The Two Plan Rule of Racing: Part 1



At a past coaching conference put on by the High Performance Division of USA Track & Field, a panel of expert coaches that included Joe Vigil, Bob Larson, and Brooks Johnson discussed goal setting and race planning. These top coaches suggested that our traditional method of planning is different than that of runners at the highest level. Traditionally, runners set high, medium, and low race goals. The high goals are pie-in-the-sky; if you have a great race, this is what you’ll accomplish. The medium goal is what you probably expect to hit as long as you feel normal and the weather cooperates. The low goal is your “out,” allowing you to feel good about the performance, even though you probably don’t.

The expert coaches suggest a two-plan rule of racing may produce better results. Going into every race, you should have realistic, yet achievable plans. The first plan is your optimal plan, what you fully expect to achieve, not a goal that requires an exceptional day, but what you believe to be your best performance ability at that time. This goal can’t be “made up”, but must come from your recent training and racing results. This is where you will set your sights as you toe the line. This is your “A” plan.

The second plan is your bottom line plan – the minimum achievement for you to be happy with the race. The second plan is not an “out” to make you feel good. It is a requirement – a goal that must be achieved in the event, a goal that accomplishes something important, something you can take away from the run. No compromises, no excuses, this is the “must have” goal for the race. This is your “B” plan. Races that don’t accomplish your B plan are bad races. Period. No use in sugar-coating it. You can learn from these races, but it’s good to be determined to avoid them in the future.

School-based runners and track athletes may have goals not only for time, but also for place and/or tactics. For example, a miler doesn’t just need to be able to run fast; she must also be able to run tactically smart, especially given that most championships are tactical races. For this athlete, an A goal might be to finish the last 600 meters of the race in the time that history has shown that her championship race (e.g., the state meet) finishes in. She won’t care about the total time but will focus on running the last 600 meters in the goal time. A good B goal might be to run within three seconds of this finishing 600m time. Armed with the confidence that she has what it takes to compete at the end of the championship race, she’ll be able to relax and react to early tactics because she knows she just needs to be in contention when the final 600 meters comes around.

It’s important to practice the pace of both your A and your B goal in training. Then, as race day approaches, commit, commit, commit. On race day you have essentially only three choices to make. First, if the weather, the competition, and your health are good, you are going for your A goal. Second, if these factors are not favorable, you focus on your B goal. Third, if race day is just plain bad, it’s time to evaluate the purpose of the race, perhaps changing from a competitive race to a training race. This will ensure that something positive will be accomplished.

Next: Part 2, How to Raise the Bar on Your Performance

We’re excited to announce the availability of Greg McMillan’s library of training plans. For every distance between 800 meters and the marathon, these scientifically-based training plans include your McMillan Calculator training paces integrated, coach’s notes, and access to our prehab routines. Plus, the plans are delivered on a runner-friendly training log platform. Starting at $25.99. Learn more.

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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