Having run in and spectated numerous races over the years, there are some trends that I’ve noticed common amongst competitors in the mid and back of the pack. not so much from those that have had great days out, more so the ones that battle and grind their way home or end up having to pull out. I’ve sat and watched as folks have shook their head with disappoint, struggling to work out what went wrong. While there are all sorts of possible causes, many of which are not in our control, there are some things you can do – or avoid doing – that will help ensure you get the most from yourself and the experience of trail running. So below are the 5 most common race day mistakes I see people doing.
Don’t Consume Enough Fuel
Nutrition is the most important thing to get right on raceday. No matter how much you’ve trained, if you don’t have the right fuel, or enough of it, you’re in for a lot of suffering and quite possibly a DNF. One thing that’s very common is that runners underestimate their energy requirements, or due to nausea they start to consume fewer and fewer calories. In the worst cases, the nausea leads to vomiting, which essentially purges your system of energy.
Planning is everything. There are all sorts of guides out there for how much you should consume, but my rule of thumb is to have a gel or equivalent every 40 minutes, and between gels, sip at a sports drink. I also suggest marginally increasing fuel consumption early in a race while your guts are more capable of processing it (Have something every 30mins). If you suffer from sickness, try eating something contrasting to what you have been using. Another trick is to have a small amount of table salt. It works wonders for some runners. Coke will also become your best friend. I try to only have it late in a race as I want the sugar and caffeine to help give me a kick to the finish.
Pack Too Much
It’s amazing how much gear you see some people carrying. It’s also incredible the difference in size and weight quality gear can make. Yes, the more expensive stuff hurts the bank account, but it will last you a long time and with the cost comes quality. You shouldn’t skimp on things like jackets and thermals, as they can save you in tough conditions. A lot of people also pack ‘spare’ fuel and water. A small amount makes sense, but you shouldn’t be carting around an extra litre of water and half a dozen gels. Take only what you need.
Spend Too Long at Checkpoints
One of the key places people lose time is in checkpoints. It’s easy to roll in and then spend 5 or 10 minutes talking, eating and resting up a little. My advice is to try to get in and out as quickly as possible. Every minute you spend in a CP is an extra one on your legs. Your body cools down a little, your muscles get a bit stiffer and then when you leave you often feel worse than when you went in. I’m a big fan of trying to keep my athletes moving. Get in, restock your supplies, and if you want to eat something, do it while walking and continuing along the course. By all means, if you’re out for a fun day and feeling good then feel free to stop, sit and have a chat. However if you are trying to get a PB or are feeling a tad rough, stopping too long can be the worst thing you can do….some folks never get back up out of that chair!
Start Too Fast
Getting caught up in all the excitement and crowds is all too common. Many a runner has set sail in a race, only to look at their watch a few kilometres down the trail to realise they’re going too fast. Apart from the energy you get from all the people and music, you also feel fresh and strong after tapering, so this quick pace doesn’t seem terribly hard. The problem arises later in the race when it all catches up to you. The only real way to avoid this happening is discipline. Set a realistic split you want for the first couple of kilometres and stick to it. Check your pace every couple minutes and adjust accordingly. Another trick is to tell yourself that you want to feel as though you’re going too slow. Sounds strange, but for the first half of the race you should feel like you’ve got loads left to give and be holding back a little.
Holding good form can be the difference between a great run, and not getting to the end. For most of us, as the miles rack up the technique starts to slide. We go from a long stride to a shuffle. We start to limp or favour one leg. We drop our hips and our head starts to wobble. Some of these changes are inevitable and only the best athletes will finish a race moving as good as they did at the start. For us mortals, we have to make a more concerted effort to maintain our posture. It’s easy to start grinding and thinking that it’s all part of the process. However, poor technique can lead to cramps or worse still, injuries. Shifting your mindset from the discomfort you’re feeling to something that will benefit performance is the key.
One thing I tell all the athletes I coach is that when you are starting to suffer, instead of focusing on the pain, switch your mind to your technique. Concentrate on trying to move with good form. If it means slowing a touch, then that’s fine. Similarly, on big/steep climbs, I recommend not worrying about pace, but focussing entirely on moving well. Short, punchy strides with minimal sideways movement, using a high cadence. Or power hiking well instead of struggling to run. On hills, a good hiker is often faster than a runner using bad technique. Also, if you’re not good on technical trail, then instead of fighting it, use these sections to recover. Work on moving well and being deliberate with every foot placement. Ignore the ace of those around you and don’t feel pressured to run faster to keep up with someone or not slow others down.