Routine: The key to winning YOUR race before it starts

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Whether you want to break your park run best or qualify for your first Olympics; what all of us runners, across that spectrum, have in common is the desire to do something that we’ve never done before.

Most runners, beyond their initial ~6-month honey moon period, whereby progress occurs on an almost weekly basis, will have had to make the effort and sacrifices necessary to put themselves into a position whereby a life-time best is possible.

As you invest yourself physically and emotionally in pursuit of the goal, it begins to loom larger as the race day approaches. After all, everyone wants a return on their investment but sport is fascinating because it is not guaranteed. That fascination with what is difficult, as Yeats put it, keeps us going.

The way to maximise the chances of seeing a return on investment is to obsess about the process rather than the goal. Every process you master equates to a small win, small wins eventually become big ones.

My race begins when I wake up that morning. If I eat two toast with honey and have a coffee two hours before show-time, I’ve scored my first win. If I’m late, I’ve scored my first loss.

Next, I put my warm up gear on and go for a walk, often in the vicinity of the race with some headphones in. I do this because every session I have done is preceded by breakfast and a 30-minute walk to the track. I am merely mimicking an established, familiar and comforting routine.

My second win comes during this walk as I usually spot the runners who are warming up far in excess of the race start time. These are the runners whose nerves have gotten the better of them and mentally, I notch up a second victory.

Forty-five minutes before my race, is my warm-up time. This allows a comprehensive warm-up, the same one I’ve done before my sessions and enough time to change into race gear. It leaves little time for hanging around on a start line. Often with about 47-minutes remaining to race start, I am tempted to start jogging – nerves creeping in. If I wait two more minutes, I’ve scored my 3rd victory.

At a recent race, the race start was reached by taking a right out of my hotel. Therefore, I took a left for the warm-up. Everyone goes right, nobody goes left. It was me and the pavement for a clear run at my warm-up. At this time, I’m calm and going through the familiar process whilst at the same listening to music pretty loud, the perfect balance between getting revved up and being in control. Another victory.

I arrive at that start line with about 7-minutes to spare, maximum. The sight of some runners who appear to have been striding up and down for the last 20-minutes is my last victory before the race starts.

When the race starts, I’m aware that the same emotions which made some runners warm-up too early will make some runners start too fast. I know the sort of pace I’m aiming for and I know the sort of pace that is obviously way too fast. I start with the pack and hang off the back of them. The trick is to have the confidence to let them go. The adrenaline takes you through faster than you need to go anyway, so you don’t need to be dragged along even quicker. You’ll score another victory when the first person blows up and comes back to towards you. Your race begins from there but you’ve been winning for 2 hours prior.

But I’m still nervous

So am I. One thing that comes with age and a long injury list is less nerves. I tend to be pretty grateful to have been able to do the training that allows me to race. In contrast, as a teenager, I had a more life or death approach to racing. However, as time spent training and associated sacrifices increase and old personal bests tumble, I do feel more pressure. This is natural and to be embraced. That is what makes it worthwhile. At the race where I achieved my goal (a sub 34-minute 10km) I had been training for 19-months, was racing in an iconic city, with family present, in the last race available to run that sort of time and with a fitness I’d not had for 12 years. All those thoughts crossed my mind and I didn’t try to block them out. I left them there, stuck to the process and accumulated enough small wins that the big clock at the end said 33:46!

*I should say: this is my warm-up for the type of races I run AND it is important to have a flexible mind-set e.g. if I score a loss it doesn’t derail my preparation. I substitute or move onto the next phase of the process – considering it a victory that mentally I have overcome an upset.

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