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Race Plans: Why "winging it" doesn't give you wings

Updated: May 25, 2020

What is a race plan and why should you have one? We train for hours upon hours, put time, money, effort and sacrifices into training, all to toe the line…go out too hard…. and “hit the wall” ¾ of the way through the race. Ouch.

Racing how you trained is very important. Having detailed training zones will help to execute a plan and knowing what energy system you are using during a given pace or heart rate effort really dials in and makes a race plan concrete. Race plans are highly individual and should be written by someone who has knowledge and experience with what intensities you can hold for given distances.

This past weekend I had the opportunity

to write a race plan for three very different runners with three very different training programs.

Runner #1: 12-week training program guided through heart rate training, 2-3 years running experience

I have been personally coaching runner #1 for the past 12 weeks through a training program. She completed her workouts daily and I reviewed them and gave her feedback. She has been using heart rate training for the past couple of years but recently moved to an area with more hills, which she finds very hard to maintain steady heart rate. It was important that I gave her a number she could not exceed.

2 miles < 157bpm

3 miles < 160bpm (even hills!)

5 miles <170bpm (allow the number to increase on hills)

3 miles 100% lets see 190bpm

Giving her these instructions allowed her to have a period she could let loose on the hills (towards the end) and then in the final home stretch a number for her to aspire to.

Runner #2: 12-week training program rehabbing an injury, rule follower, new to heart rate training

Runner number 2 is new to heart rate training and was working through an injury so we had her using a walk/run approach throughout her training as well as some best effort bike workouts to stimulate her fitness. She has been doing a lot of core and glute work. Runner number 2 is very exact and will execute everything to an absolute tee. So giving her exact numbers I knew she would hit them. BUT she needed a plan B in this instance since she was working through an injury. This gave her an option to revert to if she was experiencing pain, she did not and was able to make the full 13.1 running to a strong finish.

Plan A:

2 miles 145 bpm

3 miles 150 bpm

5 miles 155 bpm

3 miles all out 100%

Plan B:

3 miles < 155

¼ mile power walk

3 miles < 155

¼ mile power walk

3 miles < 160

¼ mile power walk


Runner #3: Self-coached through long runs and interval workouts, experience athlete

Runner #3 was self-coached so I asked her a few questions about her training. She has done a marathon so her base is big and she is an experienced athlete so knows her body. For her we used rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being asleep on the couch, 10 being throwing up on the side of the road. She understood the scale being an athlete. I started her at RPE of 4-5, which is just slightly faster than her long run pace. She also had a slightly larger portion of all out due to her athletic background.

3 miles: RPE 4-5

5 miles RPE 6-7

5 miles ALL OUT 100%

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