Thursday, March 31, 2016

Five Race Day Reality Truths



What are your thoughts on racing?

Do you embrace the start line of a race? Does the thought of lining up with a bunch of others feel intimidating, or does it give you a rush of adrenaline?


Here's a mere five lessons in racing reality I have had to learn (and relearn) over the course (no pun intended) of almost 11 years of running:

1. Although you cannot control the race day conditions, you can control how you train.
This little lesson became crystal clear in my very early years of running when I was in love with my treadmill (yes, there was a time when I actually adored that beast). I could run three easy miles on it in the comfort of an air-conditioned setting (with an additional fan blowing on me) and a television screen to distract my attention.

I used to whine and complain about how hard it was to run hills, and the outdoor air was so treacherous with all that Iowa humidity. It just wasn't fair that race officials would plan out a race course with difficult hills or complicated hairpin turns. And, it really wasn't fair to allow the race to start "on time" if there was rain or extreme wind present.

Whaa!

There were excuses aplenty for my (usual) less-than-stellar experiences. When I transitioned to running outdoors, things dramatically changed. Although I wasn't a fan of heat (or extreme cold), I no longer feared them. Hmmmm. So, until you can find a race that allows (and guarantees) participants the luxury of "perfect" race day conditions, you'll do yourself a big favor if you prepare for it by doing some (if not most) of your training outside.

2. If you're blessed with perfect race day conditions, so is everybody else. 
Some days, you'll wake up to optimal conditions on race day morning. Perfect weather, a great breakfast, and a flat course usually makes for a great experience, and possibly a PR. I can't tell you the number of times I've showed up at a race feeling like I was gonna dominate the day (which is silly, since I'm really not super fast) only to be passed by a large number of the crowd at the finish line.

Last year, I did my first duathlon. It was a pretty hot and humid day in Iowa, with plenty of wind as well. The biking leg was 20 miles long, and the first five miles were straight into a massive head wind. It was an out-and-back trek, and as I was approaching those final five miles I was almost giddy with excitement at the thought of how much time I would make up with what would then be a mighty  tail wind to take me home! I was envisioning passing several cyclists as I cruised (effortlessly) to the transition station and then finishing the event with a victorious sprint to the finish line. The thing is....everyone else ALSO got to relish that same tail wind. (Duh!) And most of us looked like arthritic zombies as we practically fell off our bikes and tried to make our way through the final 1.5 mile jaunt of the race on foot.

3. How you place is always contingent on who else shows up as well. 
Similarly, there have been times I have eyed the field of women who appear to be in my age group. I admit that I enjoy age group awards as much as the next person. After all, with my middle-of-the-pack speed, placing in the top three is not an every-race occurrence. That said, showing up at a "small" race will not necessarily guarantee you a top-three finish. And, sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised to bring home an age group award. None the less, you can run a great race and finish with a substantial PR...but still not make the top three in your age group.


Case in point, several years ago I did an 8K race with friend. I had just "graduated" into the next age  bracket, so I was excited to not have so many "youngsters" in my field of competition. Also, I had captured the 2nd place age group award the year prior, so I was (smugly) a little over confident (and hoping to take home another AG medal). My race went well, I even PR'd my finish time from the previous year! I finished almost an entire minute ahead of my friend, and she felt great, too. Guess what? Even with a faster time than the year prior, four other "old ladies" finished ahead of me. And my friend? She placed in the top three of her age group. How's that for a smack in the face and a big serving of humble pie?

4. It's in your best interest to run your own race.
You have probably heard this before. Yes, you may find comfort in having someone else pace you. Or perhaps you thrive on counting how many bodies you can pass in that final mile. Maybe you need the constant crowd support to keep yourself in motion. These are all great little "crutches" to have...but there's nothing more fulfilling than knowing you did it on your own. This also goes hand-in-hand with training. Group runs are a fantastic way to get the miles done, but what if you have a long run scheduled and no one else is able to show up? Could you knock out those 15+ miles all by yourself? What happens if you're in a race and you suddenly need to walk...are you gonna expect someone to pullover and walk with you? Granted, a true (runner) friend will stick with you no matter what...but is it fair to them?



