BY JANET HAMILTON, MA RCEP, CSCS
Do you have a plan when you toe the line on race day? Have you given any thought to a strategy for success? Race planning isn't just for the elites or those winning their age groups - even if you're a first-timer, devising a race strategy can help you get more out of your race experience.
The strategizing starts when you decide on what event you're going to do. It starts on day one of your training! The distance you plan to race, the time of year for the race and the course profile all figure in to your training plan. If you've considered these things from the beginning, you'll be well prepared on race day.
- Distance: If this is a new distance for you, then the first part of race planning is making sure you successfully acquire the endurance base needed to complete the distance. That means focusing heavily on base-building. That part of training is tedious for some who are eager to focus on getting faster but this lays the groundwork so that your body can tolerate speedwork - without injury later in training. If you're racing a distance you've already run before, you likely already have a good endurance base, may not need as much base building.
- Time of year/weather: Consider the weather. If you're training for a hot-weather race, make sure you have time to train in the heat too. If you live in a cool climate but are racing in hot weather, try to simulate the conditions by wearing more clothing on your daily runs than you typically would. If you're racing in a cool climate but live in a warm one than you don't have to worry about any acclimation. Check for historical weather in the location you're racing so that you have an idea of typical temperatures at the time of year you'll be racing. The National Climate Data Center is a good place to start your search (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/).
- Terrain: Are you racing on the trails? How hilly is the course? Make sure to train on the same kind of course that you'll be racing. Even downhill courses have unique challenges that require preparation on similar terrain. Is the race you're planning for a trail race? Does it have significant elevation changes? If so, you'd better prepare with some training on trails and hills. Are the elevation changes primarily uphill or downhill? Each has their challenges. Start your research by viewing the elevation chart or course profile on your race web site. If you're racing close to home, run the course during training or at least drive it in advance. Knowing where you'll need to push and where you can cruise will help you on race day. And if you're racing out of town, check out any course photos or videos on the race web site or on a social media site like YouTube or Facebook.
- Fuel / hydration: Do you have a preference for a certain type of sports beverage or fuel? If so - check to see what will be offered on the race course and how far apart the aid stations are. You may need to be prepared to provide your own if the aid offered on the course doesn't match with what you've become accustomed to.
- Pacing: Pace should be based on your current fitness level and the race conditions, including terrain and temperature. There are lots of pace calculators on the web that can provide a reasonable estimate of what your time will be if the weather is perfect and you're running injury free, and your training has gone flawlessly. During your training, you should have done at least some of your training at your target race pace so that you know how it feels. As the race date gets closer, the focus of your speedwork sessions should be to become more and more familiar with the pace you're targeting so that when the time comes you can lock it in quickly and avoid the mistake of going out too fast.
Think about logistics. You'll stress less if you take time weeks before the race to hammer out details like how you'll get to the race, where you'll park, where you'll drop your bag. Make sure you've practiced your pre-race fueling and know which foods digest well and give you the energy needed for the distance. As the days get closer, review the course map so that you know the initial turns and the location of aid stations. Spend some time visualizing the course and review your training log to remind yourself how well you've prepared for this. You've made the investment in training; now it's time to reap the benefits! Plan your race and then race your plan.
On race day, relax and focus. Positive images and positive thoughts lead to positive energy and positive outcomes. Focus on the performance, not the outcome. Focus on what you need to do... not what the finish time will be. As you remain focused on your performance throughout the race, you'll be able to capitalize on opportunities and you'll be ready to overcome challenges and obstacles as they arise. You've practiced your race-pace in training, now it's time to make sure that you're on target. Check your splits at the mile markers or use your GPS device to make sure you're pacing properly. Plan your race and then race your plan! Remember, the race is the reward for all the investments you've made in training.
Enjoy the journey!
To your success on race day! - Coach Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS