Over the past few months I have had the honor of coaching, pacing and witnessing some incredible acts by pretty amazing athletes and friends all over the country. Each one of them taught me how to be a better coach, mentor, friend and person while participating in half marathons, marathons and triathlons. In every instance, I gathered valuable insights regardless of their ability, some were age-group and overall podium contenders, some middle of the pack runners and some were back of the packers. After witnessing these events, I reflected on several aspects of racing, running, and endurance sports. It made me realize that there are certain rules and tricks that are critical to success on race day. At times these helpful nuggets of information are either rarely spoken about or forgotten about in the excitement of the event. In either case, they deserve to be reiterated.
There are several books written about racing successfully and there is no way to cover all of them in one blog post or even one hundred blog posts. In fact, there are various definitions of what successful racing means. Each one of these rules and definitions deserves its own book and not a paragraph or two. However, I do want to break down a few things that will help you achieve your goals or at least give you the tools to take a good honest look at them and adjust them as needed. Over the next couple of blog posts, I will cover some of the most important rules and tricks to help you attain a new level of success in your racing and training. First up:
The PR conundrum
PRs. Ask most athletes what those two little letters mean and they will not only tell you that it stands for “Personal Record.” They will more than likely go on to tell you what their PRs are in their chosen event. Most will also go into great detail on how, where, and when they achieved it. Typically this is where all of the non-runners’ eyes will glaze over and they wish they had never asked the question. We wear these statistics like badges of honor. Memorizing them like they were on the back of baseball cards or fantasy football points. The problem with PRs is that we think about them too much before and during a race. Let me explain why this is a problem, and how it can derail your success on race day.
I had the pleasure of spending time with some world-class athletes over the years including American Record Holder Josh Cox, 2004 Olympic Marathon Bronze medalist Deena Kastor and 2004 Olympic Marathon Silver medalist Meb Keflezighi. All of them have given me a similar piece of advice when it comes to PRs and racing. Essentially it boils down to this: They don’t think about time when they race. They race based on effort and how they feel on that particular day at that particular time. Yes, you have read that correctly! World-class runners do not go out on race day and say “I want to run a (fill in the blank time) for (fill in the blank event). Instead, they pay close attention to how they feel before the race and more importantly during the race. They are not tied to mile splits and hitting them mile after mile. Instead, they are paying attention to the course, their effort, staying within themselves, not going out too fast, nutrition, and so on. They allow themselves to have variations in their mile splits because they would rather back off their pace a little to give themselves the opportunity to stay within themselves. This allows them to save some energy for the later miles of the race instead of going out so hard that they do not have anything left and end up walking. Being in tune to what your body is telling you throughout the entire race is key if you want to succeed.
Racing and attaining PRs are about smart energy management. Think of it as a tank of gas in your car. At the start of the race you have a full tank, provided that you rested and had the proper nutrition. Just like in your car, if you floor the gas pedal you burn through your tank very quickly while stressing your engine. This will make you run out of gas before you get to the finish line. However, if you take it easy and slowly accelerate you will have a much better chance of an enjoyable race and finishing strong.
Take some time to consider some of these things the next time you are racing. Ask yourself, are these ideal conditions for success? What is the weather like? Is it too hot, too humid, too cold, and so forth? Did you sleep enough? Did you have a good breakfast? Is my PR goal time realistic? Have you studied the course? Remember, sometimes success is defined by executing your perfect race plan regardless of whether or not it a PR was achieved. Sometimes having a smile at the end and having fun on the course or simply finishing the race is enough to say it was a successful day.