be natural periods when you might take a break and decrease your training volume.”

These breaks also allow you to work on other aspects of running, such as speed and strength. Planning your key races around this seasonality is the best way to incorporate natural periods where you’ll aim to be in peak fitness for your goal races.

Goldthrop says that two peaks a year is pretty standard—and while you can do three peaks, it involves risk. “I’ll usually encourage folks to identify two times a year when they want to just absolutely crush it. You can fill in the blanks from there,” he adds.

Carey agrees with Goldthrop, noting “two to three peaks (per year) to go for a PR in the key race is ideal. And when I say that, I mean that’s two to three cycles of race-specific training for that specific PR, whether it's a marathon or half marathon.”

With that in mind, pick one race in the spring and another in the fall in which you want to perform your best. It can be anything from a 5k to a 50k, but many runners enjoy the diversity of a spring half marathon and fall marathon. If you want more distance, two marathons is also okay.

One way to define when your peak cycles begin is to pick training plans for them now. Whether you use that particular plan is less important. You’re just trying to establish the length of race-specific training for each key race and when you will start that training. This is typically between 16 and 24 weeks for a marathon and eight and 16 weeks for a half marathon. These will become your two yearly peaks. Once these are established, it’s time to fill in the gaps.

Devote One Cycle to Speed

Sprint coach Brooks Johnson famously says, “It’s true that speed kills. In distance running, it kills anyone who does not have it.” A focus on speed for a few weeks is where many runners lack training and where they could find the most benefit. Runners often get stuck racing and training for only half or full marathons. Most will sign up for the occasional 5K but never devote an entire training cycle to getting faster for distances from the 5K down to the mile.

Summer happens to be a great time to incorporate a dedicated speed phase that focuses on these shorter distances. The hot, humid summer days lend themselves to shorter, faster workouts. It’s a great idea to follow a 5K training plan and race at least three 5Ks during this phase. Typically, 5K training is less taxing physically and emotionally than half marathon and marathon training, allowing you more opportunities to race without burning out.

One fringe benefit of having a dedicated 5K phase before a big fall half marathon or marathon is you can use your time to get a sense of what you’re capable of running in the fall. Running calculators are remarkably useful for predicting what an equivalent performance will look like across other distances—just keep in mind this helps you find a best-case scenario. Few runners hit their corresponding equivalent performance. If you’re using your 5K time to predict your marathon finish, it’s more accurate to add three to seven minutes to what the calculator tells you.

Layer in Tune-Up Races

Now that you’ve established your peaks, it’s time for the fun part—filling in the gaps with tune-up races. The longer the goal race, the less frequently you should race during that training cycle otherwise you risk disrupting your training. That’s because every race you run means you miss a weekend long run, which is the most important run of the week for marathon training, especially in the 12 weeks leading into race day. Racing also places more stress on the body than training and requires more recovery.

Tune-up races are important, though, because racing is a skill and with all skills, it needs practice. Racing during your training cycle helps you address pre-race anxiety, breakfast timing, and race day clothing and fueling—not to mention the mental tenacity that comes with pushing through racing discomfort. This is all especially important leading up to a marathon, in which you definitely want a half marathon tune-up. Not only will it help you practice for race day, but it will also help you set your goal pace for the 26.2.

The best way to determine how often you should incorporate tune-up races during a key race cycle is to consult a training plan for that particular distance. Most training plans have tune-up races already built into them, so try to find races that correspond with what’s on the plan so you don’t have to rearrange it.

In general, limit races leading up to a marathon to one half marathon within the 10 weeks prior to race day and two to three shorter distance races, anywhere from a 5K to 15K, at least 11 weeks and up to 22 weeks out from race day.

Put it All Together

The key takeaway to all this planning? Avoid aimlessly signing up for races, determine your goals, and be more intentional and purposeful with your race schedule.

Is your goal to race fast or race often? If it’s to race fast, pick two to three key races a year, with one in the spring and one in the fall where you want to peak. Layer in a few tune-up races to help you prepare. Plan for at least one to two weeks off after your key race to recover. Then spend the winter and summer working on areas like speed, strength, and easy endurance. Follow this formula and not only will you become a more versatile and durable runner, but there’s also a good chance 2022 will be the year you crush a PR across all distances.

The Ideal 2022 Race Calendar

Focusing on the fall marathon? Here’s what your 2022 racing schedule should look like:

January: Easy Running and Strength

Take more recovery runs this month, find a strength plan that boosts your power and injury-proofs your body, and just keep that aerobic base strong and steady.

February to April: Half Marathon Peak Cycle

Now it’s time to go a little longer. Sign up for a half marathon sometime in April, and use the months before to build the endurance, speed, and strength you need to cross the finish line a little faster than your last 13.1 attempt.

April to July: Speed Cycle

Here’s where that 5K training plan or going for your fastest mile ever comes into play. These months are all about picking up your pace and scoring your best time in shorter distances.

July to November: Marathon Peak Cycle

The big push! Follow a training plan that gets you to your best 26.2 yet and know you already have the base you need, thanks to your race planning earlier in the year.

December: Rest and Easy Running

The end of the year is the best time to revel in a year of hard work. Enjoy all you’ve accomplished and take this last month of the year to relax and focus on intentional recovery.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below