Clearly, running races is what it is all about. For most people, the pinnacle of their athletics is to take part in races; whether it is the local fun run or the Olympic Final, we all want to race.
Often in training we race against ourselves to achieve that quickest repetition or long run.
However, it should be clear that racing is very different to training. Particularly for those competing at an elite level, it is very important to learn how to compete. There are many factors present which are different to those experienced in training.
All these factors cause nerves and stress that can lead to mistakes. Probably the most common mistake made whilst racing is to start too fast. Although you may know what pace you should be running your race, pressure will often cause athletes to start too quickly. This may feel fine for a while, particularly if you head the field, but almost inevitably a fast start will catch up with you and you will fade towards the end of the race.
You will often hear the commentators on television talking about how someone has gone off too fast - it is unusual that they are proved wrong. This can happen dramatically in such varied races as the 400m and the marathon. In the marathon you will often hear talk of how someone has hit "the wall", usually because they have started the race too quickly.
To summarise racing, it is important to know what level of tension or adrenalin is right for you. This you will probably only discover over time. Some people run best when relaxed (Edwin Moses always used to lie behind his blocks wearing headphones until minutes before a race), whilst others need to get excited. While first experimenting with what is best for you, it is probably best not to get too worked up and waste energy before you've even started running.
There are a number of factors that will affect your preparation and potentially your mentality before a race, which you may need to consider:
- Competitors - The presence of other athletes, providing a threat to you achieving what you want to, produces stress and adrenalin. This can affect you well before, as well as during, the race - particularly if you have to warm up in a confined area with everyone discussing how well they have been running.
- Waiting to start - Usually when training you will start within a few minutes of arriving at your venue. Whilst competing you often have to wait for a variety of reasons: registration, previous races running late, waiting for your second race of the day (if a track competition), etc. Be sure you don’t spend the entire time "pumped up" or you will be exhausted by the time you start racing.
- Crowds - Having people watching you can add to the sense of pressure, particularly if there are more people present than you have raced in front of before. This can be true even if it is just having family and friends watching you, especially if this is not something you usually have when running a race.
- Pressure from teammates - An extreme example may be a road relay, where at the start you are told by team mates that you HAVE to catch the person in front. This may lead to you starting too fast and fading badly.
- Acclimatising to unknown conditions - On race days you want to avoid external pressure as much as possible, so make sure you know where you are going and allow plenty of time. You don’t want to waste energy worrying that you won’t make it. Also, when at a meeting it can be useful to find a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle to warm up - this can make it feel more like a normal training session. The required adrenalin will come when you assemble near the start with everyone else.
What is adrenalin?
This is a hormone that is produced by stressful situations. It allows the body to perform at a level which it can’t normally achieve. It is important for an athlete to harness it, but you must remember that its benefits will rarely last for an entire race.