Whether we are training for our first 5k or our 10th full Ironman triathlon, we spend countless hours exercising, eating right, and cross training. We are turning our bodies into finely tuned machines over weeks and months all with an eye on having the best race day possible. We only get one shot at that particular day, so we want to do it right. Sometimes though, we let our brains get in the way of our training. We second guess all the work we’ve done. We get to race day looking for that “magic bullet” to get us to the finish line. We violate the number one rule of endurance sports: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY.
The reason this is even a rule in the first place is that countless people have broken it with significant consequences. All we can do is listen to the wizened veteran runner or triathlete and heed their warnings. We can take their advice to heart all the while silently saying to ourselves, “Wow, that WAS stupid. I’ll never do that…” And yet somehow we do.
There are many ways to break this rule, but generally it falls into only a few categories. The first is clothing. That new shirt you are saving for race day might rub you the wrong way, causing chafing that becomes unbearable by the mid-way point of the race. Or maybe you found a new pair of compression socks that “guarantee” less fatigue, but create blisters. And that Costume? Did you test it out on a short run or walk before heading to your race? Well, it looks cute, but if it doesn’t breathe or tears in the wrong places, you might not have as much fun as you’d like.
Another way to compromise this unwritten adage of Nothing New on Race Day, is through your equipment. Yes, there are things we might add to our race day kit that are specific to racing, like bib belts and aero helmets. If we don’t test them out ahead of time, we may find they don’t work the way we’d like them to.
Lastly, making changes to our nutrition/hydration plan is probably the cardinal sin of race day strategy. Every long run and ride — hours and hours and miles and miles of training — we are dialing in our nutrition and hydration plan. This gel works/tastes better, this one makes me cramp up. This balance of water and electrolytes is perfect. It takes so much time to hone that plan. And yet somehow as we approach race day, someone tells us “this product will give you rocket boosters!” We believe them, try something new, and flush everything we’ve planned out down the toilet…and I mean that literally.
The thing about making changes on race day, is that we work so hard for that one moment we want to make sure we can control everything about the race. If we trust our training and the work we put in, we shouldn’t feel like changes are needed on race day, and yet while we sit and stew during taper, we wonder if we shouldn’t have done something else.
Everyone has something that works perfectly for them. That does not mean that thing will work for you, so let them do them, and you do you when you toe that start line. Maybe they like Tailwind, but you don’t. That’s fine. Maybe they love their Saucony’s but you can’t live without your Mizuno’s. Don’t change anything you have found to work just because someone else (and more often than not, these people might have years more experience than you do, so they MUST be right, right?) says what they use is “the best.”
Our training season is when we experiment. The Long runs are our bio-chem labs where we throw a bunch of stuff in our bodies to see how we react. Sometimes we have failed experiments, and other times we find the magic formula for our own personal rocket fuel. Do these things in training, though. Race day is not the time to experiment.
While there are rites of passage that every runner must endure, making the mistake of trying something new on race day doesn’t have to be one of them. In the words of Mike Rielly, “Stick to what got you here.” Trust your training and your plan, and never try anything new on race day.