Run the race you’re in. Don’t worry about everyone else, last year’s times or what your PB should be. Do your best. 

All runners do it. Checking out the results from last year, planning your own event based on how your peers did on the same day the year before. It’s very easy to forget all the possible variables and start basing your own expectations and logistics on a completely different race.

Even something as uniform as the London marathon can change. Take the super hot 2018 edition. Those who turned up at the start line and just ran it as if it were any other year really struggled. Ignoring the signs of overheating and dehydration because they had run certain times in training or build up races.

Stephen Scullion was one athlete who adapted well, especially considering how the Irish normally fare in the sun. The marathoner dialled back his effort in the first half and cruised through the field to finish 12th in a new personal best.

Scullion was certainly in something like 2:13 shape on that day. He knew that from his training, but London Marathon 2018 wasn’t a day for your fastest times. It was a day for smart racing.

The same can be said for Robbie Simpson at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The Scot was well off his personal best but it was one of his best ever road marathon results.

Photo: Stephen Haas

Run the race you’re in

So rather than ignoring the factors on the day, such as heat, route changes or just occurrences you weren’t expecting, one should embrace them. If you want to race well you need to adapt to what is in front of you.

At the TransGranCanaria marathon, I had become too focused on last year’s splits and last years course. Not only did they change the route to make it more technical (thanks for that), but I had failed to notice that 2017 was an unusually temperate year. Rain storms made it ideal conditions for running on the island. 

Planning pacing strategies, nutrition and even the kit I carried based on last year’s times and last year’s course and conditions, was ultimately part of my downfall at that race. It led to me forgetting to race the race in front of me. If I not known a thing about the course I might have fared better and raced a little more conservatively when the temperature really started to rise.

The same goes for any race, whatever the distance. An awareness of the current conditions can be important. Is there a headwind? Is it really, really cold? Have they changed the route or maybe even just moved checkpoints so you’ll not get as much water or energy as you might have planned for.

What happens when you focus on last year’s splits too much

The obstacle is the way

The stoic saying applies very well to racing. Basically, whatever happens, you’re on your path to your best day. The obstacles you face become part of your journey and taking them into account, but seeing past them or even seeing them as an advantage, will lead to the best performance you can have.

More recently the idea of mindfulness has been popular. You can even download countless mindfulness apps if you like. Being in the moment, dealing with the current spot in time you find yourself in.

Rather than striving to go for arbitrary times or measure yourself against past or present runners, or even past versions of yourself, a runner should just strive to do the best they can on that day.

If you fall over a rock and forget to tape up your nipples, then you keep working to have the best day you can with that as part of it. Who knows, the fall over the rock might have led to a short rest and lowered your body temperature, whilst the pain of bloody nipples might just distract from the pain in your legs. The obstacle becomes the way to your best performance.

If you are racing the race in front of you, adapting as and when you see fit, then you take everything into your stride and do the best you can. That is all you can really ask of yourself.

It’s all I did in Armagh and Valencia, although more so in Valencia. Over the 5k distance, I had set a target that eventually affected my mindset and perception of effort during the race.

Had I just been focusing on running the 5k as quick as I could that day, my head would not have dropped when I knew sub 15 was out of the window. 

So no plan at all?

This doesn’t mean you should turn up at every race without a plan, just rocking a pair of trainers and some split shorts. You can do that and it might be the right thing, but a plan that you’re ready to adapt is a good thing.

With ultra racing, you always worry about carrying too much weight. You scrimp on water, food and even the quality of your kit to make it lighter and, therefore you faster. But lighter isn’t always faster (see what I did there?) and grinding to a halt because you have no water or energy isn’t going to help anyone get a PB.

Everyone loves seeing someone charge off at the front and die a heroic death (or bonk). If you take a small back up plan of a gel with you, then you might not be able to charge quite so heroically, but then you are more likely to actually make it to the finish. Balance is key.

So race the race you are in and be ready to adapt to whatever happens. The obstacle is the way, but don’t go looking for obstacles. Plan ahead, take a little extra gel (or some jelly babies) as a contingency and you can still have a cracking day out.

Robbie is an athlete and coach sponsored by Odlo, Profeet Sports Lab and Precision Hydration. If you want to follow his training you can also see it here on Strava or the highs and lows of Twitter and Instagram.

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