You can probably tell exactly where my mind is focused based on this week’s posts. The Portland Marathon is in just a week and a half, although I’m not psyching myself out about the race yet. Throughout this training cycle, I’ve adopted the mentality of taking training just one day at a time and sometimes even just one mile at a time. I still have a 10-mile marathon pace run (plus warm up and cool down) for today and several mid-distance runs until the race, so I’m just taking those each as they come. So far, this strategy has worked well for me: I don’t get anxious about workouts days in advance and I don’t stress about whether or not I’m going to hit paces or complete the run as much, and that mental approach has benefited my workouts significantly compared to my last training cycle.
Today I want to talk about pre-race goal assessment. Whether you are running a 5K or an ultramarathon, your first race or your 50th, most runners set goals for their races. These goals are usually established at the start of training. However, every runner can benefit from pre-race goal assessment to ensure the highest probability for success on race day.
What Your Training Indicates
One of the sagest pieces of advice for all levels of runners is to trust your training. If you’re following a reputable training plan (such as Hidgon, Hansons, Pfitzinger, Runner’s World, etc) or working with a certified running coach, your training place will provide you with all the workouts needed so that you possess the speed and endurance to complete your chosen distance. Trusting your training also applies to goal setting: your times in training don’t lie.
Including goal pace workouts to your training provides an honest assessment of your current race-specific fitness. If you struggle each and every time to hit the pace, your goal may be too fast. On the other hand, if you fly through these workouts, you are easily on track to achieve your goal and possibly even surpass it on race day. Your race-specific workouts (long runs for half and full marathoners, shorter repeats for 10K and 5K runners) will give you the best indication of what you can achieve on race day.
Mental State and External Stress
It’s not just your physical fitness that determines your finish time; your mental state directly impacts how you run. If you’re exhausted from a busy semester at school or a demanding project at work or if you’ve recently endured a death in the family or a break-up, you may want to adjust your goals so you don’t add additional stress to your life by worrying about a specific finish time. Let running be your stress release and not a stressor.
Your confidence it yourself directly influences how well you perform on race day. There’s a reason that many coaches focus heavily on mental training and sports psychology. If self-doubt has plagued you throughout training, you want to factor that into your pre-race goal assessment at well. You want to truly believe in yourself if you are chasing a big goal. This doesn’t mean you should foster delusions of grandeur into pursuing a goal above your abilities; it means you must possess the faith in your ability to push yourself to your very limits and achieve challenging goals.
You can be in prime shape to smash your marathon PR, but the weather can prevent you from doing so. Think of the 2014 New York City Marathon or the 2015 Boston Marathon and how those conditions affected even the elite runners. High winds, heavy rain, and hot temperatures all increase the energy demands of running, which make it harder to sustain the same pace. If your race day forecast predicts inclement weathers, considering reassessing your goals or planning to run by effort instead of pace.
Granted, the weather is not the be-all, end-all in determining your finish time. If you’ve trained in similar conditions, you are better adapted to running in the wind, humidity, or rain. A strong mental game and good pacing strategy can also set you up for success despite the weather. In my first half marathon, it was freezing cold (literally, I think it was 30 degrees at the start) and the brutal Lake Michigan winds raged a headwind for the last 5 miles of the race. Still, I managed to surpass my goal my 3 minutes and run a strong 1:46 for my first half marathon. I was used to running in those winds, so it was simply mind of matter!
Injuries and Overall Health
First off, if you are injured, experiencing pain, or sick, please do not run a race! Your overall health is more important than any race. If you’re experiencing minor injuries, or what many of us runners like to call “niggles,” you may still be able to run your race, but you may want to reassess your goals so that you don’t transform that niggle into an injury that will sideline you for months. Amanda at Run to the Finish has a useful post about how to decide if you DNS (do not start), DNF (do not finish), or push through on race day.
Issues such as excessive fatigue, digestive issues, or symptoms of overtraining are also something to consider as you conduct a pre-race goal assessment. Again, you don’t want to risk your overall health just to reach a time goal; it’s a sign of stronger character to wisely weigh your risks than to push yourself recklessly.
By examining all of these factors in the few days before a race, you can set smart goals for your race that will set you up for both short-term and long-term success and an enjoyable race experience. That should be our biggest goal, after all—to enjoy the fruits of our training!
Questions of the Day:
When do you set your goals for a race?
How much does the weather impact your race day performance?