In this article, we look at managing your race--ensuring you do everything in your power to achieve the best possible outcome. That means doing a lot more than simply arriving on the start line and hoping for the best, having done a few training runs!
Good race management begins many weeks before race day. Depending on the type of race you are doing and your level of experience, you should have a training plan. This could be found on Zwift--for example, the 3 Run 13.1 plan is perfect for anyone prepping for a half marathon. Or you could source a plan from the wealth of generic plans available online, get a bespoke plan designed by your coach, or even write your own.
Your training plan doesn’t have to be overly prescriptive. If you are an experienced runner, you may know what works for you and be able to manage your sessions on an ad hoc basis. Others will benefit from a written plan giving precise instructions for what should be done each day.
Nutrition and Hydration
Whatever you do, don’t rock up on race day, especially for a marathon or a half, with no idea of what you’re going to eat or drink.
Planning your nutrition and hydration regime starts at the same time as your training plan. If you are a new runner or you are stepping up the distance you should start experimenting with what works for you.
Gastric issues are the number one reason for DNFs in distance racing. So try a few things out. Can you survive on just water? How much water do you need? Do you sweat more or less than average? What about in hot weather? Can you stomach gels without nausea? Do you need some real food: fruit, nuts, chocolate, sandwiches? Or can you manage with a sports drink?
It’s always useful to find out what food and drink will be available at aid stations during your race. If you know they will be issuing a specific brand of sports drink then you could start using that brand in your training to get used to it. If it doesn't agree with you, make alternative plans.
What you wear on race day is arguably as important as what you eat. There’s a very common saying in the running community: ‘Nothing new on race day’. Of course, we break that rule all the time, but it’s worth keeping in mind and it applies to clothing as much as nutrition and hydration.
Experiment from day one with clothing for race day. Consider the weather conditions you’ll be running in and choose appropriate clothing for that. Choose clothing that you enjoy wearing and that feels comfortable. If you wear this regularly prior to your race, you’ll be able to identify areas that rub and could cause chafing. You can then either try different clothing or use anti-chafe cream on those areas.
It’s important to have the right shoes for the job. Do you need road shoes or trail shoes? Will you sacrifice comfort for a lightweight fast shoe or do you want lots of cushioning, which may be a little heavier?
You might have a preferred brand of running shoe or you may need to experiment with a variety of brands during your training to see what works best for you.
Whether you’re a new or experienced runner, you should set a target time for your race. For new runners this can seem daunting--many new runners just want to enjoy their first experience of racing and don’t want to be tied to a time. “I just want to finish,” they say.
That is a perfectly acceptable strategy. However, if you train properly and manage your race appropriately, achieving a target time can give you a greater sense of accomplishment than merely finishing.
Work Out Your Pace
During your training, you should start to figure out how fast you can cover various distances. Your training will consist of short fast tempo runs and slower longer distance runs. Looking at your times for these runs should give you an idea of your overall running pace.
If you are training for a half marathon, you might do a 10km run as part of your training. If you cover this relatively comfortably in 1 hour, you could argue that you might be able to complete your half marathon race in 2 hours. If you finish 10km in 1 hour but you are absolutely exhausted at the end, then you might predict a half marathon finish of 2 hours 20 minutes.
There is no point in setting an unrealistic target. Your 1-hour 10km time means it would be unrealistic to set your half marathon target at 1 hour 45. Setting a sensible target gives you targets for your training, a goal to strive for, and provides a solid race plan.
Preparation is key. You have done the weeks of training. You have your nutrition, hydration and clothing dialed in and you have a target time set.
Arrive early enough to register, pin on your race bib/number, use the restroom, and find the correct start pen. Smaller races won’t have pens and you simply stand where you feel is most appropriate for your pace in the crowd. Bigger races will have segregated starting areas based on estimated finish times--which is another reason to set a target time since you won’t be allowed in a starting pen which is faster than your estimated time.
There are various ways to race and experience plays a big part in how you choose to run. Some runners blast out of the blocks and try to bank as much time or distance as they can before they get tired. Some start uber slow and work their way into the race. But by far the most efficient way to run is with even pacing throughout.
Speeding up and slowing down wastes energy and tires the muscles faster than a consistent pace. Running at a consistent pace also makes it easier to maintain consistent form (posture, cadence, stride length). All these things contribute to energy efficiency.
If you have set a realistic target and done the training, you should be able to hold the same pace consistently for most if not all of the race. If things go really well, you might even be able to speed up a little towards the end.
If your race is 10km and you want to finish in under an hour, you need to be running at just under 6.2mph or 6min/km. If you want to finish a half marathon in under 2 hours, your average pace should be 9min/mi or 5:40 per kilometer. Know the average pace you need to maintain for your race and stick to it from the first mile to the last.
Planning and Execution
Good race management starts with a realistic plan and finishes with the execution of that plan on race day. The more experienced you become, the more fine-tuned your plan becomes and the more efficiently you execute it.
Deviating from a good plan is always a risk. Sometimes it pays off--elite athletes will often take that risk in the hope of a marginal gain over the competition. But for the rest of us, good race management is a vital part of having a successful and enjoyable race.