How to Sabotage Yourself on Race Day

Preparing for a race is more than just getting the training in, although that plays a big part in race-day success. But for all the worrying we do about our upcoming big races and who we’re up against, sometimes, our biggest opponent is… ourselves.

There are enough variables on race day, like weather, race route, or co-participants, that are out of our hands. What I like to do is make sure of everything that I can control and account for.

Many thanks to everyone who left their input on my Instagram and Facebook posts about the things they’ve done that ruined their race day! You will find that your self-sabotage moves are not unique, and I’m sure you already know what to do about them next time.

So, in no particular order, here’s what you can do to sabotage your race day performance!


@bariktayo says: Dead legs from overtraining.

Many of us know how to train, and in fact we enjoy it. But not a lot of us know when to back off, and we’re still logging those long miles way too close to the target race, thinking that “more is better”. We also tend to cram when we’ve had very limited time to train or had been knocked out of commission by injury or illness.

I took a different mindset into my first full marathon: “Better undercooked than overdone.” It is much easier to get going if you’re fresh on race day than if you feel jaded. Overtraining causes your body to put brakes on itself; it’s going to feel like driving a car with the handbrake on. So remember to give yourself a taper period when your body can get rid of any physical fatigue, rebuild itself, and you’re mentally raring to go.

Don’t Rest

@winrock091979 says: No rest or no sleep
@erikv_vickeree says: Lack of sleep due to over-excitement is prob the most common…
Aian Supersticioso says: A few years ago, I slept less than my usual 8 hours prior to race day. I struggled finishing that 21K because of that mistake. I learned that lack of sleep can take its toll on my body, the hard way.
Yanxiel Zoe Ambat says: No sleep/lack of sleep = race day disaster. Did anyone ever tried [sic] sleeping capsules to help them sleep before a race?
Deevs Venegas says: Joined an international marathon event, walked too much prior to race day (too excited sightseeing) and to add lack of sleep, really ruined my race. I walked over half of the route due to fatigue.

I’m tackling this separately from overtraining because there are times when you’ve actually properly prepared and tapered for a race. But it’s hard to sleep when you’re excited, and when you’re in unfamiliar territory it’s quite easy to walk too much just sightseeing or being lost. You really don’t want to fatigue your leg muscles the day before a race. So next time, don’t be afraid to be lazy and keep laying back or putting your feet up. Save the sightseeing for after the race!

However, according to this Competitor Magazine article, performance on proper sleep and on no sleep is actually the same — but lack of sleep makes it feel much harder. “…this may be because the brain and the nervous system are the biological structures that need sleep the most: while your heart, lungs, and legs are ready to go at full-tilt even when sleep-deprived, your brain and its neural system are sluggish and tired.”

To perform at your best, ensure that you do get enough sleep in the weeks leading up to the race. Chronic sleep deprivation affects your metabolism that fuels your muscles during exercise. As discussed in this Outside Magazine article, one night of no sleep does affect the muscles’ ability to use glucose, but getting only 4.5 hours of sleep did not have any statistically significant effects on the metabolic hormones compared to getting seven hours of sleep.

So it’s mostly about your mental state on race morning. If you think you’ll have a bad performance because you had a bad night’s sleep, then you will, as a self-fulfilling prophecy. So stay positive!

Nutrition Bloopers

There are a number of mistakes we can make with our nutrition whether it’s before a race or during a race.

@bevskoa says: over eating. 😀
@joonniecenteno says: Too much for breakfast
@peejaytan says: unlirice at inasal for dinner!
Randy Kanapi says: too much fiber the night before the race 🙁

Ah, yes. We runners love to eat, and when we hear the word “carbo-loading” we take it as license to binge on all the good stuff.

Unfortunately, what goes in must come out — and when it tries to come out during the race you either have a Code Brown situation or are bloated and sluggish throughout.

I actually don’t engage in increasing intake; I try to keep my meal sizes the same amount always so my gut doesn’t have to adjust and I don’t risk upsetting my stomach. However, if my dinner plate were a piechart, during race week I may consume a bigger “pie slice” of carbohydrate than protein at each meal. As for fiber, don’t increase fiber consumption close to the race, especially if you’re not used to it.

