Last month I wrote about four ways trail running has improved during the pandemic. As we kick-off 2021, I’ve been thinking about how we as trail runners can learn from our experiences in 2020 to create effective training and racing goals for 2021. Racing and training may still look different than we were used to before the pandemic, but we should be prepared for 2021 to bring back larger competitions and many opportunities to push ourselves and improve our fitness. Race directors are figuring out ways to adapt their events to the pandemic and runners are finding new ways to stay motivated to train. Below are my top four tips for how to plan your training trail racing in 2021.
Don’t Jump Back in Too Soon
Although races may be happening again, that doesn’t mean you have to race if you don’t feel ready. Due to the current uncertain state of the world and stresses of living in a pandemic, it still may not feel right to travel, train or race and that’s ok. Don’t force yourself to run or race in 2021 if you don’t feel ready and take some time to think about what running and racing mean to you so that you come into this year with a strong purpose. Additionally — from a training point-of-view — many athletes have taken extra time off from running in 2020 and raced less frequently. Therefore, be cautious about how quickly you return to training/racing in 2021. It’s going to be tempting for those who feel “race-deprived” to want to race more than ever before this spring and summer. Don’t fall into the trap of “over-racing,” which leads to burnout, injuries and may detract from stated running goals. Even if you’re excited that races are happening again, make sure you’ve put in the training first before you sign up for too many races.
Looking forward into 2021, my number one goal is to be able to run consistently, without injury, throughout the entire year. The ability to put in the miles day after day is key to producing muscular and aerobic adaptations that will make you a stronger and faster runner. With the lack of races in 2020, I learned the importance of training to become a better runner overtime, as opposed to just training for the next race on my racing schedule. This has helped me prioritize consistent running, as opposed to the more aggressive style of training I used to do in order to quickly prepare myself for races. The latter approach may have led to a few good race performances, but overall wasn’t sustainable and only produced short-term gains followed by burnout, plateaued performance or injuries. Overall, the runner who can make little gains, but do so incrementally over time will improve vastly more than the runner stuck in a cycle of highs and lows.
Experiment With Different Types of Running and Challenges
Similar to last year, 2021 will be a great year to experiment with different types of running, racing and challenges. 2020 has seen increased popularity of training for FKTs, virtual challenges, and more athletes have become open to crossing over into different disciplines of running, such as road runners experimenting on trails (or vice-versa), and more runners dabbling in snowshoe running and maybe even an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) event. Having a diverse running schedule helps keep your training interesting, fresh and strengthens your body in mind in ways you might not have otherwise discovered. When coming up with a racing schedule for 2021, be sure to consider the many possibilities that exist in the wide world of running.
Be Flexible at Races
Racing may still not be the same experience it was before the pandemic. You might be required to hand sanitize or wash your hands before getting your runner number, wear a face covering, participate in pre-race temperature checks, and spectators may be limited so your friends and loved ones may not be able to cheer you on and support you on race day in person., You may have to adapt to in-race changes like course alterations, modified aid stations, wave starts, and no awards ceremonies. Even if some of these things may seem inconvenient, we should do our best to respect the race rules and know that race organizers and volunteers are doing everything they can to put on safe and successful events. Race directors will be working overtime in 2021 with land management, state departments, sponsors, participants, etc., to meet the additional guidelines and expectations placed on their event to ensure everyone’s safety. Do your part to help them make their event the best it can be.
Also see our tips for How to Trail Race During the Coronavirus Pandemic for advice on putting on safe trail running events in 2021.