As we reach the end of another totally out there year, it presents an opportunity to think about your plans for the coming year, 2022.
There is something about a new year. It provides a fresh start, an opportunity to make the most of it. In reality, it’s just another day. But the Earth has taken a trip around the sun. We’ve run, rested, laughed, cried and been human beings for the past 365 days. I think that planning for the coming year can be a celebration. It’s an investment of time and energy into you. If you don’t make that investment, then no one else will.
Enough pontificating from me, let us think about how best to go about this process.
Review 2021 and further back
I will always push people to review their training history, not just from this past year, but going back further still. Take some time to sit down and ask yourself some questions:
What sort of running do I enjoy?
If you love the track, why not do more of that. If off-road races are your jam, go for it. After all, we do this sport to support ourselves, as a hobby and stay healthy. Why not make it fun.
If you want to go faster, what have you done to get there?
What are the ideal conditions for you to run fast? Was that 20 years ago - in which case we may need to review what "fast" will look like now. Was there a year where things came together - if so, look back and find out what happened? You’ll likely see a block of quality, consistent training and plenty of rest to allow the running to happen
What have I really struggled with?
Getting up early, fitting the training in or following a plan? Are Long Runs the most challenging run of your week? If you can pinpoint your struggles, you can become aware and address them during the year.
For example, I struggled with the Long Run until I stripped them back to basics and built up very gradually over a few months. I built confidence in my ability to do this run and was deliberate about it. If I had a run that knocked it, I would drop the Long Run down the next week and have a positive experience.
Here are a few more that I’ll leave you with:
What do I want to focus on in 2022?
What key Sessions / Runs did I do this year
What one thing will I keep the same from last year
What one thing will I change from last year
What running kit works best for me?
Can I get more out of my running?
These are a few starting points, but this is your process to think about. It can be done alone, with paper and a pen, a computer or with a friend. Maybe you can set each of you some questions and then come together to talk about it.
If you can be collaborative in this process, you’ll find you get so much more out of it.
Plotting your way through the year
You don’t have to go about plotting the whole of 2022. This process might be done in smaller blocks of 3 months, but getting an overview of how a larger block of the year will look will be helpful.
When looking at your year, I’d start with any KEY dates that are going to be in the plan:
This is likely to be some races you’ve entered or have your eye on. Perhaps it’s London Marathon in October. Or a Cross-Country race in March. Pin-Point those key races you want to target in your year. Usually, we’d suggest having 2 significant peaks in a year, or ‘A’ Races you are targeting. It’s tough to get more than that in.
Take into account any Family and Friend Events going on in 2022. Do you have a baby on the way? Or a big vacation planned? Or do you have times when things get busy? If so, I’d advise against planning any big running event around that time and use those weeks as an opportunity to reduce your training down a little.
Your training wants to have Peaks and Troughs to it. You ramp up to your big event, you recover afterwards. The year wants to have a flow to it. That means with races too (more below). You’ll find it very hard to go from training for a 5km one month to an ultra-marathon 2 months later.
I am a very visual person. I like to use a piece of paper with each month as a heading and colour coordinate the months with races, key training blocks, and other things. You could use Excel to put everything in or a Mind Map. There's no wrong way to do this. It's just you creating your plan.
Use Virtual Races
One bonus of the pandemic is that Virtual Races and/or Time Trials have become more common and accessible. You get a bit more of an option when plotting out your support races, especially. I would argue that an in-person race does give you the best chance of running faster. The support from the crowd and competition against other runners makes a huge difference, but Virtual Races are still excellent experiences.
Racing in person
As a new wave of Omicron arrives, we are still adjusting and will continue to need to adapt. It’s going to be interesting to see what 2022 brings. By all accounts, London Marathon 2021 was a fantastic event, and we expect to see those ideas at other races in the coming year. I am optimistic we’ll get more races in, but they will feel slightly different.
Races in person do offer tremendous opportunities to run fast.
Use races to help guide you on your plan for 2022.
Depending on your goal, the race will define your support races. A rule of thumb is that the longer the distance of your race, the fewer races you’ll want in the build-up.
If your Key event is a Marathon, it is wise to use at least 1 half marathon as a race in preparation.
If you want to target a 10km race as your Goal, then having a few 10ks ramping up to the race is excellent. You might put some 5km in there to chase speed, and potentially early on, you’d use a half marathon to get some superb speed endurance in there.
Do mix things up. If your usual marathon build-up is a half marathon 8 weeks out, why not go with an ultra a few months before and then drop down to the marathon? Have some fun with 2022.
Have you got periods of REST
Down-time in training is absolutely vital. It allows both the body and mind to recover. You will come back fresher and raring to go from the time off. Taking Rest is very different from not training because you are ill or injured. When you are sick, your body is just struggling to do its day to day. This isn’t a rest period. When you are injured, you are very likely working overtime to get healthy and back to training again.
This isn’t rest either.
A deliberate period of rest from training is such a gift. Yes, you will lose some fitness from it. Taking 2 weeks off, maybe even longer, will impact things in the short term. (I recently have taken 2 weeks off training on an indoor bike. I got back on, and my heart rate is 10 - 15 BMP higher for the same output. I am ok with this. I know I'll get it back, but I already feel more invigorated and refreshed). You won’t forget how to run. You won’t be at square 1 when you come back. Olympic athletes train at a much higher level than ‘normal’ people, but they all take regular breaks off during the year. Their bodies need that. And so do yours. Do yourself a massive favour in 2022 and schedule in 1 - 2 weeks of deliberate rest. You can thank me later!
You aren’t alone in this
Running is a very solitary sport at times. It has a beautiful social element and some team aspects (especially during the cross country season). But I feel that runners have an “I’ll do this on my own” mentality. It feels like it harks back to the ‘good old days of amateurism’, and it keeps things “pure” if it’s just you and the road. I know I had a lot of this mentality (and likely wrapped up in some toxic masculinity) when I was training.
Making your planning process something you do with another will make it a lot easier and improve the quality of your planning. It’s great to get input from others. If this feels like a scary idea, make sure you do this with someone you trust. They don’t have to be into running either - often, those outside the sport (like family) will make a great sounding board. And they’ll love being included.
If you have a coach, work with them to bounce around ideas and develop a plan for the year.
Sticking to a plan but not holding it too tightly
This is where things get interesting. You do need to stay focused on your plan. After all, there's no point spending all this time putting it together for you to go and not follow it. Commitment to the plan, executing it is the only way to see how it goes. That said, you can’t hold onto the plan too tightly and think it is the be-all and end-all of 2022.
The plan is there to support your running through the year. But life happens, and things will get in the way. Races may get cancelled, you might pick up an injury or an unexpected life transition. Whatever it is, being adaptable is vital to getting the most out of your planning.
If things do need to adapt, that’s where having someone on your side to support you in this process is so important. It can get complicated when your plans go array and feel very isolating.
What if I don’t plan?
Not much...You most certainly don’t need to plan your year out. That might feel overwhelming for you. If you are going into the next year without much of an idea, you will not be maximising your training. The question I'd ask of you is - are you worth maximising your training over?
Your plan for 2022 could be to have fun with your running. That is a plan! It doesn't need to be more than that.
Here's to a great 2022!