5 Ways to Make Sure Your Race Doesn’t Suck

Ah, the thrill of race day is what some runners live for. Take all that adrenaline and exited-nervousness and it’s a schmorgesborg of energy. With race day comes the (hopefully mostly) self-imposed pressure, expectations and hopes to run your best. You’ve got big goals you want to achieve and you hope that by the time you cross the finish line you’ve hit those. Here are 5 ways you can stack the odds in your favor to step away from the line satisfied.
runner angel
1) Game Plan: You need to go into any race with a concrete idea of how you’re going to run and the goals you want to achieve. You don’t want to have to try and make decisions on the fly; in the middle of a race you don’t want to be wasting mental energy on wondering what to do. Plan how you’re going to run, the splits you want to hit, how you are going to react if someone surges or your competitors make a move. Go in knowing if YOU plan to make those moves and what you will do if someone covers them. With race plans you need a few because you don’t know what others may do; you don’t want to be surprised in the middle of a race and freeze-up. You also don’t want to mess up your entire race by poor pacing. When you’ve got your race plans it’s even better if you’re able to use mental visualization to ‘practice’ them.

2) Consider Conditions: If you’re running amidst a hurricane you should obviously be drafting off of people! Not funny, I know. But when you show up to a race you need to check the conditions and adjust your race plan if need be. If it’s really hot and humid you may have to chuck the times you had planned and race off of effort. If it’s really windy you may want to hold off on taking the lead until later so that you can tuck in and conserve energy. The race day weather and conditions don’t DEFINE the race and you can’t let less than ideal conditions be an excuse for you to still not put the effort in; it just means you may have to adjust your goals and plans.

running in a tornado

That girl’s drafting! ;)


3) Use Your Competition: Don’t ever be afraid of your competitors, embrace them because they will force you to step up your own game and race your best. Always be looking for that person faster than you, key off of them, sit behind them, focus on their back and don’t let a gap develop. Pick people off; if that back you’re focusing on is slowing down or you feel better then blow by that sucker and move onto the next person in front of you…always keep looking for that next person.

4) Avoid Mind Mutiny: There are SO many sub-topics here, for the sake of brevity I’ll give pointers here and direct you to other posts. Getting stuck in no-man’s land in a race stinks, but there are ways to salvage the race; don’t let feeling like it’s just you on the course be an excuse to give up…hey, the clock is always there! The middle of a race is the hardest, don’t let your mind check-out here…this, 99% of the time, leads to your pace slacking. Keep applying the pressure and focus. Do NOT focus on, “dang, this really hurts.” Duh, running hurts…that’s a reality, you knew that going in. So stop the self-defeatist thoughts and focus on what you CAN control (form, breathing, stride count, etc.) as a means of distraction.

5) Not Your Day, So What: Does that sound heinously tough love-esque? Well so be it…but the truth is we ALL have races where the legs just don’t show up that day. If the gun goes off and you feel like you’re pulling bricks, don’t automatically throw in the towel and give up. You NEED those mentally grueling races and workouts because getting through them makes you mentally tougher; then the days when your legs SO show up, you’ll be able to apply that toughness and you’ll be running faster. Overcoming the crappy runs are a huge mental test; give up too often and you set up a really bat habit that is tough to break out of. So if it’s not your day, yes, you may need to adjust your goals and plan but STILL put in the effort. Also, you’d be amazed at how your race can be salvaged even with ‘dead’ legs; that and miraculously your legs could show up mid-race…it’s happened.

So there you go…five ways to make sure that race you’ve been running your butt off for doesn’t suck. Of course there are many more…but I guess you’ll just have to keep reading (and running) to get more. ;)

1) What’s one way you make sure your races don’t suck? Or a tip you’d like to share?

2) What has been a time you had to adjust your plans due to weather conditions?

3) When has been a time that your legs really didn’t show up that day; how did you react and still put in the effort? Or, if you gave up, what did you learn from that experience and try to make sure you did better next time?

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35 thoughts on “5 Ways to Make Sure Your Race Doesn’t Suck

  1. Great tips!! The last race I ran was kind of horrible- I was exhausted after a ridiculously hectic week at work and my legs and entire body were not working with me. I decided to just focus on getting through it and having fun rather than trying for any kind of PR. I finished and was happy! :)

  2. I ran a terrible race this summer – it was really hot and humid, I felt dehydrated, and I fell somewhere after mile 2. It was also my slowest time in a while. I didn’t let any of it defeat me, did what I could, got water at the water stop, and got right back up after falling. The next week I blow my time out of the water (it was a summer weekly series). I also made sure I was properly hydrated and dressed for the rest of the series. Sometimes bad races (and runs) need to happen so you can then have really awesome ones!

