No matter how hard you train, how much you pray to the weather gods, or how thoroughly you prepare, if you race frequently, you're going to experience a day when nothing goes right. It's easy to plan the perfect race strategy, but many runners forget to include contingency plans for when things go wrong. Sometimes, these events are within your control, like training mistakes or not properly testing your pre-race breakfast.
More: The Pre-Race Meal
However, more often than not when things go wrong, such as weather, crowds or a rolled ankle, they are out of your control. Regardless of why something goes wrong, you can take steps in your training to prepare and have a plan in place for how to adjust mid-race.
In this article, I'll outline the steps you can take in your training, during the race, and after you're finished to develop a flexible race plan that can help you get through any situation you may encounter.
The most important thing you can do is prepare for things to go wrong in training. Not only is this a critical strategy for race day, but it also helps you bounce back from bad workouts. When athletes I coach have bad training days, which will happen to every runner—for example, 2:14 marathoner Nate Jenkins admits that he's "never had a marathon cycle where I didn't have one or two bad workouts"—I tell them to look for the things they did wrong and work on fixing them for next time. This mental approach to having bad training days not only helps you prepare for when things go wrong in races, but it also helps you bounce back faster in training.
One mantra I preach to my athletes is that you can't expect to do things on race day that you haven't done in training. For example, if you haven't practiced proper pacing, you can't expect to pace yourself perfectly during you race.
Along the same lines, I recommend preparing yourself for some of the more common issues that plague runners during races. Here are some of the more unconventional tricks I've tried: When training for my first marathon, I was nervous about running with a full stomach. So, before some of my short, easy training days, I drank lots of water before I hit the roads. This taught me not only how to be more comfortable running with a sloshing stomach, but also some unique and odd ways to get rid of cramps by changing my breathing patterns.