This is a problem which affects us all, whether runners, cyclists or triathletes.
For runners, I would say that for an event which lasts less than one hour you can compete on most weekends, for an event of up to two hours, every other week at most and for events of marathon duration – three to four hours, once a month is enough. It depends very much on how hard you push yourself. Over ten years of competition I ran 550 races, but quite a lot of those were minor club events where I was not fully stretched.
The fixture lists for March and April are chock full and the problem is where not to run. This is where planning is vital. The secret is to choose one or two events, two or three months away, which are going to be the most important – maybe somewhere where you can get a PB or win a prize, or just prove something to your clubmates. Use other races to build towards this. Minor races can be used as training if you do not ease down much for them. You can do shorter events to improve your speed, longer events to give you confidence in your endurance and others where you can practice tour pace judgement. Some people avoid races because they feel it interferes with their training, but this is unsound. Races really work the whole system and they find out your weaknesses. Unless you are a marathon runner, I strongly recommend racing twice a month. This also fits in well with my preferred pattern of training on a 14-day cycle, where you put in a high-mileage first week, then do less mileage and work more on speed in the second week.
For long-distance folks it’s different, but I would still recommend competing once a month, usually at a shorter distance than the main event. However, you can treat some events are training – you don’t ease down for them and you don’t rest much after them, but kept back into training as soon as stiffness has disappeared.
This brings us to the question of recovery. When most competitions were on a Saturday, it was natural to do the long slow run on a Sunday – which meant remaining in a comatose state for the rest of the day. If he race is on Sunday, I recommend training only lightly on Monday, so that you can do a big mileage day on Tuesday . However, you should treat each case separately and think about recovery as an important piece of the jigsaw.
You can speed up recovery by:
1. Taking Orbana within half an hour of the finish, so that you recharge your energy reserves more quickly.
2. Getting a massage later in the day, or on the following day. If you can’t afford a massage, a soak in a hot bath, or a Jacuzzi, or a swim in a warm pool, make good substitutes.
3. Running very easily on soft going the day after the event. If you are very stiff, don’t run at all. For marathon runners it has been shown that doing nothing for the first week is just as effective as trying to go our and run.
4. Doing other kinds of training with less impact stress (eg crosstrainer)
Finally, bear in mind that the whole training process is one of Stress – recovery – response – stress. The grater the stress, the longer the recovery, and the recovery/response is an essential part of the process.