    • man, heat can turn into krytonite if u’re not careful!! i had a really bad dehydration story when i was just starting out too…lesson learned for both of us! :)

  3. I really needed this since I’m racing Saturday. My last half, I followed a lot of those tips and it really helped. Another thing is if you can get a map of the course in advance, and you can figure out where the hills are, turns, water stops, etc, that can really help you in knowing where you can and can’t push the pace. Here in SC we have a lot of humidity and heat so you always have to adjust for that, but it makes your Fall times way faster after training all summer!

  4. Great tips! I totally agree with #5………..we NEED sucky runs because they make our good runs that much more awesome!! :)
    My best tips would probably be to make sure and wear pink. I mean, for reals people– pink makes everything better. :) Haha.
    Seriously, something that has been important in my (very) short racing ‘career’ is punctuality. Get there early. Don’t blow your whole race because you don’t have enough time to double tie your shoes, hit the porta-potties or warm up. My personal motto in life 24/7 is “if you’re not early; you are late” and that could not be any more true for racing!

    • remembering that the suck-factor in a run will make us mentally tougher and make us appreciate the good ones is prettttty much the only thing that keeps u going thru a slog-fest! ;) well, that and pop-tart dreaming. lol

  5. Good timing! I got a 5er this weekend and I just checked weather and it is going to be hot and windy. Yuck! Not going to be a PB but I am not going to let the weather define this race – thanks for the wise words :=)

    My race plan … “get chicking”!!!! Yee ha! I’m going to count them off and report back to ya :)

    • YES for Get Chicking!! sorry to hear that the weather won’t be ideal, but u’ve got the right attitude! can’t wait to hear how awesome u do/did! :)

  6. I rarely go in with an actual plan – It’s to much pressure for me. Last race season I was hellbent on breaking 1:50 – I set my sights on the Women’s Half in St.Pete and when I blew up I was devastated. After that, I said “eff it.” I couldn’t feel like that during/after every race.

    • yea, plans and goals make u tread a fine line. just enough pressure to keep u on the right track but NOT so much that it stresses u out to the point where u then self-implode.

  7. My mind is a mutinous b*tch, sometimes. I swear I feel good for the first 1/4 of a race, pumped up and enjoying what my body is doing and then the middle 1/2 is like “grrr. arrrh, why are you doing this to us, cmplain complain complain sit down and stop running” and the last 1/4 is in survival mode. Going to follow the link and read some more to shut my brain up ;)

    Great tips!!

    • hahahaha….”mutinous mind b*tch” could totally be a runner diagnosis and we need to start raising fundage and awareness to get that cure! ;) jk. the mental side of running is something we are all constantly working on..and are tested each time we head out!

  8. Oh wow. So I’m pretty new to racing, and with the exception of 1) (I’ve never been competitive in a race :-P), they all hit home. I definitely know Mr Dead Legs!

    My best advice to myself on a really hard day is to just enjoy the ride, and keep running. At the end of the day, getting to the end without stopping is the base aim, and it’s ok to be happy with that. If I get to stuck on times and place, I’ll end up hating running, and no race is worth that.

    On a day when my legs went all lead-like, I pushed trough the pain, slowed down a little, and just gave it all I had at the end.

    • wise words, my dear! the hard days, u make finishing the first priority and from there assessing how u can best deliver wat the legs decided to offer up that day! aaaand, we’re so gonna change that not being in a comp. race thing. ;)

    • it’s always so fun/cool/shocking when u’re used to running along and then when u suddenly get company just how much ‘easier’ those paces feel! :)

  9. I always try to plan ahead for the worst scenario…seems to have helped so far :) But you are right sometimes the legs just aren’t there. It’s frustrating but you have to just keep truckin!

  10. I don’t run a lot, but I did a 5K a couple of weekends ago and I definitely embraced some of these tips! I totally used my fellow runners as competition. I’d pass someone and then shift my focus to passing the next person, and the next. Every time someone passed me, I’d try to pick up the pace. I also had a game plan, especially since my stomach was feeling meh that morning. I decided ahead of time I’d be OK if I had to stop and walk for a bit, because it was impressive that I still came out for the race. And that helped me be OK with having to walk at the end when I got a massive side cramp!

    • thanks for stopping by cait! :) glad we think alike and you were working all those tips during ur last race. i’m glad u were also smart to factor in ur plan walking breaks…but i’m SO sorry u got hit with nasty cramps…ugh, those are the worst. :(

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