Having a successful race, whether it’s a 10K, a marathon, a sprint triathlon, or an Ironman, depends almost entirely (after you train correctly) on a good race strategy. This includes pacing, nutrition, and knowing when to push hard and when to conserve. This is true for professional and amateur, exp
erienced and beginner athletes alike. When you have been training hard for a race, there are few things worse than running out of energy to complete the distance strong and fast, just because you pushed too hard, too early.
Whether you want to “just finish” a race or you are striving for a podium finish, every race carries a certain level of competitive spirit. This becomes more apparent for high-level athletes, but also at an amateur level. The desire to win or place in their age group, or just to improve one’s best time, can and often does cause athletes to push too hard, too soon, producing less than ideal results and much frustration.
Having the correct race strategy, designed especially with your strengths and weaknesses in mind, is important for having the best day possible. This means knowing what intensities you should be racing at during each portion of the competition. This also means checking your ego. Trying to keep up with someone who passes you, causing you to go over those intensities, or ignoring your strategy can be what blows the whole race.
Granted, telling a highly competitive person to check their ego is almost like telling a bird not to fly, but results speak for themselves. How often is it that the first guy to come out of the water in a triathlon is the winner of the entire race? How often is the first guy to finish the bike in an Ironman the first guy to finish the run? Although those things have happened, they are not the standard. The winner of every race reached the podium because he or she knew when to hold back and when to attack. This also applies to age groupers and first timers.
This becomes even more important as races get longer, since the odds of “hitting the wall” are much higher, but it can happen in all distance races.
The competitive spirit of endurance sports is what makes them exciting but it is also the downfall for many athletes. The trick is to find a balance between being competitive and knowing what you are capable of. It is a fine line between knowing when to hold back and when to let go. Not only is the feeling of finishing strong and passing people at the end of a race a greater reward, but it also reflects in faster race times. Instead of feeling defeated and burned out while being passed and not having the energy to maintain the pace, the mind gets energized and it can push the body to greater performances.
Have a plan that is realistic and focus on making each moment count by doing your best…right there. Focus on the PROCESS and not on the outcome. The race finishes at the finish line, not after the swim, not after the bike, not one mile before the end!