Set reasonable race day expectations

Racing is supposed to be difficult!

Racing is back! Well, it has been for a while. Some people were even finding races last year. However, this is the first spring or fall racing season in two years where it seems like most races will be back in some version of their normal format. So many of us may find ourselves at least somewhat out of practice.

What should you do about that? Well, if you haven’t raced in a long time, you probably have forgotten how hard race day really is. Even if you have raced more recently, you may go into a goal race thinking that you’re fit, tapered, and this is going to be easy.

Don’t do that.

Races are hard. Period. When you’re challenging yourself to run your absolute best, no matter what shape you’re in and how well rested you are, it’s going to be hard. Not because you’re not ready for it but because, no matter what shape you’re in, you’re trying to get the most out of yourself.

Yes, it’s common to look back at our best races and think they seemed easy. You got into the flow and it just came to you, right? I can think of races that I remember that way. But is that really how the race went? Maybe you did get into the flow. But does that really mean you weren’t hurting? That you weren’t pushing yourself past the limits of what you thought you were capable of? I doubt it.

When you go into a race expecting it to be easy, the most likely reaction you’re going to have is to panic the moment things get hard. Something bad happens? That wasn’t supposed to happen! Then you go into a downward spiral. Or, almost certain to happen, you find yourself facing extreme fatigue (remember, you’re pushing yourself to your limit)? You weren’t expecting it to feel that hard! Oh no, something is wrong! Downward spiral.

Instead, embrace the expectation that it’s going to be hard. Tell yourself that you’re going to be pushing yourself to the absolute limit so you know it’s going to be very difficult. However, you will use your fitness and your mental toughness to push through these challenges.

This is why I remind the marathoners I coach that they will experience a rough patch usually somewhere in the vicinity of 18-22 miles. If they expect it to come, when it does come they will be more ready for it and prepared to handle it. They won’t be caught off guard and it won’t shake their confidence because they knew it was coming.

You don’t have to be defeatist about your next race but at least consider not getting over optimistic. Tell yourself it’s going to get tough, embrace that as a sign that you’re running a good race, and have strategies to overcome the challenges.

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