While most of us only schedule one or two goal races a year, some opt to jump into a race almost each and every weekend. This so-called ‘serial racing’ may seem like a silly idea that would end in injury or burnout, but for some, it may offer a unique, if unusual, opportunity to get ahead.
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What is ‘serial racing’?
Honestly, we just made up the term. Still, many runners can admit to knowing a certain runner who races a lot, so often that their habit could be described as ‘serial’. While racing each and every weekend would certainly classify as excessive to most; for some racing just once or twice a month would also count as a lot. Regardless of the number of races one runs, lining up often can have both advantages and disadvantages for your running.
Benefits of racing regularly include becoming familiar and comfortable with the race day atmosphere and experience. Races and large running events tend to be stressful for most runners, so participating often, including in events that aren’t particularly important may be a great way to learn to deal with race day nerves and anxiety as well as get used to the schedules, routines and activities that take place on race day.
Racing well can also be thought of as a skill that can be improved with deliberate practice. The more you race, the more you practice the pre- and post-race routines as well as the race execution/strategy that lead to the greatest success. Using some races to practice and perfect your own ideal race day routine is a great way to get it right when it really counts at an important event.
Racing could also act as an unconventional type of training where you run your hardest weekly effort at/during the race and then recover and reset for a subsequent race. Over time, the body will (theoretically) adapt to the hard efforts of the race and improve, thereby allowing for even greater performances in future races.
Finally, tune-up races should be considered an essential part of any good training plan that can help you determine whether you’re on track to achieve your future race goals and help determine your goals for an upcoming goal race.
As you might expect, racing too often can also have a number of negative or undesired consequences. One of which is that you’re unlikely to set too many personal bests. Especially if you choose to run the same distance again and again, it won’t be long before you find it increasingly difficult to beat your previous times. And unless you can somehow manage to find time (and energy) to add quality training sessions in between races, you’re also likely to hit a training and performance plateau as your body becomes familiar with the repeated stimulus of racing.
Mentally, racing often can also have a familiarization effect that leaves you unmotivated to really give racing your honest, best effort but instead leaves you willing to settle for “good enough.”
And perhaps the most obvious and significant drawback of racing often is the likeliness of getting injured. Racing is hard. It challenges you to give your best effort and run at the fastest pace you can maintain for a set distance. As such, it takes a serious toll on the body and requires careful consideration to post-race recovery. Your heart, lungs, muscles, bones, joints and even your immune and metabolic system are all affected by a hard effort such as a race and all need time to recover and adapt to the hard effort. Not allowing your body sufficient rest is a recipe for injury or illness and is something those who race often need to be aware of.