5. Not every race will be a PR race.
Shocker, huh! Some races just need to be ran and not raced. Of course that's easy for me to say, since I'm not typically in contention for placing unless it's a small race on a cold day. I think most "new" runners want to keep getting faster and faster with each new race. What they will eventually realize is there's this (somewhat) annoying condition call plateauing.

Plateauing isn't all bad, though it is incredibly frustrating. It's a neat accomplishment to reach a point where you can maintain your fitness and (dare I say?) speed. But the more racing you do, the PR's will start to become few and far between. You've probably heard of athletes "peaking" in their performance, and that often happens to runners as well. I love a PR as much as the next person, but I no longer expect them nor do I take them for granted when they occur. And I try to simply enjoy running for the simple act of fitness that it is. I'm thankful to have discovered this sport, and I plan to keep with it forever.
pic from PanFoto
Have you experienced any of these Race Day Truths yourself?

I'm linking up with the DC gals for their Friday Five..today's theme is Fitness. A big thanks to Mar at Mar on the Run, Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC and Cynthia at You Signed Up For What for hosting this great event! Head over and check out their blogs as well as all the other blogs to see what everyone's talking about!














22 comments:

  1. Oh I read this and laughed about #3. I was very disappointed when I had aged up to the #reallyoldlady category and did not come home with first place at a local race! As you say, it just matters who shows up on the day and on that day, I would have won in the 55-59 category but not 60-64. Darn all those speedy old ladies!

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    1. yes, it was real eye-opening to see the competition amongst the older gals...Fierce!

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  2. All of them! And yes to #3. That Sarasota half was humbling--there were a lot of fast old ladies in my group! Sigh.

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    1. I agree---it seems like there's fewer "old" gals, but the ones in running shoes mean business LOL

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  3. Oh I know about plateauing! Since my injury I have definitely lost speed so i'm not working on PR's anymore, just trying to get back to where I once was. Good perspective on racing!

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    1. I'm not a competitive person by nature, so I try to enjoy the events without making them a big competition. I'm thankful to just be lacing up and moving LOL

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  4. Definitely a great perspective. I am probably not ever going to place and it looks like I am slowing down as well so I likely "plateaued" pretty early in my running career. Time to look for some new goals and not let the other stuff get me down!

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    1. I see so many people posting about their pace, and speed, and constant training...Good for them if that what works for THEM. I have realized it's foolish to compare other peoples' goals against my own. (it took me awhile for that revelation LOL)

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  5. Replies
    1. thanks!! Running (and racing) certainly keeps us humble ;-)

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  6. I agree with all of your points! Whenever the weather is really bad and I'm running, I think about how that run is preparing me for bad weather on race day. That turns what could be a "bad run" into a good training run.

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    1. That's a great perspective! I'll try to remember that next time I'm stuck outside, battling the crazy Iowa weather (it's 37-degrees today with 27mph wind!)

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  7. I agree with every single thing you said here. I do train outdoors but am pretty picky about my conditions. Then, I freak when I have to race in non-perfect conditions. When I had to race in Florida (humidity) and in Dallas (freezing and windy) I thought I was going to die. lol Felt so tough! I am sure the locals didn't have a problem at all.

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    1. The non-perfect conditions certainly are a downer on race day! At Grandma's Marathon last June, we had a major downpour before the race began...and steady rain for the first couple hours. UGH!!

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  8. Great points! It's easy to want a PR. It's harder to train for it and push for it during the race!

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    1. Absolutely....sometimes the results just don't match the efforts. That's OK...all that hard work makes us stronger ;-)

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  9. As someone who has never won an AG award (and never expects to) . . .

    I love running in a group, but I've run alone a LOT, so I never have any doubt that I can knock out the long ones alone.

    All great points, though!

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    1. Thanks, Judy! Most of my early years (as a runner) were spent on the road, solo. I've learned the benefits of both running with others and by myself ;-)

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  10. This is exactly what I needed to read. I raced on Saturday in the crazy wind and just had a poor race. I forget sometimes why I race/run...because I love to do it and not every race is going to be great. Thanks for posting. I needed this reminder.

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! These are lessons I've learned, and often forget about them in the midst of struggle (which is usually when I need them most). Happy running ;-)

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  11. All great truths! I have ran my best races ever this past year, and I didn't place in a one, but i still felt like I won lol

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    1. Exactly! Like I said, the placing is contingent on who else shows up.... I have run many races where I felt like I totally gave it all I had, and that was enough.

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