Race Day Reconnaissance

Oct 28, 2020

Sometimes what first seems like a great idea turns out to be far less than ideal.
Paula and I live in western Kentucky. It is a beautiful area with lots of colors. We experience all four seasons with lows in single digits and highs near 100. We often have high humidity, so the heat index exceeds 100 for weeks at a time. However, where we live is relatively flat.

Paula heard about the Revel Mt Hood Marathon outside of Portland, Oregon. The race starts on a mountain and works its way down a 6% grade for the first 6 miles. Then it eases off but is still downhill for most of the race. We thought this would be great to try.  We searched around our town for long hills but found very few. We trained on what we found.

When we arrived in Oregon, we drove to the race start to get a sense of the incline. It was shocking! It was hard to walk on much less run on. The road was fine. The scenery was beautiful. But the grade was brutal.

When the race started, I took off at my target marathon pace. Within the first mile, a recurring injury I was dealing with flared up and became unbearable. I stopped. Turns out Paula was flying down the hill and was not far behind me. She made it to the bottom of the mountain onto the less drastic grade, but her legs were on fire. She decided to pull out around the half-way point.

Lesson Learned

We learned that we were not prepared for this course. We chose to drop out rather than risk a serious injury. Many people ran fast and enjoyed the course. They likely had similar terrain on which to train.

As you think about your next race, think about how the environment compares to where you train. Here are some things to consider:

  • Amount of incline (often called feet gain in route mapping sites)
  • Grade of decline (anything greater than 2% is likely to put a strain on your legs in a long event)
  • Average temperature and humidity / Heat index
  • Air quality
  • Nutrition available on the course and how often
  • Elevation in relation to sea level

In addition, if you are training for a triathlon, consider these as well:

  • Water quality
  • Choppiness of water
  • Water current
  • Single file start vs. mass start
  • Road conditions
  • Typical wind conditions and direction
  • Technicality of the bike course

You can plan for some things. Given your training environment, you should probably avoid some things. Even if you can’t prepare for every aspect, knowing what to expect puts you in the right mindset to be successful. While we never dreamed of a DNF in our race, we gained valuable information. Don’t let race advertisement propaganda sway your decision. Either you or your coach can do the research and decide if it’s possible to properly prepare for a successful race given the race conditions.

Next Steps

This is another area where having a coach and community can help. Learn from others’ experiences and share yours to help others. Join our team. Together we can reach our goals.


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