I had a great run recently at the Edmonton Marathon– first place, course record, Olympic Trials qualifier. I was not expecting to do so well because my preparation for it was unconventional compared to past marathons. I decided to run it only six weeks before, so I did crash course long runs/higher mileage weeks, and a horrible one week taper. Not to mention a long flight getting there with a crying baby on my lap and antsy toddler next to me. Oh, and I ate a donut for breakfast the day before! So with all those factors against me, how did it go so well? Here are some key lessons that I have adopted for my current race mentality.
I used to get really worked up for races. I would set high goals and expectations for myself and build up a lot of unnecessary pressure. But in the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t matter how I place or who I beat. Of course, I want to do well. But if I do not, there is always another race to try again. I really wanted to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. But I didn’t set my sights on one specific race knowing I would have multiple opportunities to run marathons throughout the year and I felt confident I would eventually get it when everything came together. And if I didn’t? Well, taking all things into account, that wouldn’t significantly affect my life.
Set multiple goals for each race.
If you have different things to aim for there will be something to achieve no matter what kind of race you are having. My baseline goal for Edmonton was to win. I knew what the competition looked like and reasonably thought that even if I had an off day, I should still be in the running to win. My intermediate goal was to break the course record. This would require me to have a good race and push the pace to run a certain time. My reach for the stars goal was to qualify for the Olympic Trials. I actually did not think this was realistic for Edmonton given the small field and limited number of fast runners. But I still had it as a goal in the back of my mind in case everything aligned so I would be prepared to go for it. Ultimately, I was ecstatic to achieve all three goals. That normally doesn’t happen and when it doesn’t, it is good to have set multiple goals so I always feel like I achieve something.
Be flexible race day.
No matter what your preparation, you never really know how you are going to feel race day until the gun goes off. That ties in with above, about not getting too hung up on specific expectations and having multiple levels of goals for your race. I didn’t think I would be able to run Trials qualifying pace by myself, and given my less than ideal preparation, was not planning on trying to run that pace. But I got into a groove early on and was able to hang onto it. I didn’t pre-determine my splits so that I would run more by feel than time.
I went through the half in a “working but comfortable” pace with a little bit of a buffer. Unfortunately, the second half of the race merged with the much larger half marathon. So, the entire second half I had to work much harder weaving around people, running the longer tangents, moving through the crowded water stops. But, once I knew I was on my reach for the stars pace, I was not going to let it go. Especially when I started losing ground and knew I would be cutting it close. Once I reached the point of knowing qualifying for the Trials was a realistic goal that day, I decided I was going to do it.
Know your distance.
This is a pretty basic recommendation. But since my plan was to be flexible, I didn’t figure out my splits or spend much time looking at the course map. So when I mistakenly thought I was running 42K, I really had to sprint that last .195 to get in under the Trials standard!
I hope these lessons that I have adopted help you achieve any of your own running goals. I know I will need to channel them again in February when I travel to Los Angeles to compete in the US Olympic Trials. Of course, I will also need plenty of support from my cheering section back home!
By Emily Potter