It’s always better to have a plan and ignore it, then to have no plan at all. So how can you make your race day go as smoothly as possible?
As an endurance runner a big part of getting ready for a race is research. Just your fitness won’t get you through the longer events and the plan is always to make race day as easy as possible. It can be preparing your food, looking at any difficult route sections or researching checkpoint food. A plan can improve your PB for sure.
Now if you’re a 5k runner or a half marathoner you might be thinking that this isn’t relevant to you, but I disagree. If you’re after a PB or just want to make sure you enjoy your day, a little research beforehand can make all the difference.
If you’re a parkrunner, 5k road racer or a 10000m man on the track, there are still things you can do beforehand. For parkrun it can be as simple as looking at the times from previous runners. If the winner is taking 20 minutes each week then it might be a hilly or off-road course. Even checking any photos from the event can tell you a lot about the route.
If it’s the road racing that floats your boat then check out any splits that might be given, although rare for a 5k, but if it’s an out and back, with a slightly uphill first half, or heaven forbid an uphill finish, then forewarned is forearmed.
Now, what could be different about a track? Whilst all are pretty similar it might still be worth knowing a good place to warm up. Even checking out your rivals or figuring out where the toilets are so you’re not caught short can help. Take a little mental pressure from the head and you’ll float around the bends that little bit easier.
Don’t get too caught up on opposition though, your own race is key, but if someone is known for hitting the first lap hard and then flailing then your club mates might be able to advise.
Now the distance is getting a little more serious and you can’t just turn up in shape and expect a PB every time. Check out the route and the splits if they’re available. Some courses are just not meant for PBs, so might be worth giving a miss, others are perfect but for a couple of hills and it’s best to know where these are.
What are the checkpoints like? Do they list a sports drink on the website and how does it sit with you? You can always try something like a drink out whilst doing a tempo run to give you a taste for it at the right intensity.
How close are the start and the finish? As the race gets longer, the chances of finishing far away from the start increase. It’s best to have a plan for afterwards so you don’t fret before the start. Worst still you’re freezing cold because you had to drop your jacket off at the finish and catch a bus.
The competition is important again, but not on a man to man basis, but will it be a lonely experience? If you’re aiming for 1:45 then have a peek at last year’s results. See if it was busy or minutes between finishers. Will there be crowds or is it country lanes, because, if allowed, some headphones might help.
Like the half, it’s a bit more logistical, but the food becomes even more key. If there will be Lucozade or just water and how is it given out. It might not say on the website (maybe check some laborious race blogs) but will there be papers cups or bottles?
In my first checkpoint in a cross country skiing race, I wish I’d practised drinking tea from a cup whilst skiing and having poles attached to my hands. About 3% made it into my mouth.
Looking at the route and the profile isn’t just for race day either. If you’re training for the Boston Marathon then of course you know there’s Heartbreak Hill. Boston training will include ups and downs in the long runs, but what about other marathons? Can you make your training more specific?
The weather can be important too. Check out recent years, but expect anything on race day. Especially if racing in Britain or Ireland. A heatwave or a rainstorm might mean you have to change kit. Shoes with better grip or a lightweight cap on your head might be the difference.
Equally the wind can play a part and if you’re aiming for a set pace and the first 13 miles is into a headwind you might get a little dismayed.
As for ultra running, where can you start? Every race is different and your training should reflect this. Specificity can be key to a good day and just because you live in a different area doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
The community is strong so reach out online. Others will have been there before, they will be more than happy to offer good (and bad) advice. Some even make terrible videos with go pro cameras, but flicking through can be helpful.
As for food, well you need to be able to stomach anything. But also know how long between the checkpoints and water stops to plan on what you carry. Don’t just go off time alone as 10km with two big hills takes a little longer than 10k on the flat. You’ll need more water.
The final plan?
If we talk to the racers of the 80’s we might get laughed at for preparing like this, but with so much information out there in this age, why not make use of it? It will make your job a little easier. At the very least you’ll get to the start line a little more relaxed, knowing you are prepared and ready to give the race everything. That counts for something too.