I often hear runners taking about an upcoming race. They’ll take about the hard training sessions and hours of running which has gone into each week, all seemingly required to get them them ready for this important race of theirs. Then they’ll start talking about their race plan and the time they’re hoping to achieve, and it usually goes something like this, “I’m aiming for X, that’s my main goal, but if I get to a point where I realise that’s not on, then I’ll go for Y, and if I’m having a really bad day, then I’ll aim for nothing less than Z.”

Options, options, options.

Some runners will refer to this as going into a race with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. In my opinion, this is the worst possible way to approach your race strategy and almost certainly sets you up for disappointment.

So much can go wrong in the last few weeks leading up to a big race. Any distance runner looking to improve and perform will come off a number of peak weeks which have consisted of hard training and pushing limits. This usually means that the immune system is under immense strain as the body desperately tries to repair damaged muscles cells (a role and function of the immune system), which of course leaves the door wide open for illness. So yes, there is a big risk of illness in the last few weeks leading into a race. And if we’ve fallen ill a few times before a race in the past, this can leave us with a horrible sense of anxiety when it comes to our next big event.

Then of course, there’s the self-doubt that creeps in, “have I done enough training?”, “am I ready to run X?”, “so and so has or is still doing ABC, maybe I should be doing that as well.” Months before race date we’re boldly making claims about what time we’re aiming for and what we’re going to achieve. We have no problem putting it out there. But, as D-day draws ever nearer and as self-doubt hovers like a storm cloud over our minds, we find ourselves staring into the seductive eyes of failure. And so, in order to cover our bases we begin to create sub-standard options or plans, which essentially allow us a way out. We create a Plan A, Plan B and sometimes even a Plan C.

The problem is this. In any race where we are chasing a PB, or a new level or a new performance height, there will always come a time in that race where it begins to suck and where it begins to hurt. A point where our minds begin screaming and shouting at us to, “slow down!!”, to “just walk!!”, to “lie down on that green grass in the shade!!!” If at that point, that moment when it really hurts and when every part of us wants to stop, that moment when we have to decide just how much our goal really means to us, if we have a way out at that point, we will take it. If we’ve already given ourselves the option of a Plan B before we’ve even started the race, then at the moment when we have to push through, we’ve already settled for second best and Plan B looks way more inviting and we will settle for it.

The easy way out.

Having more than one plan quickly becomes a self-fulling prophecy of failure and quitting. There’s only one way to race a race and that’s lining up at the start with a realistic and trained for Plan A. Sure, it’s scary, it requires trusting your training, putting everything on the line and going for it! But, the feeling of achieving your Plan A will always be so much more satisfying, so much more motivating than always settling for or giving into Plan B or Plan C. The key however, and I repeat, is that the plan has to be realistic. It doesn’t make sense, for example, going into a marathon with a Plan A of running a 3h30 42k, when your training has realistically only set you up for a 3h50.

Set yourself up.

Whatever your next race may be, look at your training and take into account everything that has happened during that journey. Look at what your predicted race times are over a number of distances and then put together a Plan A that is both within your grasp, but still challenging enough to drive you to new heights.

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