While day-to-day training occupies a large portion of runners' time, it is ultimately excellent performance—no matter how you define excellence—in races that motivates runners. Moreover, peak races, or the handful of races that many of us target at the end of a season or cycle of training, are of particular importance. These are the days/weekends where runners are afforded the opportunity to lay it all on the line to see if they put the pieces of the training puzzle together well.
To maximize success on these special weekends, there are a number of do's and don'ts that, if implemented properly, can set runners up for race-day success.
Race Selection: Do Make It Special
Let's start at the beginning: race selection. This one starts long before race weekend, but it's an important first step for planning the training and racing season. Find a race other than your local small-town 5K as your targeted end-of-season peak. I am a big fan of using smaller, low-key local races as confidence builders and efforts athletes can "train through."
When it comes to the big day, however, find a race outside of your everyday sights and sounds. This race (or races) need not be a behemoth such as Peachtree or Bay to Breakers, but simply one with different competitors on a course outside of the routine. I tell many of the athletes I coach to find a race even just three to four hours from home, where they can book a hotel and create a unique "focused" atmosphere—even if it's only once or twice annually.
Don't Do Anything New on Race Weekend
In the early 1990s, I had the fortune of coaching a very talented female athlete. As an Olympic trials qualifier, I assumed she was aware of one of the golden rules of race-weekend prep: Try NOTHING new. This athlete, however, was not at running school the day that lesson was taught, and would commonly experiment with new shoes, new foods and a litany of other important race-weekend preparations. At least one effort in three saw a wardrobe malfunction or nausea.
On one memorable occasion, she thought Ethiopian food would be "great to try" the night before the '93 New York City Marathon. Needless to say, an upset stomach ensued, forcing her to DNF.
Try nothing new. If you typically eat pasta with chicken the night before your long runs, eat pasta and chicken the night before your peak race, even if you're in New Orleans and the jambalaya is the best. If you have a favorite pair of racing flats or other shoes you've been working out in, do NOT choose peak race weekend to wear those new shoes you bought at the expo.