Race day is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” - Forrest Gump
Forrest, an important and famous figure in running lore, offers a quote that is very applicable to racing here.
Race day is like a box of chocolates.
You never know exactly what you can expect the day of the race.
It is never exactly known:
- how windy it will be
- how hot it will be
- how well the course will be marked (a.k.a. how close you can follow the marked line and not run any extra distance)
- how loose the surface conditions will be if there is any gravel or trail conditions
- how big of a crowd there will be (which affects motivation)
All of these factors can significantly affect how fast you will run that day.
Yet, runners have no problem planning out how fast they think they can finish weeks or even months before the event!
This is a dangerous strategy.
You cannot plan out your finishing time and, then, be mentally tied to trying to hit that finishing time before you know what conditions you will run in.
What if the unexpected conditions make it impossible to hit that time?
Or, what if a cool day rolls in and the course is a lot faster than you thought?
Are you going to be determined to hit your time from the moment that the starting gun fires?
The answer should be a resounding, "NO!"
You can carry some light expectations into race day, but a strict time-based goal will tie you down with mental baggage that can cause you to run beyond/below your capability.
If you run beyond your capability in order to meet some idealistic time, you will suffer in the later stages of the race and obliterate any chance you have at performing well.
However, there is one thing you can plan out before race day: your power target.
Your power target more closely aligns with your raw capability than your running pace because running pace is effected by things out of your control while power is more directly under your control.
To be clear, let me draw a distinction here.
Your power target is a representation of your fitness (which is under your control).
A pace target is a representation of your fitness (which is under your control) but also a representation of the course & race day conditions (these conditions are out of your control and affect how well you will transform your power into speed).
The advice here is to not define yourself based on a finishing time.
Life may throw you unexpected conditions on race day.
You can only run as fast as you are capable of on that day.
The easiest way to run to your capability is to understand your running power and simply race as close to that power target as possible.
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