Honestly, I’m as guilty as the next person. The gun goes off, the race plan goes out the window. Any coherent logic of starting at a casual pace, or drinking calories early, or taking it easy on the first climb evaporates like the ice cubes in your hat in that last hot ultra.

This blog isn’t exactly hard science, it’s more just something that’s been on my mind, and something important for us all to consider as the racing season approaches.  In 2015 I was chasing the clock at the Chuckanut 50K.  I had a well planned nutrition strategy, and up until mile 18 was executing it very well. I was eating and drinking and felt great, but as greed caught up with me and the race wore on I decided to abandon my race plan and skip the last two aid stations (foregoing the 250 calories I had planned on consuming in the last ⅓ of the race).  I felt that I didn’t have 25-35 seconds to spare filling my bottle with coke and grabbing a few gummy bears.  I felt fine, the race was going well and I was close to my goal, with only 6 miles to go I sprinted through the final aid station without hesitation. A few minutes later I knew I had made a terrible mistake. With 5 miles to go, I was hit with one of the more blinding sugar bonks of my life, with 3 miles to go my muscles were twisting and I felt like I was dragging an elephant. With a mile to go my tank was totally empty, the world started closing in, and my vision was a blurry mess. I crossed the finish line and sat down in a chair unable to think or really understand anything for about 30 minutes while my body recovered. In the days after the race I knew my big mistake was abandoning my well thought out race nutrition plan.  Oddly enough, I’d done that plenty of times in races before, always with a poor outcome. Some of us never learn…

As I ate my post race donuts and digested the race, I made up my mind to write down each mistake, and make my future goals focused on fixing my mistakes, rather than focused on time or place at an upcoming event. Sometimes those goals looked like, “Do the training you planned, not the training you want to do because you feel great”. Often, the training that I did when I abandon the plan due to “feeling great” was significantly more than what I planned months before. This often left me overcooked by race day. The same goal applies to the lesson mentioned above, I knew my body and knew when it needed food. I planned accordingly but failed to execute accordingly. Trying to beat that previous knowledge was unwise and ended in major bonktown.  

Now, before I convince you all to blindly stick to your race plan, or only plan based on last years version of yourself, let me say flexibility and knowing yourself MUST be included in each plan. If the aid station has coke but not your favorite Gatorade, you will live! If you based your training and race plan around a certain pace and accidentally go out too fast, you can work it out, just slow down.  If your training block is going great and it makes sense to boost your mileage, do it! Flexibility and adaptation must be accounted for and are necessary for a well planned race.

So, its winter, almost spring. You have your races scheduled out, trips planned, goals set and are working through the cold winter months with your sights set high. Take an hour to think back to last year, all your successes and failures, the finishes and the blow ups. Maybe you considered and learned from your mistakes last year, maybe you said, “I’ll never do that again,” or “what was I thinking!”  Remember these moments, write them down, figure out what went wrong and make a deal with yourself to apply these learned lessons on the trails in 2018, and beyond.  

In summary

Past years running learning + This years planning = Higher likelihood for success (more fun?)

Posted February 6th, 2018 by David Laney