Researching your races: Eliminating the unknowns
Updated: Dec 14, 2017
Besides your training, there is also quite a bit of research you can do to increase your chances at success in races.
Unless you are like a character out of the Justice League, or in other words superhuman, then you are like most of us and have to do quite a bit of planning and training to make it to the start line of a race and really be prepared to do well in it. Things such as workout schedules, equipment and clothing, nutrition, groups/people to run with, locations that are safe and adequate for the type of training, etc. are just but a few of the considerations we all deal with as runners and athletes preparing for our next big race.
There is one aspect however, that I had neglected for years and have only recently begun to truly understand and value in its importance to a successful race day: researching the race itself.
Back in the early 2000’s when I became a runner and signed up for my first marathon, the internet DID exist (and no, Al Gore DID NOT invent it LOL), most of the big races published and maintained websites, and some well-established publications such as Runner’s World also had webpages which served as a good general source of information for our community. However, times have clearly changed and we now have at our fingertips much more extensive, substantial, and comprehensive information about most athletic events through a much larger variety of sources on the internet. Unless a race is either very small or brand new, there truly is no valid reason why anyone should go into it not knowing key aspects about it in order to be as prepared as possible for the challenges it will present.
So there are clearly many things that may either motivate or dissuade us from signing up for a race in the first place. There are the obvious ones such as the date of the event or whether the location is near or far, or one that you are interested in, but for me, here are what I consider to be the key aspects to research, consider, and understand before deciding to enter an event:
Characteristics of the course (Surface, elevation changes, type, traffic)
Type and extent of support provided (Pre-race, during, and post-race)
Key locations (Bag drop-off, start line, hydration stations, finish line)
Registration, travel, and lodging costs
Reviews from past participants
Why are these so important you say? Well, these things can have a significant impact on your experience and on whether or not you are successful in it or not. As an example, I can recall two races I completed this year in which reading about and understanding the characteristics of their respective courses helped me tremendously in having a much more positive experience and result than I would have otherwise.
This past summer I entered both the Pioneer Power Sprint Triathlon in Denton, Texas and the Badass Half-Marathon, in Waco, Texas. The courses at both of these races have challenging hills, but each in a different way:
The hills in Denton are frequent and rolling on the out-and-back loop for the cycling portion, so I knew to be prepared for frequent shifting of my gears, and understood that I’d be facing the same exact ups and downs on my way back to finish out the loop and thus was better able to manage my push and energy levels accordingly.
The hills at the Badass Half in Waco are quite different than the ones in Denton; they are not as long and rolling, but are much steeper and short instead, and I would be running on them instead of on a bike. As you can see on the elevation chart below, they start at around mile 2 and continue all the way until after mile 8 on the point-to-point course, so I knew that once I got through them, the course would be mostly flat for the remaining 5 miles and thus I devised a strategy that allowed me to get through the tough early hills with enough energy in my legs to finish out as strong as possible.
Had I not been aware of the course specifics on these races, I am certain I would have had a much bigger challenge and much more difficult time completing them, which would have in turn translated into dissspointing results for me. My expectations for both were spot-on because I did my research and was prepared for the challenges they each presented to my level of skills and abilities.
Besides the actual race websites published and maintained by race directors and organizations, an outstanding free online resource available today where we can get tons of research done on races held not only in the U.S. but internationally as well is BibRave (www.bibrave.com).
BibRave is a modern, well-organized website composed by a large community of athletes like myself who post detailed and insightful reviews of races they have completed that give you an unbiased perspective about events you may be considering entering and might not get otherwise.
In conclusion, regardless of the race you are considering entering, do yourself a huge favor–research as much as you can and be as prepared as possible for it; you won’t regret it!