This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
"Never try anything new on race day."
We’ve all heard this advice by now and I’m sure we do our best to live by that rule but how well do we do?
Many of us fall short because we don’t consider the corollary to that advice. Practice race day in training. Wear the shoes, socks and gear you’re going to on race day. If you’re running a race that’s long enough to require fueling, practice not just fueling but doing so with your race day strategy and with the equipment you will have on hand on race day. Possibly most important, do this at goal pace and on a route that is at least similar to what you’ll be racing on.
Why do all these things? Simple, you don’t want any surprises on race day.
Why wear race day gear? Hopefully the answer when it comes to shoes is obvious. You have to make sure the fit and ride are right or you could be in for a world of pain, especially as the race distance gets longer. As for the rest of your gear, you never know what stitch or piece of fabric may rub on you the wrong way and produce blistering or chafing. I’d rather find that out after a 10 mile tempo run than at the 10 mile mark of a marathon.
Why practice fueling? First, you need to make sure your stomach can handle whatever you will be taking in for fuel on race day. There are few things worse than getting sick mid-race due to the fuel you’re taking. Just as much, though, you need to practice with what I’ll call the fuel delivery tools you will have available on race day. If your plan is to take water or sports drink from aid stations, how good are you at drinking from the paper cups they will most likely be handed to you in? Are you planning to drink from a paper cup on the run? If so, you need a strategy for doing so in order to ensure more fluid ends up in your stomach than on your face and shirt and you need to practice that strategy until you can execute it to perfection every time.
Why at goal pace and on a route similar to what you’ll be racing on? Have you ever tried drinking from a paper cup at easy run pace? It’s not easy but not terribly difficult. Have you ever tried at race pace, especially if race pace is significantly faster than easy run pace? The first time you tried, you probably ended up wearing more of whatever you were drinking than you managed to swallow. You might have even choked on it. When running at race pace, your breathing is more heavy, you are probably not quite as smooth and you can’t adjust as well.
So get out there and practice race day in your training. By doing so, you can make sure that your execution on race day will be as flawless as possible and you won’t encounter any unfortunate surprises.