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  • About VJ
  • July 05, 2024 5 min read

    You’ve done the work, and now it’s time to put it all together! We all know that consistent training is essential for great race day performance, but races are chaotic and wrought with unknowns. An underappreciated challenge of race day is “performing on demand”, or competing at your physical capacity in an uncontrolled environment, harnessing the work you’ve done into great race-day performance. To help, a bit of pre-emptive planning goes a LONG way! 

    Spending some time thinking about logistics, setting goals, and creating an execution plan (or several) will provide direction to your efforts. Let’s dive deeper:

    Logistics

    Ever feel like you have a foggy brain on race day? Planning and decision making take energy- energy that can be hard to summon when nerves take over! A sound logistical plan reduces stress and allows you to focus on performance.

    Spend some time thinking about variables that you can control or plan for such as:

    • Nutrition: What will you eat the night before? For breakfast? During? After? Is there a restaurant or grocery store close by? Do you need to pack food? Can you drink the tap water?
    • Clothing: What’s the weather like? What are you going to race in? Do you have options if something happens that is unexpected?
    • Transportation: How are you getting to the race? When do you need to arrive in order to check in, go to the bathroom, and warm up? Where are you parking?

    It can be very helpful to write out a full schedule or detailed notes for race day. This helps you to access your plan without ruminating on what you’re doing or whether you’ve forgotten something.

    Goal Setting

    Process and outcome goals create focus and provide intention to your effort. 

    Process goals relate to actions within your control. Examples include executing a pacing strategy, commiting to staying with the pack in the later stages of a race, nailing your gels and hydration during the race, or attacking the hills and committing to continuing to push hard and strong for 10 seconds after cresting.

    Outcome goals, on the other hand, relate to an objective measure like a placement or finishing time. 

    Make sure that process and outcome goals are relevant and realistic to race conditions. For example, if your goal is to run a certain time in a road race but it’s very windy or sweltering hot, your expectations should be recalibrated. Be caution in making goals that are dependent on other people, like attaining a certain placement.

    Having placement goals can be very motivating but it’s important to acknowledge that you can only control YOUR performance, not that of others.

    Setting goals at varying levels of difficulty allows you to adjust expectations and intentions on the fly. “A”, “B’, and “C” goals are useful to create objectives that are realistic and attainable as the race unfolds. Remember- goals are set based on lots of assumptions and may need to be recalibrated as you take in more information in real time, like how you’re feeling, what the environment is like, and who your competitors are.

    Execution Plans

    Racing doesn’t just happen - each competitor has to make many micro decisions on how they are going to spend their energy during a race. Spend some time thinking about a race strategy including specific goal paces or RPE targets realistic to your fitness and the conditions. 

    Think about:

    • Paces/efforts you’d like to run
    • Specific check in points where you can assess how you’re doing and decide whether to increase or decrease pace
    • How you’re going to work with your competitors, or not! 
    • Strategy around tackling specific terrain, like hills or sections of technical footing
    • Fueling points

    It’s best to create multiple plans for various scenarios which again offloads the mental burden of making choices when your brain is working at part capacity. This improves your resilience if (or when!) unexpected scenarios arise.

    If performance was just about physical ability, we’d give out medals after workouts. Planning before a race is essential for getting the most out of your ability through the chaos of a race. Nailing a race takes more than physical preparation, and planning helps to translate your training into great performance! 

    Post-race debrief

    When maximally tested, our gaps, strengths, and limits are revealed. Races are unique opportunities to check in with your physical and mental preparation and so much can be learned by doing. This is the most honest report card! Debriefing adds objectivity and closure to a major experience that may involve lots of emotions. Whether it was the performance of your life or a really challenging day, debriefing after a race is critical for getting the most out of your hard effort.

    When should you do your post-race debrief? 

    In the immediate aftermath of a race, it may be challenging to assess rationally. Give yourself a day or so to let emotions settle, but commit to debriefing while the memory of your race is still fresh. If you traveled to a race, your plane or car ride home may be a good opportunity for some reflective thinking. 

    Reflecting with a friend, teammate, or coach can provide objective feedback into your performance. How you experienced your race is important, but outside insight  from a trusted peer can help ensure that you view your race through an unbiased lens. 

    Try these prompts to guide your debrief:

    -reflect on pre-race goals. Were they achieved? Why or why not? 

    -reflect on your race plan. Did it work? Did you even have one? What would you do differently?

    -reflect on your mental performance: toughness, ability to respond to competition, execution (including patience). Anything you’d do differently?

    -reflect on physical performance and gaps. Is there anything that can be addressed in training?

    When debriefing, do your best to avoid putting excess emphasis on factors out of your control. For example, in many cases focusing solely on placement doesn’t give you great performance data because you don’t control who shows up, or how prepared they are. Focusing entirely on race time without considering weather, temperare, incline/decline, course similarity to previous years etc.

    You must give yourself grace for factors outside of your control, but use any  insights to assess how you could better prepare for next time. 

    Approach your debrief with a  growth  mindset- acknowledge that there is always room for anyone to improve, and be curious about what you can do to elevate future performance. For context, the  opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset . Those with a fixed mindset believe that we are born with a certain level of ability and we are unable to improve our skill over time - they’re already doing everything they can and there is nothing else to improve.  A growth mindset is a key characteristic of  high performing individuals (at any level) who believe that absolute potential can be approached, but never truly reached - especially in something as chaotic as racing! 

    To get the most out of your debrief, write down notes that you can reflect on to direct your future training and aid in preparation for your next race. Memories fade, and a record of information after a race is pure gold. 

    It’s normal for debriefing to feel tedious or uncomfortable, especially when things don’t go as planned.

    So much progression can be gained through experience beyond physical training, and spending a few minutes absorbing your experience is a key part of advancement  as an athlete. Be humble enough to learn from your gaps, and confident enough to believe that progression is possible.

    Pre-event planning and post-event debriefing is so important that we’ve put together a whole Nitty Gritty Training Podcast episode chock full of our best advice.

    You can listen to Episode 111: 

    Pre Race Planning And Post Race Debriefs on all major streaming platforms! 

    Written by Jessica O'Connell, 5000m Olympian and MSc Exercise Physiologist. Jess is the run coach at Grit Coaching. Jess, along with OCR Star Faye Stenning, provide custom training programs and coaching guidance for OCR athletes, hybrid athletes, and runners of all levels. Check us out!