When you’re doing an endurance event you haven’t done before, it’s common to be apprehensive about what you’re getting into. Maybe you’ve done races lasting 2 hours but making the jump to a 6 hour long race is what you’re looking to do, ultimately tripling your former race distance. Perhaps you’re coming off of a stretch of no exercise at all and you can’t even imagine completing that 10k you signed up for when running a single mile is extremely tough. But now you’ve picked your race. You’re committed. It’s time to figure out what you’re going to need to do this race.
In the endurance sports world, “paralysis by analysis” is common. Sometimes analyzing things to death keeps us from actually DOING them. So that’s not what we want, but rather an analysis that enables us and gives us a plan of attack based on the event we’ve chosen to target. Ok, but now what? How exactly do you analyze?
Chances are, you know what your body is capable of to some degree today. You might know that running a mile is extremely tough, but possible. The analysis then is weighing what you can do, against what you need to be able to do.
Let’s stick with running for a second; let's say you want to finish a 10k. The first step is to look at the course you’ve picked and determine the basics. Ex: It's all pavement, in downtown Washington, DC. If you look at the race website the profile of the 6.2 mile course shows it has very little elevation gain, so it’s flat. Which is exactly why you picked it. Perfect. So that is your parameter. You need to be able to get your body ready to run 6.2 miles on flat pavement.
What does that mean then? You’re going to need to get your body used to the pounding of pavement. Running on a nice soft trail or track isn’t going to cut it. 6.2 miles is a long way on pavement. That tells you that time on pavement is needed. We also know the course is flat. While training on hills or rolling terrain may seem good for building fitness, it does little to imitate race conditions, and prepare you for what it feels like to run steady on flat ground. So finding a flat section of road to run on for training will be helpful in getting you used to the sensation you need to replicate during the race.
Next, you’ll need to think about your intake. Will you need to drink anything during the race? Could it be hot, forcing you to drink more during the race? Do calories need to be taken to help you finish? For a 10k, the answer is probably no to most of these questions, but considering a courses potential weather as it relates to your bodies needs is important.
The course is also pavement so you will want to be training in shoes that race well on pavement. A trail shoe with big lugs for dirt and mud will likely leave you uncomfortable. How about the shirt, shorts/pants you’re wearing? Do they make sense for the time of year and weather? Getting the proper gear for the race is key, and training in them so you’re used to them is crucial. You don’t want any surprises on race day.
Maybe like me, you like to race mountain bikes, and are considering doing a 6 hour lap race. With a background in only short, cross country type racing, that may seem like a big leap. 1.5 hours to 6 hours of racing is a daunting jump. You’ll want to analyze the same pieces.
How hilly is the course? If it has a big climbs on each lap, try to work in intervals that simulate the distance you’ll be climbing. Maybe it has rolling terrain. Then fitting in workouts that get you similar amounts of elevation gain will be important to get your legs used to the fatigue you’ll experience during the race.
What kind of surface is the trail? Smooth dirt? Rocky? Roots? Mixture of gravel and dirt roads? All of those possibilities will drive different equipment decisions when it comes to tire type, pressure and even what kind of bike you ride (if you have options). And when you’re out training, including the type of terrain you will see on race day will be incredibly helpful in giving you proper expectations (Though, many times if you’re traveling to a race in another area, that might not be possible).
Along with dialing your fitness and gear to suit the course, just like running, you’ll need to analyze the type and amount of nutrition you will need for a 6 hour effort. This is the tricky part, as nutrition is more of a trial and error piece then just straight planning. But knowing the basics of the distance and intensity of your race will help give you a starting point to experiment while training.
Come race day, if you analyze each piece of the event carefully, you really can be 95% ready for what you’re heading into which can be hugely helpful to calm your nerves, and help you feel ready. But the reality still exists: without previous experience at that race, there will always be things to learn. You cannot plan for every possible scenario, but thinking through many of them will help eliminate surprises (re: unnecessary race day stress).
So analyze each detail as best you can, and expect to go with the flow when things aren’t as you expected them to be.