Recently a friend who is going to be running in her first 100k race the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, asked me for some race day advice. I also ran this same event last year as my first 100k race and I learned a lot from the experience. I gladly shared some of my insights as I wished to help her as best I could. This spurred the idea that I should share with others as well. I’ve learned so much from fellow runners since I ventured into ultra running and I don’t think I would have made it this far on my own without their generosity. Certainly not without a lot more pain, angst and slower progress. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a few important things that have been key in improving my race day performance.
Run your own race. When starting out in a race it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement. Adrenaline is flowing, everyone is rested and happy and it’s oh so easy to push harder than you should. If you are not paying attention you won’t even realize you are clipping along way faster than you should be. Know what your race pace is and stick to it. Following someone else’s pace or simply running too hard up that first hill climb will eventually catch up to you towards the latter stages of the race.
Be consistent in your training. Putting in consistent mileage, time on your feet, week in and week out helps prepare your body for the pounding it will take on race day.
Listen to your body. If something starts niggling at you don’t be overly stubborn and just keep pushing through it. This can lead to injury. Better to ease back on training a bit before something becomes a major issue. Be sensible in your training. Don’t get obsessed with reaching a specific mileage every week but instead be flexible as sometimes you get sick, get a minor injury or are just plain tired and on the verge of over training so know when to take an extra rest day. Better to miss a work out or two so you avoid injury and come back to your next run well rested and refreshed. And don’t forget to get enough sleep. You are pushing your body and it needs plenty of time to recuperate and it can’t do it properly without enough rest.
Practice using your equipment prior to race day. The first few hours of my first 100k race was in total darkness. The trails were single track, tight and rocky with sections with sheer drops down steep slopes. My headlamp of choice was lacking in a major way. It was great for rummaging around in a tent, but did hardly anything to light up the trail before me. I was extremely happy to see the sun come out later that morning.
Same goes for fueling needs. Know what you’ll be using and have it thoroughly tried out before the race. Also know what may be available at the aid stations, but realize that supplies run out and other things happen so not everything will be there as advertised. Don’t try eating or drinking something new during the race. You just don’t know if it will cause you stomach issues later down the trail.
Train on similar terrain as you’ll experience in the race. If it’s a hilly course, verify the amount of elevation gain and loss and prepare for it. Will it likely be a warm day or cool? High humidity or relatively dry? Expect the worst and hope for the best in what mother nature will throw at you. Better to have that extra layer of clothing or rain gear and not use it than to be stuck out in cold, windy, wet conditions and suddenly find yourself extremely uncomfortable or even hypothermic.
Seek advice from those who’ve been there. Don’t ignore the old coot in your local running group who looks like he could be your dad or even grandpa. He may very well have decades of experience and sage advice to offer. At one time he might have been able to run circles around you before time slowed him down.
Stay inspired. Set personal goals, daily, weekly and yearly to help motivate yourself. Have multiple goals set prior to a race. My first goal is always to just finish and have fun. My second goal is a finishing time that I think my training prior to the race makes realistically attainable. Lastly, if I’m really “on” during the race then I shoot for the last goal which may be a PR for that race or distance, or finishing in the top 20% or top three in my age bracket, etc. By having multiple goals and being flexible with them during the race will help you keep moving when things get rough. When in such a rough spot you will have to acknowledge that a PR is just not happening today, but you will realize you can still enjoy yourself out there and finish with a sense of accomplishment.
Read, read and read some more. The library, magazines, online blogs podcasts and websites can all be a wealth of information. Just be sure the source is a credible one. In my town one local shoe store carries books you can check out like a library. They have books available that my library may not and if I really love the book I can purchase it from them. Also, if your local library doesn’t carry a book you are interested in ask them to obtain it on loan from another branch. You might even be surprised that they may be willing to purchase it to add to their collection. I will list specific books, publications, web sites and podcast that I’ve found helpful in another post. For now try reaching out and exploring on your own.
Lastly, have a life outside of running. I believe it’s helpful and healthy to have other interests. Sometimes these can be complementary to your running. I myself have enjoyed photographing the natural landscape for years before running came along. I currently don’t pursue it as I used to, but I am not hesitant to spend some time photographing even if it means stopping during a long training run to pull out the camera and taking a few snaps of the scenery in front of me that I find so inspiring I also believe we need to be mindful that we don’t become so obsessed with running that these other parts of our lives begin to suffer such as your job and especially your family and friends. They often help us make running and attending races possible. They may have endured countless hours of hearing about our latest training runs, injuries, races, new gear we’d love to have etc. So be sure to give back plenty of love and friendship as well. They deserve it.
Hopefully some of you found some of this useful and feel free to leave your own comments with further suggestions. Until next time, happy trails!