After my recent "Ask me anything" post, I received an email, asking the following:
I've been told I need to race over the winter to be ready for my spring races. What do you think of this? It seems like you don't race much during the winter and you seem to be able to get a good start to the spring. Do you race incognito? I hate racing in the winter!
Good question. I am definitely a fan of getting some tune-up races in before a goal race. However, I don't ever race incognito or under a pseudonym. I'm generally with you, I hate racing in the winter. It's just not that appealing to me. In fact, my first winter race in almost 8 years was just this past weekend.
So how do I reconcile these two seemingly contradictory points? Simple. My first race of the spring and ideally my first two are just tune-ups. This doesn't mean I don't run them hard and try to do my best. It just means I don't go in expecting the world. I believe you can run well, just not quite in peak form, in tune-up races. The key is you're callousing yourself physically and mentally for the challenge of racing so you will be ready to push yourself to another level and reach your peak at your goal race.
That said, there are also things you can do to prepare yourself if you have an early spring goal race and you just can't bear the thought of racing in the winter. The best would be some form of race simulation workout. The closer it is to a race type effort, the better. Consider long tempo runs of 75-90% of race distance at race pace or effort or repeats adding up to roughly race distance with short recoveries again at race pace or effort. Treat these workouts like races. Rest up for them at least some. Challenge yourself in these, especially in the late stages.
These are pretty demanding workouts. You shouldn't need more than one or two workouts like this but doing this kind of workout can be better than racing because you can be flexible and pick a day with good conditions or you can even take it to a treadmill if necessary. You don't need to wait around in the cold for the gun. You can quickly get into a warm place after the run.
So the quick answer is no, you don't need to race during the winter if that's not your thing. You can either use the spring to tune up or do some workouts on your own schedule and without some of the drawbacks of winter racing to simulate a tune-up race. The workouts may not be quite the same but they might be an alternative worth considering if you truly hate winter racing.
Photo credit: ActiveSteve, on Flickr