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Steps to a Successful Training Season

By Ramon Bermo

Our season doesn’t start with tempo runs, track workouts, hill training and those fun long runs; it starts when WE start planning. What does that mean? It starts when we define our goal and choose a main race, aka an ‘A’ race. Spending time researching and planning each aspect of our training is key to a successful season.

After 36 years as an athlete, choosing my next goal is becoming more of challenge in itself. For me, the race only has meaning if I commit to the training, and for me to do so I need to be inspired by the event or the goal I set for myself.

I believe the fact that I am still active and still loving being an athlete as much or even more than when I was 11 years old is a direct result of mixing all types of goals during my many training seasons. At times, shooting for a PR has been as rewarding as completing a slow, fun ultramarathon.

Each year I spend some good time researching events and understanding what the athlete inside me would be inspired to train for. Now is the time! Here are some of the steps I’d recommend going through each pre-season:

Choosing Your Personal Goal
Contrary to what many think, a goal doesn’t always have to be attached to a finishing time. A personal goal can mean anything to different athletes: speed (what the number on the finish line clock will read), social (participating in a race with friends), fun (participating in one of those obstacle races or zombie races), outdoors (choosing an event in the countryside), the next challenge (such as increasing the distance or a new type of event, maybe your first triathlon or ultra marathon) and more.

My love for racing is a direct result of mixing my goals at different times in my career. Which of these will motivate you this year?

Choosing Your Race
Once you identify your goal, the next step is choosing a race. Choosing the right race is key in pursuing your goal. The race is basically the environment that will provide you the opportunity to achieve your goal. Here’s where I believe many of us make mistakes:

For example: if your goal is to run your fastest marathon, choosing let’s say, the Rochester Marathon as your race is not the smartest decision because it’s a hilly course. Or if your goal is to have fun with the crowds, it wouldn’t make sense to pick the Death Valley Marathon (read: nobody will be cheering for you).

Now, thanks to the internet it’s very easy to get a real feel for a race. You can study the course profile, read feedback from participants, compare finishing times, see pictures and more. Spending a few hours researching events will put you on the right course (no pun intended).

Pick A ‘Realistic’ Goal
One of the most common mistakes runners make is picking an unrealistic time goal. How many of us choose time goals because they sound good? While this happens more often among new runners, it’s common among veterans as well.

Using the marathon as an example, most new runners want to finish the marathon in a time multiple of five (3:00, 3:15, 3:30, 4:15). What happens to all of the numbers in between? Did you know that a 3:47 or 4:04 is also time goal? Let’s face it: chances are good you’ll end up running an odd number.

Seconds and minutes in a race matter, so talk to your coach or do your research. There are plenty of tools on the internet that can help you figure out a realistic goal based on past performances.

Once You Have a Goal, Give your Training Plan Some Thought
Time to start training. Setting your training calendar means giving yourself enough time to do the proper amount of training that includes all the important aspects: building a base, setting the right amount of workouts and the right mix of hill training, tempo runs, track workouts, long runs and more. What you definitely want to avoid is expecting different results while still doing the same training you’ve been doing.

Find a Coach
Joining a running club or getting yourself a coach can be the best decision you’ll make in order to achieve your goal. Like anything else, do your research. If you choose to join a running club, make sure it matches your ability and your personality. In NYC, we are lucky enough to have plenty of running clubs that range from being hard core and competitive to social and fun.

How Do You Know How to Pick the Right Coach?
Experience and honesty should be priority. Now a days there are many people with the title of “coach” that I believe are not qualified to do so. If you believe that someone who has been a runner for 1 or 2 years and who got a coaching certification by attending a weekend class qualifies as a coach, well …

Me? I’d rather be coached by a person with at least 10 years of experience. A good coach will also include both physical and mental aspects to the training. Pro tip: stay away from coaches that tell you you are doing everything right (unless your goal is build your ego).

Conquer the Race Profile
Would your training be the same if you were training for a flat race (i.e. the Chicago Marathon) vs. training for something a bit hillier (i.e. the Pikes Peak Marathon)? I’m sure you know the answer to that.

Knowing the course profile — and then modifying your training around it — will put you on the right side of training. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a perfect training plan; a training plan is just a formula of mixing workouts. Coaches have different philosophies on training, and each person’s coaching approach is just a variation in the mixing of miles, quality workouts and recovery. A coach should be able to set a specific training for a specific race course based on your own ability, strengths and weaknesses.

Willingness to Modify Your Goal
Since growing in experience as a runner, my performance has improved tremendously — not because I became any faster but because I am more realistic at choosing my final race goal.

The mistake that many runners make is sticking to their original goal time no matter what, even when training tells them that the particular goal time is not realistic. You have to be willing to modify your goal race if your training tells you that, even with the performance of a lifetime, it won’t happen.

So if you have not yet chosen your goal — and your main event for the year — the time is now. Do your research, get yourself excited and inspired to do the training that will help you achieve your goal.

Let’s hear from you: What is your next goal and race?

Coach Ramon Bermo has been an athlete for 37 years and a coach for 17. He is currently training for his 60th marathon, and has completed 13 Ironman triathlons and multiple ultra marathons in addition to hundreds of other races varying in distances. Ramon is the founder and coach of Tri2B and currently works as the Senior Director and Head Coach for the American Cancer Society DetermiNation program. Through the years, he has coached thousands of athletes in achieving their athletic dreams through such programs as NYU running club, Niketown, Team in Training, DetermiNation and Tri2B. Without a doubt, his favorite coaching moment was watching his 12-year-old daughter complete her first triathlon.

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