Races have probably been the biggest thing missing from running over the past year. Some runners live for them – the personal bests, the experience, the atmosphere, or the medals and t-shirts. While I do like some medals or t-shirts, the main reasons I race are to test my progress and for the overall experience!
Even though there haven’t been many races in the last year, you can never be too prepared when the time comes to start racing again. Over the years, I’ve done many races and made my fair share of mistakes before, during and after them.
Here are some of my racing mistakes and how you (and I) can avoid them in the future:
1//Take Your Race Distance Seriously – This is particularly true for a longer distance race (half marathon, full marathon) or for a new runner in any race distance. For my first 2 marathons, I was not taking the training seriously and just figured I would do whatever I needed to finish the race on the day. Being new to the distance and racing in general, it wasn’t until actually competing in the race that I realized just how inadequate my preparation was. Even though these were good learning experiences and helped me afterwards, quite honestly they made for miserable race days.
What I’ve Learned: Develop a plan to prepare for your race, even if it’s not a specific daily plan.
2//Race Week Prep – The week leading up to a race is one of the most important times in your preparation. These are the days when you really want to make sure you are getting enough sleep and hydration. Also, at least 2-3 days before the race, you should try to start eating and drinking only things that will help you on race day. Everyone has different foods and drinks that help them best prepare for a race. Don’t take ANY chances! If you’re not sure what works for you, play it safe and don’t eat anything spicy or greasy. This is definitely an area that you improve upon with experience.
What I’ve Learned: For a marathon, I usually start 3 days before the race with a focus on sleep, hydration and only eating what has helped me during training or in the lead up to other races.
3//Control the Controllable – This can be a difficult one as sometimes there are things out of your control that happen in the lead up to a race or on race morning, but as the saying goes “control the controllable”. Have everything you’ll be taking with you ready the night before, pin your bib on your shirt, set your alarm early and know what time you want to be walking out the door to arrive at the start area in plenty of time.
What I’ve Learned: Have a plan or even a checklist for the night before and the morning of the race. This allows you more time to focus on the race itself. Now, all that’s left to do is enjoy the surroundings and take in the atmosphere!
4//Race Morning Logistics – This is especially important for a race in a bigger city, but I cannot stress enough the need to scope out where you will park and how long it will take to walk from your car or public transportation to the start area. Once or twice, I’ve been stuck in race morning traffic and had to run to the start line. Talk about not starting off in the right way! Not having everything mapped out can lead to a very hectic few minutes trying to get to the start line before the gun goes off with time to spare to use the bathroom/warm-up/focus.
What I’ve Learned: Visit the race websites, which usually tell you where the best options for parking or public transportation are in relation to the start area. Then, plan accordingly!
5//Race Day Nutrition/Clothes – In my 1st marathon, the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon, I made the unbelievably rookie mistake of not testing my energy gels or in-race nutrition prior to the actual race. At the race expo the day before the race, I bought GU gels because I had heard that so many people use them to get through longer distances. I can’t fully explain what I was thinking at the time, but it was a move likely made out of desperation because I wasn’t ready to complete the whole distance. No need to go into all the details but, starting at about the half way point of the race, I had to make a pit stop about every 2 miles, which as it turns out really hinders your time and performance in a race! Just in case you’re wondering, I haven’t had a GU gel since that 1st marathon!
What you wear on race day can be just as important as what you eat. A few times I’ve worn shirts that promote chafing. Luckily, I’ve never had a problem with shoes during a race, but you’ll want to avoid wearing brand new shoes for a race just in case they cause blisters or are really uncomfortable. If you’ve experienced either of these, you know that it’s not a pretty sight or feeling.
What I’ve Learned: Make sure you test anything that you plan on putting in or on your body for a race. You’ll learn what works best for you as you run and race more.
6//Have Fun! – I always have a time goal for any race that I do because it helps me to plan my training and can also serve as extra motivation if I need it during the race. However, the finishing time is not the be-all and end-all of any race for me. It’s great to reach goals and get a personal best time, but life will still go on if you don’t.
What I’ve Learned: You’ve just spent weeks, months and, in some cases, years preparing for this race. You’ve already done the hard part; enjoy the race and the atmosphere and let your training take you across the finish line!
I’m sure that many of you that have raced have had things happen before or during a race that turned into great learning experiences for future races. In the past year, I’ve connected with several people who have just started running and have only done virtual races up until now, so hopefully this list can be helpful to them also. Don’t make the same mistakes I have, but if you do, learn from them and improve on them for your next race!
I’d love to hear if anyone has made mistakes – either similar to mine or worse – in the comments section below. Remember – it’s all a learning experience!