Many people are coming off of a racing hiatus. Whether you’ve been away from the start line for over a year due to the pandemic, or you’re just finishing up your off-season, or you’ve never even lined up for an event before, racing can bring up a lot of nervous energy. When the adrenaline is pumping, it can be difficult to make clear and well-thought-out decisions. For that reason, it is important to plan out your race strategies ahead of time and stick to them on race day! To help you plan a little smarter and to help you stay true to those plans, I’ve outlined the 5 biggest mistakes to avoid on race day.
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1. “Testing” the field
This is a classic and it happens all too often. After a long racing hiatus, everyone is a little nervous and unsure of how they stack up against the competition. That is completely normal. The best strategy is to practice patience and watch where you naturally feel stronger or weaker than the competition. Then, plan out your attack and execute with conviction.
It is a big mistake to continually “test” the field. Many people, when unsure how they stack up against the competition, will test the field by continually throwing half-hearted attacks. These attacks are intended to see how the competition responds, but not intended to actually break away. One or two of these attacks may be a needed confidence boost, but any more than that and you are simply tiring yourself out. True confidence is a willingness to be patient and to attack like you mean it.
2. Forgetting to eat or drink
With all of the excitement, eating and drinking can easily fall by the wayside. In my experience, a race day nutrition strategy has to be planned to a “T.” If you only intend to eat when you feel like you need it, then you’ll probably get caught up in the race and falter. You may feel like you save time and energy by resisting the urge to reach back into your pocket and grab some food, but you’ll likely suffer for it in the final moments of the race.
Instead, plan your nutrition and the timing. Plan to eat a specific food at a specific time during the race and stick with that plan no matter how you are feeling when the time comes. Be intellectual rather than emotional about your race-day nutrition.
3. Pacing fails
Pacing is like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, some pace too slow, some start too fast, and some pace just right. In order to plan a quality pacing strategy, use both metrics from your training as well as the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Heart rate and power are excellent ways to create guidelines for pacing. On race day though, sometimes, you gain another level of ability from the adrenaline and motivation. For this reason, you’ll also want to incorporate RPE.
Using heart rate and power try creating a bottom line or a cap to how hard or easy you are willing to go in the initial moments of the race. Then, within that range use how you are feeling to guide your effort. Consider checking in with yourself every 15 minutes or so and ask, “Is this sustainable?” “Is this too challenging?” Then, adjust your effort accordingly.
4. Trying something brand new
This is an oldie but goodie. Never try something brand new on race day. It sounds obvious now, but when your buddy is raving about his gels in the parking lot before the race, you may feel tempted to try one out. When you are hearing horror stories about cramping on the start line, you may be tempted to grab an extra salt pill at the aid station. Stick with what you know and don’t be tempted to race with someone else’s strategy without trying it in training first.
5. Not being flexible
I have often seen people fail to have a good race, simply because they thought they were not having a good race. Sometimes you just have to be flexible with your goals. When you hold on too tightly to one idea, you may miss the target entirely.
If you have a time goal for a specific event and you are facing challenging weather conditions, don’t be afraid to alter your time goal to reflect the conditions. If you have a placement goal and some of your competitors don’t show up, don’t be afraid to increase your goal. Be flexible as the conditions change.
Focus on the Process
Instead of focusing on a specific race outcome, instead, focus on the process. Try to make a few goals that are completely within your control and execute those objectives to the best of your ability. Then, no matter the outcomes of the race, you’ll have progress to celebrate.