It’s a safe bet the race is going to be tough when the race director sends out an email a few days beforehand to alert every one of a tough hill at the end of the race course. He says, “We just wanted to be sure everyone is prepared.” And, oh by the way, second that thought when this same race director says t-shirts will be available after the race that say “I Survived the Catamount Climb!” It’s at this point you kind of want to switch from race strategy to survival strategy.
So, when you wake up on race morning, how do you get from bedroom slippers to the finish line?
1. First, back it up to a good night’s sleep.
No, not really. Actually, never. Does anyone sleep well the night before a race? I always intend to but something always goes wrong. One of my poodles, Dylan, likes to talk a lot. He decided to talk to everything going on outside that night and little Mr. Boggs chimed in just to practice his big boy bark. This went on all night.
Fortunately, the most important night to sleep well is the night-before-the-night-before a race. Somehow we all do just fine with little to no sleep just before race morning.
2. Don’t start too fast.
it seems like you could decide when and how to use up the available energy for race day but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. I read of one elite runner that runs the first half as fast as he can and just pulls himself through the last half. Most of us crash too hard for this to be a winning strategy though.
The best approach for the beginning miles is to run to yourself – let everyone pass you if they must. Run a comfortable pace and don’t let yourself get caught up in the frenzy. When the rookie runners are coughing and wheezing just a few miles into the race, you’ll still be accelerating.
3. Squeal your wheels through the inside turns.
If you’re racing a car, you’d want to cross over to the inside lane to take the turn really fast. If you’re feeling in control on your bike, you lean into that turn with your inside pedal up and fly like the wind. The same principle applies to running.
When I was preparing for my first marathon, I read everything the race organizers sent out. One of their topics was how to keep the race at 26.2 miles – not further. This gets your attention, right? Seems the shortest distance is gained by taking all the turns on the inside. Running on the outside of a turn can add miles to a race.
4. Walk if necessary.
A minute of walking may be all you need. On Saturday, I walked on the Catamount Climb – it was monstrous and it wasn’t the first hill in the race! If for no other reason than mental, I needed to catch my breath. I also walked through the aid stations. The key is to force yourself not to take too long a break. Sometimes its hard to start moving those legs again but it only gets harder the longer you wait.
5. Segment the course.
In the first half of the race, the segments may be quite long – maybe to the halfway point. Then as you get tired and deep into the middle miles, the segments get shorter. In a half marathon, I break the race into 3 parts: the first half, and two 3-mile segments. I always tell myself I can run 3 miles no matter what. It’s a distance I feel I can survive even when it hurts bad. In a marathon, the segments are two 10-mile segments and two 3-miles. The last 385 yards are run on pure adrenaline.
On Saturday, I finished first in my age group and 13th overall female. It was one of the toughest courses I’ve run so I was relieved my strategy got me through. At one point I was actually telling myself, just get through this race and you can run slow for ten weeks.
So, that’s my last bit of racing advice – tell yourself whatever you need to hear to get the job done!
Lies, bribes or threats – from slippers all the way to the finish line if necessary.