Endurance athletes are unique individuals. We push ourselves hard. We sometimes feel guilty when we don’t train. We enjoy setting goals and pushing our limits. For an endurance athlete, the opportunities to compete throughout a year may be few. For Ironman athletes or marathoners, two events per year are typically the max. Competing in shorter events offers many more opportunities. But we all need time to allow our bodies and minds to absorb the efforts and come back stronger.
If you are planning to attend one or two events per year, the anticipation and excitement can be overwhelming at times. Day after day you increase your fitness. When race day arrives, you are full of nervous energy. You probably toss and turn most of the night before.
At larger events, you may go to an expo the day before. If, like me, you come from a small town in Kentucky, walking around an expo and seeing all the merchandise and free samples may be too much to resist. So, you try the latest sports drink, the newest Clif Bar, the lounge chairs with leg massagers, etc. You spend a couple of hours and a couple hundred dollars living in an athlete’s paradise.
Paula and I emphasize to our athletes – nothing new on race day. After all the preparation, we all need to remain focused on the goal and not get lured into the misbelief that something new is going to make the ultimate difference in reaching that goal. More than likely, trying something new will turn out badly. Avoid the temptation of trying all the free samples at the expo. Stick to your routine that you’ve practiced throughout training. If you are not used to being on your feet for hours at a time, don’t spend hours walking the expo the night before. I like to make a quick lap around the expo and only stop if I see something of interest that is packaged in a way that I can take back home to try after the race or incorporate into a future training cycle.
Several years ago, a friend signed up for the Mercedes-Benz Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama. In our running group, he was the only one going to this race and it was his first marathon. The morning of, I tracked him online and was excited with how he was doing. Around the halfway point, his pace started to diminish. By the finish his overall average pace had slipped 40 seconds per mile. When he returned, we talked about his experience. (Don’t you enjoy bringing your race stories back to your crew, sharing, laughing, consoling, and congratulating.) It was not surprising that his pace had slowed in the second half. Most people do, especially in their first marathon. I asked if he hit the wall (a common feeling of losing all energy typically due to poor race day nutrition). It turns out he tried something new on race day. Instead of wearing normal shorts and underwear, he decided to wear an athletic supporter under his shorts, something he had never practiced. Midway through the race, his legs and groin area began to burn. He was fortunate to make it to the finish line. He is a strong-willed big-hearted country boy who doesn’t give up. What would his day have been like if he didn’t try something new?
It is quite common to have sore legs after a marathon. His attempt at something new resulted in weeks of recovery from the rubbing.
What about shoes? Should you wear a new pair of shoes on race day? New shoes smell good, look good, and may feel softer. Stick with the brand and model with which you trained. We recommend at least one long run and one race pace run in a new pair of shoes before saving them for race day.
I’m a fan of the Hoka shoes. I have purchased and successfully run in many pairs. However, I had one pair of Cliftons and one pair of Rincons that caused blisters. Had I not tested them before race day, it would have been a disaster. Test all your gear – shorts, shoes, socks, fuel belt, hat, sunglasses, top, goggles, helmet, gaiters, nutrition, etc. prior to race day. Don’t take any chances with your gear on race day. Every race provides its own set of challenges that are out of your control. Take care of the things that are within your control.
Every day, every practice, every race we learn more. When it comes to race day, keep your eye on the prize. Stick to your plan. Have confidence in all your preparation. The only new things you want on race day are stories to share and a sense of accomplishment.
Look for other articles on race day planning and post-race journaling.
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