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Race Guide

Race Day Guide

This guide is intended to help you think through how to maximize your results from your races.  Please feel free to work out your own specific ideas – every runner works a little differently.  These are guidelines that in general can help you improve your performance considerably over time.

And remember:
“The strength of the wolf is the pack
and the strength of the pack is the wolf.”

Good night.  Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before and a decent dinner.  Some people talk about carbo-loading, but it is really up to the individual.
Water.  Drink plenty of water during the day so that you are well hydrated for the race.  Drink some before the race – but not enough to give you cramps.
Eat.  For afternoon meets - get a good breakfast and lunch.  Then bring something to eat at 2 or 2:30PM for a 4:00PM race.  Maybe a sandwich, apple with peanut butter, pretzels, banana, PowerBar, Granola Bar, etc.  Try to get something with some carbohydrates and maybe some protein – not just sugar.  Candy bars will give you short bursts of energy, but this is long distance running and you need something more substantive…  For Saturday morning meets – a normal breakfast is good – 7AM breakfast with a 10AM or 11AM race is good, with maybe a snack in between.
Gear.  Here is a quick check list:
-          Running Shoes
-          Spikes
-          Uniform – Top & Bottom
-          Socks
-          Warm-ups – tops & bottoms
-          Rain gear
-          Dry shirt for after the race
-          Water
-          Pre-race snack
-          Post race snack & water/Gatorade
Course Map.  For Cross Country, make sure you know the course map.  Know where the mile and 2 mile mark are.  Know where the final ¼ mile is so you can do a drive-kick.  Know the hills and corners.

Meet Schedule.  Know when your race(s) are.  For Track Meets – know which races are before your race, and at which race you should be warming up, putting on your spikes, and reporting to the “paddock” (where you hand in your cards and congregate with other runners awaiting to be taken to the starting line by officials) and eventually the starting line.


Chill.  Sit.  Stay out of the sun.  Do not keep getting up and down.  Stay warm when it is cold (if you are cold, your body will work harder to warm you up).  Stay cool when you are warm (your body works harder keeping you cool).  The basic idea is to make sure you do not waste energy before the race.  Keep off your legs so they are fresher.  Burn less energy by keeping a comfortable body temperature (enough sweats for cold days, enough rain gear for cold, rainy days).

1-4 Miles.  Running 1-2 miles before the race “warms-up” your body (for Varsity runners, you can do up to 4 miles to make sure that you get in enough mileage for days that are not peak performance days).  The basic idea is that your body uses the cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles) to create the energy to move the body forward.  This is a pretty complex system that takes some time to get started and running efficiently.  If you are doing a cardiovascular cold start in a race – you waste a lot of time and efficiency.  It is best to start this about 30 minutes before the race.  An alternate strategy is to run ~2 miles an hour before the race to look at the course, and then do a short warm-up (1/2 - 1 mile) about 20 minutes before the race.  

If you have several hours before a race after a long bus ride – 2 warm-ups is sometimes good – right off the bus and do a half mile to a mile with stretching.

Stretch.  Before and after the warm-up, stretching is very important.  Racing is the toughest thing on muscles because it creates lactic acid that breaks muscles down and causes pain, and muscles are working at maximum levels.  Under these heavy loads (heavier than a normal workout), your muscles will be working more than usual.  If they are limber and well stretched, then runners can actually run more easily and of course greatly lower the risk of injury.

Strides.  Between the 1-2 mile warm-up and the race – strides are good to do.  These are 50-200 meters in length depending on how you feel.  They should be at slightly faster than race pace – not a full sprint.  At least 3, but probably not more than 8 should be done.  This builds on the warm-up and the stretching.

Heart rate.  You should have an elevated heart rate when you are at the line.  This means that you need to be doing a few strides in the few minutes before the gun goes off.  Do not just go to the line and stand around talking for 5 minutes.  Find a way to do some strides.  Stretch.  Do some jumping.

Nerves.  Almost all runners get the “butterflies” before a race.  This is actually good – it means your body is preparing itself and getting tuned up to handle the effort of the race.  Get into a routine – this will help you calm your nerves and make things a part of a normal process that you can feel comfortable with from race to race.

Acknowledge your competitors.  Feel free to shake their hands and wish them well.  You share a common bond and will be running with them for the next 2 - 20 minutes depending on the race.


The Race

Plan & Goals.  You should go into the race with a plan.  How fast you want to run.  How fast you want to go out.  When to remind yourself to keep working.  Who you want to stick with.  What are your goals for place and time.

