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!
AJW’s Beer of the Week
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?