Found on MapMyFitness and written by Nick Arciniaga
Everybody has done something to wreck a race at some point—including professional athletes. When I ran the Boston Marathon earlier this year, I sabotaged my race by going out way too hard and not adjusting my plan based on the weather. This allowed me to run aggressively with the leaders for nearly 9 miles; however, I paid for that dearly during the last 17 miles. Those final miles were long, excruciating lessons about going out too hard and not adjusting my pace.
As you approach the final few weeks of preparation and are forming your race plan, make sure you don’t sabotage your event by committing one of these common mistakes.
1. You don’t taper properly.
Often runners want to drop both their volume and intensity as they approach a big race. But this can lead to the body getting complacent, and you can lose touch with what your race-pace effort feels like. Other times, people don’t want to decrease their training at all. In this case, you will likely start the race already fatigued—and you might be unable to reach your goals.
Physiologically, the body doesn’t gain any fitness within 10 days of a race—so this would be the point to decrease your training volume and focus on the intensity of your workouts.
A taper is specific to each individual, and you should learn what your body responds to best. If you run your best workouts while doing higher volume, I would recommend keeping your volume during the taper at about 80% of the maximum weekly mileage you completed during training. Keep the intensity level right around race pace for any harder efforts during the taper. If you find your training is best when your volume is lower, keep your volume during the taper at 70% of your max weekly training mileage—or even a little less—and make sure that your intensity remains the same during your taper as when you were at your peak mileage.
Keep in mind that intensity is not necessarily pace, but your perceived effort during training runs and workouts. As you taper and your volume drops, faster paces will be easier to hit, even while running at the same intensity.
2. Your goals don’t match your current fitness.
Goals should be set at the beginning of a training cycle and should be based on your current level of fitness—not where you think you should be, but where you actually are. A good way to set your initial goals is to run a time trial early in your training cycle. I would recommend having this time trial be about 1/4 of your goal race distance. This will set a barometer for what your pace in workouts should be and what you can expect to run at the end of your race buildup.
You should also have intermediate goals during your training to check if you are on pace to achieve your goal. You can do this by having additional time trials every 3–4 weeks to track your progression.
If you go into the race and your training has been lackluster, then you should adjust your goal to better match your current fitness. If your training has been stellar and you think you can far surpass your initial goals, then go for a quicker pace—but I would caution to wait until later in the race to be more aggressive.
3. You go out too fast.
Don’t get caught up in the idea that “putting time in the bank” is the best plan for a race. If you go out faster than you prepared, you are setting your race up for failure. The best strategy for running a personal best time or finishing better than you have before is by running even (the same pace per mile during the race) or negative splits (a faster pace per mile during the second half of the race). Almost all of the world records from 1,500 meters to the marathon have been set by even or negative splits.
4. You refuse to adjust for bad weather.
Bad weather can be blamed for so many disappointing races. Whether it is hot, humid, cold, windy, rainy or snowy, you need to make sure you go into a race willing to adjust for weather conditions. In most cases, the answer is to be more conservative with your pace. In colder weather, bring spare clothing that you don’t mind tossing away once your body warms up. In hot, humid weather, you may need to sip a sports drink to replace electrolytes.
5. You try to be the pacesetter for too long.
Whether you are leading the race or a pace group, you are expending more energy than those around you. You are possibly even aiding those around you by being the pacesetter. Some runners feel better when leading, but most of the time people feel the need to be in front because that is where they believe they are supposed to be. During a race, try to make yourself comfortable with being pulled along. Make friends out on the course, as well; if you are in a group, work out a system where everyone contributes to setting the pace.
6. You entertain negative thoughts during your race.
Negative self-talk happens when you approach the final few weeks until race day, or even during a race, when your confidence is low and you doubt your ability to reach your goal. You begin telling yourself that you aren’t going to make it or your goals are completely out of reach. Most of the time, these thoughts are just nerves and anxiety.
In training, implement a positive self-talk regimen. Give yourself a mantra and some encouraging phrases to say during your training and races. After your training and race are over, analyze your self-talk regimen. Pick out the positive points. Constantly remind yourself that each day you run is a day that you are gaining fitness.
7. You try something new—and it doesn’t work.
Very often, I hear about runners who try a new racing strategy or implement a new training stimulus at the recommendation of friends. This can lead to the body fatiguing unexpectedly during the race. The human body is very adaptable, but when you introduce something new (mentally or physically), it takes time for your body to adapt. I always stand by the saying “Never try anything new on race day.”
The best time to try something new is during training. However, your body can only handle 1 or 2 new stimuli at a time, so make sure that when you are trying something new you’re doing it at a point in training that your body can a) handle the change and b) have an appropriate amount of recovery for the change to show a positive effect.