Team.  “The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”  One of the most powerful elements in a successful race is running with your teammates in packs.  Helping each other out, pushing each other, sharing the pace-setting duties, setting a proper pace all make running easier.    Cross country and Track are two of the most individual of sports, but yet the most team oriented…  

Controlled Start.  Many runners burn themselves out at the start – sprinting to be at the head of the field.  This is the absolute wrong thing to do.  Cross Country races are 5 km – a pretty long way.  If you go out too fast, your body will switch into anaerobic mode – meaning your muscles will be fueled by the non-oxygen system, creating lots of lactic acid.  This will cause you to “die” and not run optimally for the full 5 km.  Even an 800 Meter runner should be cautious about going out too fast.  

The other benefit of a controlled start is that you are going out with others of similar capability that you can run with for the length of the race.  And you get the added benefit of catching the people that went out too fast.  This always helps psychologically. 

Steady Pace.  The most efficient way to run a race is a steady pace throughout.  Many times runners will lose concentration during the middle of a race and let their pace slip.  It is important to take the lessons learned in previous races as well as measure how your body feels in races to ensure you expending the proper level of energy in the race at the right time.  In the 1600 for example, it is common that the third lap is slower than any other lap.  If you temper your first lap, and hold pace on the third lap, it is a proven fact that you will be able to run a faster race.

Concentration.  This is the other common error that runners have – losing concentration on your objectives for the race.  Sticking with the runners in front of you, moving up to catch the next person, letting your pace slip.

Excuses & Pain.  It is easy to let self-doubt enter your mind when running.  Your pain is increasing, your muscles are tired, your lungs are working.  You can start thinking about something else and making excuses why you do not really want to run quite so hard today.  This is the critical decision point where you can lose concentration and decrease your pace.  The two best ways to deal with this are:

Run your plan.  Make a promise to yourself at the beginning of the race on what your plan is and remember when the pain comes along that you made that promise.  To yourself and your teammates.  Be committed to your plan.

Stick.  Block everything else out of your mind and just focus on either sticking with the person ahead of you, or going and catching the next person up in the field.  You can almost achieve a meditative state if you work on concentrating.  And running with other people is actually easier than falling behind and running with a gap between you and the other person.  I have seen runners use this technique to improve by over 20 seconds from one race to the next (myself included when I was in 11th grade).

Breaking opponents.  You have someone that you need to beat.  It is the last half of the race and you need to break them before the finishing kick.  Here are some ideas:

Over the hill.  Most runners work hard up to the top of a hill and then relax.  If you keep your effort the same for 50 meters after the top of a hill, you will open up a gap on other runners around you.

Corners.  Most runners will slow down on a corner and take a while to accelerate back up to full speed.  If you take a corner hard and make sure you are running at good speed after the corner, you can also open up a gap.

Pacing.  Part of a race plan may be to go out fairly slowly the first mile, or to run with a set of competitors for the first 2 miles – then accelerate the pace for at least 400 meters.  This is a common tactic you can see the elite runners do in the Olympics 5 & 10K & Marathon.  One person will surge to break the others from their rhythm.  This is a difficult thing to respond to for most runners because they are in a certain pace groove, and to come out of that is an effort.  If you have a specific plan, this can be very effective.  Particularly at the ¾ point in a race (400-600 meters in the 800, 800-1200 meters in the 1600, and 2000 to 2800 in the 3200.

Pack running.  Nothing is more effective to breaking away from an opponent than your teammates running in a pack.  Remember the strength of the wolf is the pack….  A small conversation in the middle of the race – a joke or a few words of encouragement between teammates can help teammates and separate you from opponents.  The 3 ideas above can be executed as a pack of runners.  Even to start this off verbally – “Ready to do a pick-up now?” can really give your team the advantage.

Confidence.  Be confident in your training.  You have earned the right to run well.  You have done too many hard workouts and runs – early in the morning – thru rain and bad weather – to let yourself and your teammates down.

Finishing.  Your finish should be starting as early as a mile form the finish line.  Evaluate your capability of pace for only 1 more mile – and get to that pace.  A consistent, hard driving long drive to the finish will be much more effective than a sprint at the end.  Our training is designed to give you the strength to finish the last mile well, and our racing strategy of going our conservatively puts you in a position to finish strongly.  Think about catching as many people as you can.  Passing one person improves your team’s score by 1 point and pushes the other team back a point – a 2 point difference for each person you catch and pass.  A couple of years ago Stanford led Colorado by about 60 points with 1 mile left at the NCAA Championships, but Colorado had trained for strength and had gone out conservatively.  Colorado won that year by several points.

Why Race Hard?  For yourself.  For your team.

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