You’ve heard it a million times. “Don’t try anything new on race day.” It’s good advice, especially for those tempted to wear the new running shoes or apparel they bought at the race expo the day before.
I follow it religiously. Every morning I get up at 4 a.m., have my wife drive me to the local Sheraton, where I hang around in the lobby for 15 minutes, and then take a 45-minute bus ride to the middle of nowhere. I sit on the curb for another hour or so, freezing, while I eat my breakfast out of a plastic bag. Then I stand outside a porta-potty for 15-20 minutes.
Then I start my training run, where I’ve arranged to have total strangers hand me their choice of food and drink along the way.
Yes, the bad news is that race day is unlike any of your training days, so it’s best not to lock yourself so tightly into a habit pattern that you’re unable to adjust on the fly.
I’m a firm believer in meticulous planning for an important race, but all good planning should include contingencies. Maybe you drink only a special mixture of Gatorade, GU2O and pomegranate juice on race day. What if you left it on the bus seat? You’ve got a Garmin, a heart rate monitor and an iPod, and the batteries all die at once at mile one. Are you going to let it ruin your race?
And I know I can’t be the only boob who fell for the “flat and fast!” and “PR course!” descriptions in the race brochure, only to find a long series of undulating hills, or a 300 foot climb followed immediately by a 305 foot drop (“net downhill!”).
So while you want to tailor your training to the specific race you’ve targeted, don’t forget some training for the unexpected. Always be safe, but run in the rain or the heat. Practice on broken or uneven ground. Seek out headwinds. Try different kinds of fluids and replenishment. Leave your watch at home. If you usually eat 15 minutes before running, try waiting for an hour or two. Or vice versa.
Stretch your routine as thoroughly as your hamstrings and you’ll be ready for anything race day throws at you. Well, just about anything.