After 18 years of running, I’ve learned that not all races are a great experience. While most of the time racing is fun, sometimes a race can be a complete festival of suffering. Some suffering is expected if you’re pushing your limits, and some suffering is caused by a poorly organized race, but there are also those occasions where a bad race experience is entirely your own fault.
Because I’ve probably made every single training and race mistake possible (and have suffered the consequences as a result), I thought I’d share my “what not to do” list so that you can avoid the suffering that I’ve gone through.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 1: Train
OK – this may seem like a no-brainer, but as you become an experienced runner there may be times when peer pressure gets the better of you and you register for a race because your running friends are doing the race too. If you aren’t in shape for the distance then the race becomes a complete festival of suffering. Depending on the distance, the suffering usually starts 1/2 way through the race, instead of the last 1/8th. 20 km of suffering for a marathon or 10 km for a half marathon is LONG time to suffer (trust me, I’ve done it).
It’s far better to find a good training plan and stick with it (long runs and all) so you can enjoy your race experience. Your race will be far better if you’re ready for the distance. If the race sneaks up on you, you can either cheer your friends on from the sidelines, or drop down to a shorter distance. An added bonus will be that your legs will thank you on Monday.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 2: Run a realistic pace
This goes along with tip #1. If you’ve trained to run a two hour half marathon, don’t line up with the 1:50 pace bunny. Telling yourself that you’ll hang on to that bunny for dear life for as long as you can, is a surefire way to end up in the medical tent and fighting an injury for weeks on end after the race. Chances are that going out too fast will cause you to miss your actual of 2 hours too.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 3: Don’t race injured
This is another one that probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ve done it. Limping for several kilometers is not only not fun, but it also leads to other new injuries. As tempting as it is to “rest” for a week before the race to let the injury get to a place where you can muscle through the race, it’s not advisable. Running injured is no joke. You’ll be far better off if you skip the race.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 4: Dress for the weather
While it’s easier to take layers off for a race, carrying them around for what seems like 3,000 miles isn’t fun. On the other side of the coin, freezing cold isn’t a great option either. Practice running in weather similar to what you’ll experience on race day so you can figure out your gear. Chances are if you followed tip #1 and trained you would have had a few opportunities to run in weather similar to the race day weather.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 5: Arrive to the race with ample time to go to the washroom
I have not been to a single race where the potty lines were short. Anxiously checking your watch while in line to make sure you don’t miss the race start is stressful. Running while having to go pee is also uncomfortable. Try to join the potty line 20-25 minutes before your race starts. Go too early and you’ll have to line up again 5 minutes before the start. Your bladder will thank me for this tip.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 6: Don’t try out new shoes on race day
I don’t know about you but race day is not the day that I want to find out that the beautiful new running shoes I paid two pay checks for cause blisters. Blisters suck. Blisters while you’re racing suck even more.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 7: Don’t try anything new for breakfast
Training (see tip #1) is also for training your stomach and figuring out what digests well (and what doesn’t). Some people have an iron stomach, and others not-so-much. It’s best not to find out on race day that alphaghetti for breakfast doesn’t agree with you.
How to Have a Great Race Experience Tip # 8: Don’t try the latest race nutrition fad on race day
Similar to race tip # 7, trying new gels