Author: Coach Caleb Masland
You train, and you train, and you train. Then race day shows up and things don’t go how you had hoped. You would think that the training would be enough, but even if you log all the miles, hit all the goal paces in your intervals, and do everything right before race day, things can still go south when it counts. All it takes to make race day better is a little forethought and planning. By building a race day routine, you can make the day less stressful and more fun. And, as a bonus, you’ll end up running faster times to boot. You trained hard to get there, so it makes sense to do everything you can to make the day count. Or, in other words, don’t fall victim to these common race day mistakes:
Whether the race is big or small, whether you are expecting to run with a large group or by yourself, you need to know what course you are up against. Ultimately, it’s you and the course, and you’re responsible for knowing where to turn, where the hills are, where the aid stops are, and so on. Find the course map (it’s almost always available online at the race website, and/or in the race packet; if these aren’t available, look for the course on site like MapMyRun, Strava, and the like). Look it over. Make a mental note of the major turns and other key spots, then you won’t miss anything when you’re out there with most of your energy focused on going fast.
Based on your training, you should have a good idea of what you are capable of running in the race. No matter if you’re racing 1 mile or 100 miles, you should have a plan for how you are going to achieve that goal. Don’t be overly specific, but do set yourself some general targets for how you want to approach each major section of the race. Plan to give some time back on big climbs. Plan to make up some time on the descents after those climbs. Start smart and finish fast. Write the plan down, then execute on race day.
Ever gotten to the race venue and realized you forgot your socks, your gels, your bib pins, your shoes, your watch? It happens. A lot. We don’t think straight on race day. So, the better approach is to take race brain out of the equation and get things set up the night before. Those pictures that we all post on social media serve multiple purposes, you see! If you get everything laid out ahead of time, you can be sure you aren’t forgetting anything crucial. Then put everything you aren’t going to wear to the race venue but need to have in a bag, and set it with your race day clothes that you plan to put on first thing.
If you poll a random sampling of elite runners, you’ll get a whole bunch of different answers about the ideal race breakfast. But, you’ll also get very specific responses from each one of them. This is because the specifics of what you eat for race day aren’t critical, but it’s important that you choose something that you consistently rely on and know agrees with your body. Whatever you’ve settled on that works for long runs is your best bet for race day.
Ask yourself the following question: Is it better to spend a little extra time sitting around before a race, or starting the race with a full bladder and a hastily tied shoe? Hopefully we all agree that the former is preferable. Plus, by planning on arriving early, you can take a relaxed approach instead of a stressed-out and rushed approach. Less anxiety = better racing. Give yourself more time than you think you need for everything you’re going to do at the venue before the race.
This is probably the most common race day mistake, and it’s easily the costliest. Warming up before a race effort isn’t just about injury prevention, it’s also about performance improvement. The warm-up should take your body from its rest state to being primed for hard effort, which means you need to progress through all of the “gears” between the two. You also need to prime your neuromuscular pathways to fire efficiently, which is best done with a series of drills that exaggerate good running form. Just like you need to give yourself the time at the race venue for all of the non-running activities before the race, you also need to plan ahead for some time for easy running, drills, and some strides so that you can hit the line ready to run your best.
Even if you get to the starting line having done everything right, you still aren’t guaranteed a good race. Remember that you came up with a race plan based on your fitness and how your workouts have gone, and then stick to that plan. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking, “Oh, well I feel good so I just see how long I can hold this pace, even if it’s much faster than I planned on running.” You’ll just end up crashing at some point, and regretting your impatience. Keep yourself on the plan so that you can finish the race strong.
These are pretty simple things to manage if you give them some thought ahead of time. Work each of these into your race routine and you’ll perform at your best.