The Importance of Knowing Your Race Course
It is race day and you are physically trained and ready to race, but was your training enough to give you the edge to have your best race? There is an easy way to have your best race and the competitive edge over all of your competition on race day; know the race course. How many races have you gone to and had that stinking feeling in your stomach that you are not sure if you are ready for what you are about to get into? Or worried about whether you have the right gear for the terrain you are about to head off into? You have better things to be thinking about at the starting line of your race such as: mentally seeing yourself racing the course successfully, where you are going to take it easy, and where you can push. Basically, you will have more confidence in your abilities and be able to run a smart race.
What’s the Big Deal About Knowing the Race Course?
I don’t know about you, but I have been in races wondering where the next aid station was going to be, how far it was to the finish, did I just climb the last mountain? Concentrating on these things consumes a lot of energy. The first time I ran the Leadville Trail 100 there was only one section that I did not pre-run. This section turned out to be mentally the toughest section of the race for me. I kept thinking that the aid station was right around the corner and every time that it was not there I sunk a little more. The worst part about this section was that I passed up an opportunity to run it, but felt that I really did not need to know that section. Boy, was I ever wrong.
I had a similar situation in the 11 mile Hardrock Snowshoe Race in 2009. It was an out-and-back format and I thought I was familiar with the trail; come on, I hiked it once about 5 years earlier. Wow, I was shocked that the first three miles was mostly uphill at an elevation of about 8,500 feet. I also had a mentally hard time getting to the turn-around. It seemed to take forever to get there and I thought I was closer than it actually was. On the return I was in fourth place and fifth place was in sight behind me. So, I decided that since there was only about one mile left I would make my move. I started pushing hard to the finish. Unfortunately, the finish was a bit over two miles away and it was brutal getting to the finish. I did manage to keep fourth place, but I could have snowshoed a much smarter race.
Get to Know Your Race Course
It does not matter what type of competition that you are racing, whether it is a trail running race, triathlon, or mountain bike race. Whatever the race, you will have an edge over your competition knowing the course. There are many ways to get familiar with the terrain that you will be racing. It is as simple as going to the race website and studying the course maps and descriptions, driving the marathon course (the Cleveland Marathon actually had buses from the race expo to take runners for a ride on the course), pre-riding a mountain bike course, talk with a friend who has done the race before, etc. Basically, if you want to have your best race, just add knowing the race course to your training.
I will be snowshoe racing the Hardrock Snowshoe Race again this year, so I decided to make a day of getting to know the course. I took my dog Simon and went for a long hike. We hiked the entire 12 miles of the race course and I was mentally taking notes where the first climb ended, how long the climbs were, how long the descents were, and mental markers for the turn-around. Even in hiking the race course the turn-around seemed to take forever to reach. I actually thought that I was off the course and was going the wrong way. I am so glad that I am mentally prepared for this year’s race.
Get the Advantage of Having Power over the Things in Your Control
What do I mean by “Get the Advantage of Having Power over the Things in Your Control”? I mean that if there is a big climb in your race every racer will have to climb it. If the weather is awful, well every other racer is racing in the same conditions. However, if you have a technical problem say with your bike; this condition is only affecting you. Knowing the race course is within your control. There will be other competitors that do not know the course and they will be having issues that you will not be having. Now you have the edge on them. Bottom line is that there should be no surprises on race day.
Well, there should be no surprises that are in your control on race day. Here is an important tip: even if you have done the race in the past and think you know the course, double check to see if the course has changed. I had two incidents in which this has happened to me. The first was at the Twin Sizzler in Medina, Ohio. The Twin Sizzler is a road bike race and a separate 10k running race. I was racing the road bike race. The road bike race is about 27 miles and I had raced it in the previous year. I thought I knew the course. I was again with the lead group of riders coming into town for the finish. Last year I knew that as soon as we cross over the railroad tracks we would start the sprint to the finish. With this in mind I was waiting to get to the tracks to make my move. Then to my surprise the pack started sprinting about four blocks away from the railroad tracks. I was taken by surprise and ended up finishing in fifth place. I was thinking to myself, “What just happened?”
What happened was the race director had moved the finish because the prior year a train came through town and cut the finish line off from a lot of racers that were still out on the course. It was heart breaking because I thought that I really had a chance to win my first road bike race. Not knowing about the change in the race course let my opportunity slip away.
The other incident happened at the 2009 Leadville Trail 100. The day before the race they had to change the race course. Yes, I was not happy about not knowing the new section, but I reminded myself that this change was affecting everyone just the same. And, although the section was mentally tough for me on the return during the night, I tried to keep in mind that most of the runners were probably experiencing the same things that I was during this section.
Adjusting your Training to the Race Course
If you have a “goal” race in mind that you are training hard to do your best in, it will be to your advantage to know the race course. If you are lucky enough to live close to the course I would suggest training on the course as much as possible. If training on the actual race course is not possible, then get to know the course and adjust your training to simulate the terrain that you will be racing. If the race course has a lot of lung busting hills, then include hill climbing in your training. If the race course is flat and fast, then include speed workouts.
If the race that I am competing in is an important event I will study the course maps, know the terrain, visit blogs, and train on the course when possible. The homework of studying the course will make race day more enjoyable when you know that you raced your best race and have no excuses about the terrain, how far apart the aid stations were, how the course changed . . . no excuses to cry baby about your performance. Be smart about your race; know the course, cross the finish line, and congratulate yourself for giving your best performance.