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Most seasoned runners know the core tenants of race weekend rituals: carbo-load the night before, set out your kit, wake up with peanut butter on toast and drink your fluids before lining up at the start. But coaches say there are a few other tips to help better prepare you for race day. “Experienced runners tend to know the basics, [but] to keep improving our race times, we need to fine-tune the small, but critical aspects,” said Coach Greg Niland, a certified RRCA and USATF coach.
Study the Course
David Manthey, owner and head coach at Runner’s Edge of the Rockies, suggests getting to know the ins and outs of the course so that you’re not surprised by any of its hills, turns or obstacles. “Some smaller half and full marathons will space out their aid stations a little further than the typical every two miles,” shared Manthey. “You may need to carry your own bottle if you’re trained to drink more frequently.”
As you study the course profile, also get to know its tangents so that you’re not your own worst enemy on race day. “Running wide on a turn in a race can be like adding .05 miles to your race distance and sadly, you aren’t getting credit for it,” shared Niland. “Mastering the tangents of a race course can really help your PR.”
If you can’t get training miles on the actual course beforehand, go online and read race reports and everything there is to know about the route. “I ran the 2004 Pikes Peak Marathon without stepping foot on the Barr Trail ahead of time,” said Manthey. “But I talked with everyone I could who had run the race previously, and also studied dozens of race reports, so I had a great mental picture of what to expect.”
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Manage the Course
Navigating the start and finish lines at major races can be a challenge in itself. Manthey advises understanding those logistics before race day. “For example, the start line at the [Walt] Disney World Marathon is more than a mile walk from the bag drop area, so you may need to wear throwaway sweats to stay warm before the start,” stated Manthey.
Along with knowing the course before race day, runners will also need to set a plan to manage the course so that they are prepared for whatever may come their way. “If the forecast is for conditions to warm up during the race, and you do not perform well in heat, plan to conserve energy for the later miles,” said Paul Carmona, head coach at Revel Race Series, an online coaching program.
Carmona also suggests rethinking how to segment the course. “Don’t break the course into ‘first half, second half,’ or ‘every 5 miles,’” he urged. “A segment could be a 10-mile flat section, a fast 2-mile downhill stretch or a half mile climb near the end.”
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Conquer Race Day Challenges
If you’ve prepared well in the days before, Manthey says you’ll wake up race morning with a clean slate mentally and are free to enjoy all of the pre-race energy and excitement.
Once on the course, Niland says to remember your training plan. In longer races, runners will face both mental and physical challenges, and to help push through those tough miles, he suggests recruiting a friend, pacer or even finding a fellow runner on the course.
“A great way to help your mental battle is with some distracting conversation from a fellow racer,” Niland says. “We want to avoid using our own precious oxygen for idle chatter, so we want to find a chatty runner and let them waste their own oxygen distracting us.”
If you prepare for the small details, you’ll set yourself up for more optimal performances on race day. “Knowledge and preparation are the best ways to curb anxiety and nerves about a race,” stated Carmona. “When runners know the course ahead of them, prepare for that course by studying…train for the unique characteristics of that course, and develop a course or race strategy that is based on the course profile, they can arm themselves with confidence in their ability to manage the race.”
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