Getting fit is one thing. Expressing that fitness as a great race performance is another.
Discovering the difference will have a fundamental impact on how you perform.
In the early years of Coached, we noticed a strange occurrence among a number of our athletes.
These athletes, who we tested in our Coached Lab, had emerged with solid test results. For some reason, however, their performance on the racecourse simply wasn’t meeting their expectations.
These were fit individuals, and we had clear data to prove it. So why weren’t their results demonstrating a matching performance?
After attending countless races and dissecting these races with our athletes, we started to see that it wasn’t their level of fitness limiting their results on race day.
It was the way they were expressing their fitness - their race execution.
Race day is about execution, not fitness.
On race day, there is no changing your fitness level. Your fitness level was determined by the preparation (or lack of preparation) that you chose to do in the months leading up to race day.
At the starting line, you’re either fit to race or you’re not. What you’re aiming for is to perform to the best of your ability, and achieve the best result you’re capable of.
To do so you’ll need to execute a smart and controlled race.
While executing a smart race sounds like a simple task, doing it in the real world is not so straightforward. Race day presents us with a unique set of circumstances that are hard to replicate in training, and thus provide a real challenge when we’re on the start line.
These circumstances include:
- Your body being in a fresh state.
- High levels of adrenalin.
- Everyone around you starting too fast.
These circumstances combine to give you a false sense of how you’re feeling and can lead to poor execution. Smart and experienced athletes recognise the role these circumstances play and use extreme control when executing their race.
Why these circumstances make it hard for us.
We’ll share exactly what’s happening to you, and how it adversely affects your race.
Your body is in a fresh state.
After many hard weeks of training, volume tapers down in the final weeks in preparation for race day. During this taper, you recover, rehydrate and top up the glycogen stores in your muscles leaving you feeling fresh and ready to race.
When you’re fresh, it’s easy to run too fast at the beginning because you feel much better then you have in recent training when you’ve been heavy and tired.
High levels of adrenalin.
On top of feeling like a million bucks because you’re fresh, your body responds to the race atmosphere (crowds, pumping music etc), with an injection of the adrenalin, a hormone your body naturally produces. Adrenalin raises your heart rate as part of our built-in fight-or-flight response.
In cases where we get over-excited, it warps our sense of how hard we’re working.
Everyone else starts too fast.
Beside you on the start line are likely hundreds, if not thousands of people who are just like you: fresh, pumped full of adrenalin, and excited to start their race. When the gun goes off, 95+ percent of these people are going to fly off the line at a pace significantly higher than they’re capable of maintaining.
If you’re not conscious of this heightened pace, it’s likely to give you a false sense of how fast you’re going, and suckering you into a pace that is too high for you.
So how can you execute a smart race?
Firstly, you need to understand these circumstances. Secondly, you need to control the things within your power to control.
Master your mind.
It’s your mind that enables you to experience, to think, and to feel. Managing your mental state is crucial to you getting the most out of yourself on race day and performing to your potential. Just like how you train your body in preparation for your race, you should spend time training and strengthening your mind so that it is up to the challenge.
A strong mind will give you the self-discipline, control, and mental toughness needed to execute your pacing and nutrition strategies.
A strong mind will also prepare you to deal with any unexpected setbacks like cramps, chafing or any other unpredicted situations that race day throws at you.
Control your effort.
A well executed race is one that starts conservatively, building in effort and pace as the race goes by. If you start too fast, a number of things happen that lead to a significant slowing of pace.
Pushing too hard early in the race leads to high levels of lactate being accumulated, precious glycogen stores being burned and your muscles breaking down at a rate faster than you have prepared for.
Starting cautiously and conserve energy, and time your efforts so you are building it at the right times in your race.
Manage your fuel.
As the race goes by and you begin to up your effort, ensure you fuel at the right times so that you will have fuel in the tank to support the increased demands. During long distance races, the body burns its fuel at a higher rate than it can replace it, so limiting your losses is an important part of your race day execution strategy.
Fuelling your body while it is under stress can cause bloating and nausea and as such, it is good practice to focus on getting in your nutrition while your effort level is lower (and the conditions often cooler) in the earlier stages of the race.
At the end of the day, you’re in control of how you choose to execute your race. You can either choose to do so with little thought and patience, or you can choose to exercise self discipline and control, to maximise your fitness and achieve the best possible result of which you’re capable. It's up to you.