Do you have a race plan?
This is an often overlooked part of preparing for an event. It does not matter if it is a 5K, sprint triathlon or marathon. You have done all the hard work of finding the time to train, learning how to prepare for your event and now it is race day. As you head to the start line, you’ve done everything you can to be ready for this race. Right?
Not so fast! (See what we did there?)
So many athletes walk to the start line thinking that the hard work is done and they have made it. And yet, they have no plan for what they are actually going to do on race day. There are a lot of issues to consider here. Will you warm up? What pace will you start? Are you planning for a faster finish by starting out conservatively? What is a conservative pace?
These are all pertinent and important issues. But, beyond these questions, there is another aspect of race planning that many have never considered.
Whether you are set to race a 5k, olympic triathlon or marathon, what is the course profile and how can you use it to your advantage on race day?
Using the ups and downs of a race course can help you keep your effort level consistent giving you energy and an advantage as you head towards that finish line.
Race Day Plan
For a goal race, you should certainly have a plan about what you are going to wear, when you need to leave, where you will park, will you do packet pick up, where are those porta potties, is there a drop bag option etc etc. And of course, you’ve figured out your race day nutrition and hydration strategy (if needed for longer events).
In training, you’ve figured out what approximate goal pace is for your distance. You’ve hopefully worked out what that dream goal pace and what a conservative goal pace is and of course, if conditions are going to be extreme (like excessive heat) you have a plan of what you need to do to modify your plan.
Many runners neglect to consider the course profile and know how you can use it to help you on race day. Here in the Seattle region, we are blessed (cursed!) with many hills so instead of dreading and hating them, let them help you.
Do Your Homework
Most races link an elevation chart of the race. If not, try mapping the course in one of the many popular apps such as Mapmyrun or gmap-pedometer. Don’t forget to pay attention to the scale. Does the course change over a few hundred feet or over a few thousand feet?
Doing your homework well in advance of the race and knowing what to expect for elevation changes means you have a chance to tailor your training to that type of course. Running on similar courses in training will help prepare your body and mind for the work on race day.
We also like to check out the course within google maps or google earth to find out if the course is exposed or shady. Will the course profile provide some protection from wind? Do you have any tree cover to help you in the heat?
Once you have a good idea of the elevation changes within a race, you can formulate a race plan to take advantage of your strengths and conserve your energy for when you need it. This applies to both shorter races and longer races. With longer races, the chance of blowing it can be greater!
Break it Down
Now that you know the overall picture, take a look at the course mile by mile (or even kilometer by kilometer) and write down what you plan to do. With uphill starts, take it easy and choose to go out at a relaxed pace. If the pace you’ve chosen feels hard, back off. If a course has a downhill start, don’t get sucked in. Stick to goal pace or just a little bit faster by just a few seconds at the most. It’s very easy to overreach in the first section of any race and a downhill start will make that tendency worse.
The goal is always to keep an even effort no matter the ups or downs or flats of the course. Sure this means you might back off and run slower uphill and even let a few people pass you. Later in the race you will have more energy in the tank having conserved energy on the uphills and will be able to keep pushing even harder when others cannot.
No matter what your plan is, you must always run your own race and run the race that you have in you on that particular race day. Check in honestly with how you are feeling, dig deep when you need to and relax when you can. If you know a course has good crowd support in particular places, use this boost when needed but don’t get so caught up that you forget your own race plan.
Race Day Plan Example
Here is an example of a race plan one of the CLA athletes used recently for a 30K run:
What Works for YOU
Some may really benefit from a detailed plan and for some it may be too much and a lot to remember. This is where training for the course profile can really help you. Do you find you are a better downhill runner or an uphill runner? When you get tired, do you have a tendency to wander off pace or do you speed up? How you answer these questions can help you formulate a better race day plan.
The lesson is to use the course profile to make little adjustments to your pace to keep your energy more constant throughout the entire run.
The more even the energy output the better you will feel at the end and the stronger you will run.
Don't forget! If this sort of planning overwhelms you and you are just not sure where to begin, Coach Lesley offers consulting sessions for your chosen sport. Contact her today!