I would steer clear of salad and other raw stuff as well as foods that are very spicy. You don’t want to risk a stomach bug from the raw food, and overly spicy stuff can irritate your gut leading to gas and other problems. (Trust me, I speak from experience.) Go on your food trip after your race.

Yanxiel Zoe Ambat says: too much Energy gel before race… Never follow the instruction at the back of the sachet if you haven’t tried doing it in practice. Upset tummy just after 3miles, made me miss my target pace.
@angstlypooh says: dehydrated, forgot to bring salt tablets

The rule of thumb is, “Nothing new on race day.” This means everything you do on race day, you’ve already tried during your training. Race nutrition, attire, shoes. This is so you don’t chafe with your clothes and footwear, and so that your stomach is accustomed to what you’re eating.

Sports gels, blocks, and other supplements are not one-size-fits-all. You need to figure out what works for you during training, and then use only what you’re used to during the race. To switch gel brands on race day is a gamble and more often than not, you can be on the losing side. So if you’re traveling to a race, bring all your nutrition with you or train with the nutrition that they will be offering on-course.

@tweetariel says: overhydrated… too much beer the night before and still had beer in the hydration bottles. Bakit? “Fluid” pa rin ang beer!
@chaiespina says: alcoholic beverages

Even if alcohol is technically a carb (it’s made of sugars) and the body burns it before any other fuel, it dehydrates every cell of your body it comes into contact with. Hangovers are a consequence of this dehydration, and toeing a starting line hung over is not a pleasant experience. (Again, speaking from experience…) So, save the cheers for after the race. (I feel like I am repeating myself here.)

Don’t Keep Your Equipment in Tiptop Shape

@jun_neri says: The bike is almost always a source or problems during the race because there are so many things that can go wrong with it. Brakes, shifters, tires, cleats, bike shoes, etc.

Equipment failure is more a triathlete’s problem than a runner’s problem because of the bike leg. you can be having an amazing race and your legs can keep going the whole day, but several punctures, a snapped chain, or a broken pedal can end your day early. This is where it pays to be meticulous in the upkeep of your bike. Have it tuned and maintained regularly, with special attention to the bolts and cables which can corrode and snap. Ensure your tires are properly installed on your wheelsets, and keep them inflated at the recommended pressure — clincher tires with separate inner tubes are prone to “pinch flats” where the inner tube is caught between the tire and rim. And on race day, bring a flat repair kit.

If you’re a runner, inspect your shoes regularly and take note of tears in the uppers, worn soles, and frayed laces. Make sure the pair you are racing in is in good shape so you don’t become a barefoot runner if the sole flies off mid-race.

Go Out Too Hard

@irwin_see says: My first 5150 off the bike hataw agad for pace after a few suka!!!
@sherwinabaya says: Speedy Gonzales on the first kilometer of my marathon… Cramps 🙁

Pace awareness and control is something you develop during training, and you really need to be disciplined about sticking to your race plan, especially in longer events. If your aim is to finish, there’s no need to jeopardize that by trying to keep up with the front pack. If your aim is to hit the podium, then work on your speed during training and learn to be tactical when unleashing that speed during the race. In either case, your goal determines when you should go fast and lay it on the line, and that is rarely at the start of the run.

Don’t Focus on What an Amazing Thing It Is to Race

This is important. If you’re too caught up in sizing up the competition, measuring yourself against others, and beating yourself up when your race doesn’t go according to plan, then you miss out on how blessed and privileged you are to be out participating in a race. Only a small percentage of the world’s population is so inclined toward the pleasure and pain of endurance sport. If you’re going to be out there anyway, you might as well enjoy it!

So celebrate the small triumphs, accept both the highs and lows as part of the whole experience, and know that you can always do better next time.

Kikay Runner

These self-sabotage moves we’ve identified the hard way through our own mistakes. I’m hoping that you can learn and set yourself up for a good race day experience every time.

See you on the road!

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About Noelle De Guzman

Noelle De Guzman is a freelance writer and recreational athlete with over 12 years of experience in wellness and endurance sport. She believes sport and an active healthy lifestyle changes lives.

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