Race Prep: Time to Sweat the Small Stuff

Pete Hitzeman

Managing Editor and Coach

CrossFit, Cycling, Endurance Sports, Running

There are few feelings as totally gutting as when catastrophe strikes your race day. All the months of preparation, the dozens or even hundreds of hours of training, the anticipation, the new shoes, the aches and pains you’ve endured—all suddenly rendered meaningless when things start to fall apart. You feel the blisters coming at mile four. Your legs tie up halfway through the first hill. You get a new and unexpected cramp just as you settle into race pace.

 

Some circumstances will be beyond your control on race day, but a solid preparatory routine can spell the difference between mere difficulty and disaster. As your next big race approaches, keep in mind the following tips.

 

 

If You’re Going to Race in It, Train in It

Nobody likes training in crap weather. As I look out my window right now, it’s 42°F and raining, and it very well may be the same when I line up on Sunday morning. I can’t say I relish the idea of flirting with hypothermia, but I also know I can handle it, because I do it all the time.

 

Nature will always have a say, so the question you have to ask yourself is if you’re willing to trash your registration fee and months of planning and hard work if the sky and temperature don’t cooperate with your plans. If the answer is no, then you’d probably better suck it up in your training as well.

 

Training in adverse conditions has two major benefits. First, if the weather ends up being great on race day, it’ll be a far easier day than some of your training, which gives you a mental edge. And if the weather is miserable, you’ll have the confidence of having been there already. You’ll know what to expect from your body, what gear to select, and what mistakes to avoid. While everybody else in the start corrals shivers and looks at the sky with trepidation, you’ll be calm and focused on the task ahead.

 

Test Everything Early

As you’re hopping around in the corral during the pre-race announcements to stay warm, everything on and in your body, from head to toe, should be something you know everything about. Shoes, socks, compression, shorts, top, headphones, gels, water bottles, all of it. You should have at least one dress rehearsal under your belt with everything you intend to race with, minus your bib number.

 

And that doesn’t mean you took an easy jog around the parking lot a week ago in those new shoes, either. Things that feel good on a casual 5k might be an absolute nightmare at mile 18. Your shakedown for your gear should be of sufficient fidelity to give you a good indication of how it will work in the real deal. That doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon before your marathon, but at least one of your long runs before your taper should be in full regalia.

 

Get Your Kit Together

Nothing is surer to sabotage your experience than rushing around the morning of the race, trying frantically to piece everything together, only to find out your favorite shorts are in the laundry. Set out your entire kit the night before. If you’re traveling, pack your race bag at least a day ahead of time. For races with more moving pieces (triathlons, longer bike events), it may be useful to create a checklist in the week before the race, so you can simply mark things off as you add them to your bag.

 

If the weather looks like a wildcard, take extras of things. Socks, arm warmers, anti-chafing products, and nutrition cost you very little room in your bag, but can make a huge difference if that cold front storms through the region a few hours earlier than forecast. For longer races where the temperature might change dramatically, hit up your local thrift store for some throw-away sweatshirts, pants, hats, and gloves.

 

 

Know Where to Go

You know that annoying stream of emails the race director sends you, in the weeks and days before the event? Yeah, you probably should read those. Know where to park, where the expo is, where the bag check will be, and what the corral procedures are. The less you have to wander around in a panic on race morning, the more you can focus on your race strategy and having a good time.

 

This includes knowing the course itself. Spend a little time studying the course map, especially the elevation chart. If you can, go drive the course the day before, so you know where the hills and rough spots might be. Fear and anxiety are rooted in the unknown, so the better idea you can have of what’s ahead of you, the easier your race will seem. And heaven forbid the course marshals make a mistake (it does happen, folks), you won't suffer the nightmare of having your race shortened or lengthened, because you'll know which way you're supposed to go.

 

Have a Plan

I’m always surprised by the number of racers I talk to who have no idea what they’re going to do once the gun goes off. If you intend to get the most out of yourself, you simply won’t do it without at least an outline of a plan. You may deviate from that plan during the actual event, but without one going in, you’re almost guaranteed to either blow up, or leave way too much in the tank by the end.

 

Your plan should include your intended pace, with accommodations for elevation. Also remember to leave some wiggle room for crowding during the opening miles. Unless you start at the very front, there’s a good chance you’ll need to do some bobbing and weaving before you find clear air and can settle into your race pace. Also, know where the water stops are, which ones you intend to hit, and where you plan to take in your nutrition. I like to make sure I have a water station not long after I eat a gel, so I can wash the sticky off my lips and fingers.

 

race weekend plan

The more complicated your race weekend, the more detailed your plan will need to be. Write it down, and you're less likely to miss something.

 

Sweat the Details to Relax on Race Day

Over time, many of the strategies in this article will harden into your own pre-race ritual. Even so, you should never replace meticulous preparation with habit, because even a small thing (like an unexpected phone call while you’re packing your race bag) can make you forget something important. Make your lists, check them twice, and don’t skip any steps that have worked for you in the past.

 

Your training for your big race this weekend might be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop paying attention. Sweating the small stuff in the days before the race will help ensure that you arrive at the start line calm, prepared, and focused on what you’re there to do. Nobody enjoys being in a panic, and very few people thrive under anxiety. If you want to have the race of your life, take care of every detail you can think of well before the gun goes off.

 

 

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