Performance – The Beauty of Racing

AJWs TaproomIt is often said that the best thing about endurance racing is the training. The daily, weekly, and monthly focus and discipline necessary in the preparation for ultramarathon racing is immense and the results are often deeply satisfying. However, every couple of months (or more frequently for some people) we need to lace ’em up, pin on a number, and get after it in the crucible of the competitive environment. This is where the preparation ultimately pays off and where a different type of focus and discipline comes into play. On Race Day, performance is everything!

There is something undeniably exciting about racing. The nerves, the hype, the hope, the doubt, and the drive all converge in the moment and test us as runners and as people. There are some who respond to this pressure with relative ease and great success while others may be crippled by anxiety and cursed by underachievement. We all know those athletes who often play best in practice or those artists whose most excellent work ends up on the cutting-room floor, but the truly excellent performers know how to rise to the occasion when the lights are illuminated and the game is on.

For me, I have learned to embrace the competitive experience over time, but it has not been easy. Pre-race jitters, poor race-day pacing, and rookie mistakes in the areas of nutrition and foot care have all taken their toll on me over the years. However, each competitive experience has taught me more about myself and more about life. So here, on the eve of my first competitive race in over a year, are my five pieces of advice for successful race day performance:

1. Expect the unexpected – While it is always a good goal to strive to remove all variables going into a race, inevitably something will go awry; your drop bags will get lost, you’ll go off course, you’ll forget to grab enough gels, your water bottle nozzle will break, or your shoes will blow out (all of these, by the way, have happened to me). If you have mentally prepared, in advance, for some things to go wrong, even if you have not prepared for the actual thing that goes wrong, you will be able to successfully adjust your attitude and expectations on the fly which will help keep things in perspective.

2. Plan on sweating more, cramping more, and hurting more – I am not sure about the science of it but for some reason I always sweat, cramp, and hurt more in a race than I do in practice. Even if I am intentionally trying to run the race as a “training run,” invariably the environment gets the best of me and I get depleted more quickly than usual. To prepare, I always bring more electrolytes and calories than I think I’ll need. Over the last few years that seems to have done the trick.

3. Stay in the moment – Too many runners I know lose their grip on the present during a race and it tends to cost them. Worrying about the past or obsessing about the future will do nothing to make you run faster nor will it impel the competition to slow down. Furthermore, in my experience, staying in the moment helps me focus and avoid the complacency that can often creep into the mind and body in the latter stages of an ultra.

4. Embrace the positive – There is so much to celebrate about running ultras. There’s the natural beauty, the challenge of competition, and the exhilaration of crossing the finish line. Yet many runners I know get hit by a case of the grumpies late in races which leads to an often downward spiral and can even jeopardize finishing. Keeping things positive and finding a silver lining in even the most dreadful death march or bonk-y slog fest can go a long way toward a satisfying experience, regardless of the actual result.

5. Share the experience – Let’s face it, we spend the majority of our time training alone, and many of us like it that way. However, on Race Day it is worth enjoying and savoring the shared suffering of an ultra. In many ways, an ultra is a celebration of health and well-being like no other, why not share that joy? It is often in the collective experience of getting to the finish line that meaningful and long-lasting relationships are born.
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
HopslamThis week’s Beer of the Week is Hopslam from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. This annual release, sarcastically called “Hypeslam” by some, is an excellent, front-loaded IPA that enjoys an almost cult following. That said, it is so good that I was willing to part with $19.99 last night to get a hold of a six-pack.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Are you or aren’t you a race day performer?
  • What advice would you give others to get the most out of themselves on race day?
  • What’s your first big race of the season?

There are 18 comments

  1. Chris Fisher

    Thanks for a thoughtful piece. You were spot on with each point. I especially agree with the positive attitude, I can't remember how many times I've found myself laughing while slogging through the dark on some unknown course. The low points certainly take less of a toll on me if I stay positive and am able to laugh at myself.

  2. SkyDog

    Thanks Andy, I always look forward to Fridays and your post. Your article couldn't come at a better time with my first Ultra being tomorrow!

  3. Charlie M.

    My biggest advice is to do a lot of smack-talking on the day of the race. Even if you know you can't run with the big dogs, talking smack will let you get rid of the game-day jitters, and put a smile on your face. And sometimes trash-talking can make you find a little extra grunting up the first hill.

  4. J.Xander

    Races are awesome and a stark contrast to the lonely miles that led up to that moment. One of my favorite annual racing moments is on a local mountain race of about 24 miles. The race starts out with a 2400' climb to a pass.

    The start line is all a buzz of restrained energy, people jump in place, people nervously chat, stretching, bouncing, focused eyes, rubbing hands to stay warm and then bang! We're off!

    Within minutes we are all in a canyon and you can hear the collective huff and puff of 150 runners climbing hard in the 7am dawn. No one talks now it is just a pure, quiet focused energy and the mountain is quiet despite all the people. I look back from the top of the pass and see the runners strewn out all over the trail, all climbing hard, and it is beautiful, quiet, serene yet serious and intense all at once and all against the backdrop of the mountains!

    I love that moment!

  5. Anonymous

    I think "expect the unexpected" is really all you need. 100 miles is far regardless of what Karl says and there will be things that just don't pan out. Enjoy the ride, take some pictures, and in the end you will be stoked that you didn't give up!

  6. MikeD

    To add to point 4. Embrace the positive – just the simple fact that we are able to get out and run, no matter how bad it hurts, is something to be thankful for.

  7. Brian F

    Thanks for the wisdom Andy, good words to ponder heading into my rookie ultra. Welcome to socal and I hope to meet you out there!

  8. Sarah Lavender Smith

    I love this post and I'll read it again in the days leading up to my next important race. But I laughed when I read your first point, "expect the unexpected," because that's what I tell any expectant new-mom to expect from childbirth. Then as I kept reading, i realized each one of your points would serve a woman well in the labor & delivery room. So, congrats, you've written not just a great race day plan, but a great birth plan!

  9. Tony Mollica

    I love running races! I am never at the front of the pack, and so my goal is always to have fun!!

    I always try to thank the volunteers at every aid station. Without volunteers there are no races!

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