Races are always tricky–it can be tempting to run hard, fly past aid stations and ignore the enjoyment of the process entirely in pursuit of a PB.
Mastering these five tenets of racing, shared by Olympian and coach Joanna Zeiger in her book The Champion Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness will help you sail smoothly through your next race. “If you learn these, you can eliminate at least some potential problems,” she says.
What feels easy at the start feels hard at the end
Proper pacing is a skill and a worthy one to work on. No matter how easy and effortless those first few kilometres feel, the last few are going to feel harder. “Do not be deceived by the relative ease at the beginning,” says Zeiger.
What feels like jogging at the start of a longer race may take all your focus and strength to maintain near the end. Remind yourself of this pre-race, and keep it in mind as we move on to rule number two.
Don’t go out too hard
That same feeling of ease at the beginning of a race “lures people into a false sense of what they can achieve,” Zeiger says. “Going out too hard is not necessarily a subjective measure–you cannot rely on how you feel, because you should feel good.”
Zeiger says she has never heard someone say that they wish they’d gone out harder in the first half. It can be helpful to set a pace or HR guideline for yourself or follow a pace bunny if you’re in a longer race.
It’s hard to imagine things going wrong
Races often have beautiful beginnings. The weather is glorious (or at least decent), you feel fantastic and well-trained, and the enthusiasm of the group lifts your spirits. So many things out of your control can go wrong in the later stages though–unexpected GI distress, cramping, or a wild wind blows in.
Recognizing that this happens and maintaining a sense of humour about it while you troubleshoot, or, worst case scenario, drop out, is essential. Sometimes you are as prepared as you can possibly be and things still go awry.
Race day nutrition is important. Even if you’re running a short race and don’t need to consume calories mid-run, your pre-race meal should be something you also eat on training days and are used to digesting.
If you’re in a longer race and do need to stop at aid stations, Zeiger says athletes should know beforehand what they are going to grab–water, a gel, Gatorade? Knowing in advance prevents any indecision and time-wasting when you arrive, and also helps you keep track of what you have consumed.
Zeiger says this is by far the most important tenet of racing. “Success in sport is difficult and requires time, patience, perseverance and [occasionally] heartache,” she explains. “Ultimately, there must be an element of enjoyment to make it all worth it.
When things line up right and you find yourself really enjoying a race, notice and be present in the moment. “Racing is a privilege and we are lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy so much.”