Embracing a varied racing schedule

Lila Gaudrault is a Maine runner that has shown her talent and abilities across a variety of distances and terrain.  As two-time state title winner in cross country she decided to forgo her senior year of racing cross country to focus on longer distances.  Now in college, she continues to balance training and academics as she focuses on going into pediatric nursing. 

As runners, it can be easy to get boxed into a certain type of race or event. We may identify as a marathoner, short-distance speedster, trail or mountain specialist, ultrarunner, or any multitude of other categories. While focusing on one distance or specialty isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there is much to be said for trying something new, whether it be pushing longer or discovering (or rediscovering!) a love for speed. Adding variation to training and racing is a great way to address weaknesses, uncover strengths, and, of course, keep running fresh and exciting.

I began my running career as a cross country athlete, chasing fast 5k times on the trails, and later, the roads and track. But something about stopping after just 3 miles felt unsatisfying; unfinished. When the pandemic hit during my junior year of high school, I found myself pushing longer and longer in training, eventually running my first 50k the following spring. My favorite part of the race was the relentless uphills, and a subsequent love for mountain running was sparked. But after a season of mountain and ultra running, I realized I missed the thrill of setting fast road PRs. A local 10k led to a half marathon, which led to a marathon, and I soon found my schedule filled with a range of different events. This year, my season includes races on roads, trails, and mountains, with distances ranging from 5ks to 50-milers. With races sometimes just weeks apart, I strive to train in a way that allows me to excel at these very different events, and I have come to appreciate how it adds variety and excitement to my daily running routine.

Train on a variety of surfaces

Whenever possible, I incorporate a mixture of roads, trails, and mountains into my training weeks. Not only do I run on a variety of surfaces and terrains, I also take advantage of this diversity in my workouts, adding pickups to a technical trail session or tempoing up a steep climb. A typical week might include one session on the track, another on the roads, and a third on the trails. In areas where this kind of variety is difficult to come by, seeking out hills is always beneficial. Even something as simple as varying your usual running route adds new elements of challenge to training.

Prioritize the long run

While the long run is a staple for any runner, I have found that it becomes especially important when training for a range of different events. It goes without saying that regular long runs promote efficiency, endurance, and mental strength. Ultramarathoners often emphasize the importance of “time on your feet,” while shorter-distance athletes frequently add elements of speed to their longer efforts. I like to combine these two philosophies, using my weekly long runs to practice running hard while still getting that extended time out on the roads or trails. This might look like adding a progression or harder tempo effort in the middle of the run, or simply maintaining a faster than normal (but still relatively relaxed) pace throughout the session. I like to end my long runs with 4-8 barefoot strides at 5k pace, allowing my legs to turn over a bit quicker after an extended period of easy or moderate running. Long runs are also a great time to practice fueling. I always store a few UnTapped energy gels in my pack for the workout–the Salted Raspberry is my go-to flavor, especially on warmer days when maintaining electrolyte balances is key.

Don’t shy away from speed
Even when I’m focused on longer events, my training still includes some elements of speed, often in the form of midrun pickups at race effort or post-run strides on the grass. I also never pass up an opportunity to race a 5k, 10k, or other shorter event. Not only can these races serve as a great speed workout and confidence booster, they also allow me to practice my race day routine–eating, warming up, and, of course, calming any pre-race nerves. Ultimately, I train with the goal of never getting too far from speed, no matter what my goal races are.

Incorporate strength training

A common denominator in nearly every successful runner’s repertoire is a commitment to building strength and athleticism. Admittedly, this is an area where I often fall short. Strength training requires extra time, energy, and, occasionally, pushups. Yet its benefits are undeniable for runners of every discipline. For me, strength training often means simply taking 15-20 minutes after a run to do some basic bodyweight and mobility exercises. It makes a difference in how I feel both in training and the rest of my day.

Broaden your goals

In my early years as a runner, my goals were primarily focused on setting personal bests or breaking time barriers. Trail and ultra running has forced me to broaden the goals I set before each race, whether it be placing high, fueling successfully, or simply going the distance. This mentality can be applied to all types of races. When the objective is to run with confidence, stay relaxed in the early miles, or focus on a certain mantra or mental strategy, it takes away the pressure of a rigid time goal and allows you to focus on different aspects of the run, accomplishing important milestones even if your final time or place doesn’t show it. Ultimately, we each have our own “why” for running, and our goals–and racing schedules–should reflect our unique reasons for devoting so much time and energy to the sport we choose.

Photo Credit: Joe Viger