How to Adapt to Race Day Changes

After yesterday’s post, maybe you were reminded of your own disappointing race, lamenting that PR you should have by now. One thing going through my mind while running last Saturday was, “When do I adjust my race plan? Can I still catch up? Will I have anything left if I push too hard now?” In the end, at about mile 6, I tore my homemade pace bracelet off my wrist and crumpled it up. I knew it was time to completely start over. From comes some helpful tips on how to adapt during the race.

“…Your race plan requires that everything goes according to your plan, and the odds of all those stars aligning for you are pretty slim. What happens if the weather changes? What if your stomach tanks? What if you forget your nutrition? All these things not only can, they will happen to you at some point in your racing career. Here’s a quick primer on how to make adjustments to keep yourself on track.

The most important thing is to not lose sight of what has brought you to the starting line. Honor the hard work you have done thus far by striving to stay as close to your original race plan as possible–after all, it’s what you’ve planned and prepared your body to do. Changing gears without due cause can lead to some serious (and avoidable!) race-day challenges.

Whenever you are faced with a choice, be conservative as your marathon race day is such a long event. Find the easy option; the one that requires the least effort and creates the path of least resistance.

For example:

  • I am kind of bunched up; I’m running 5 seconds slower per mile than I’d like. I can either (A) sprint out and around and ahead of this group; OR I can (B) simply ease off the gas and let them pull away, then drop into my given pace.   Answer = B.
  • It’s not that hot and not that cold. I am not sure what to wear. I can either (A) just wear what I think I need; or I can (B) bring that extra layer just in case. Answer = B.
  • My nutrition plan says to eat a gel every 45 minutes. I have 15 minutes to go to my next scheduled “feed,” but I am starting to get hungry right now. I can either (A) tell myself to suck it up and wait like I have trained; OR I can (B) have the gel at the next aid station with water and make a note to adjust moving forward. Answer = B.

Race Morning Changes
You wake up on race morning wanting to cry because you discover that the beautiful day forecast for your PR effort has been waylaid by the evil weather gods. We’ve all been there; it’s just part of the racing experience. On some level, your high energy around this minutiae is a clear sign that you are dialed in and ready to race…so don’t feel like it’s taking you out of the game at all.

Temperature Changes
If the outside temperature is significantly different than you had anticipated, don’t worry. You still have time to adapt. Better to know this now than to find out halfway through your race…

The Pace is Forced
You’ve been training at your goal pace for a few weeks now, and it’s always felt natural. Today in the race, it’s just not there. For whatever reason, you can’t run 8:30 minutes/mile, but you can sit on 8:35 minutes/mile no problem. Don’t fight the pace; your body is sending you messages for a reason. Settle into what feels right for you…there will ideally be opportunities where you can pick up the pace later in the day. But fighting it now only means that you’ll have a very long day ahead of you should things go south.

You hit mile 14 and suddenly your beloved strawberry-banana gel packets are your mortal enemy. You are burping like mad, can’t take in your food, and have a ways to go. Don’t panic. The easiest way to solve a nutrition problem is to slow down. SLOW DOWN. Ease off the gas and sip a bit of water to facilitate the absorption process. Better to take two minutes now than have to take the final 10 miles off because you imploded.

If you can’t use or have lost your personal nutrition, it’s time to turn to what’s on the course. Consider the sports drink there, with some water at each aid station until your stomach gets under control. Once things have settled, you can try to eat something else (with water), and just continue to monitor your body.

Problems happen to the best of us. Whether you brought it on yourself or are the victim, it doesn’t matter. Save the pity party for later. Ignoring the problem isn’t a strategy; it’s a coping mechanism. Pretending your problem isn’t there won’t make it go away. In fact, it will most likely lead to other more complicated issues.

Your top priority should be to adapt to race-day changes so that you can get back to the business of running.”

Visit to read more about adapting to wind, arriving late (the month before my first marathon I was plagued with dreams about showing up too late, getting lost, etc!), getting in (or somehow missing out on) that last minute bathroom stop!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s