Coach Mike Mead

April 2009

Preparing for the Road Ahead

Last month, a bunch of folks scurried around to get their entries submitted for the annual Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4th in Atlanta. Between now and then, a countless number of these entrants will jog the Peachtree course at least once to get a feel for the course prior to race day. It’s obviously not the same running along the course on the sidewalks instead of directly on Peachtree Street among 55,000 additional people seeking the same finish line.

When it comes to road racing, many people miss out on a key part in preparing themselves for the “big” race. They spend all that time preparing, but overlook details – one being, knowing the course they plan to challenge.

Most cross country teams each fall will take a preview run on each course they will traverse. When my Clayton State teams make an overnight trip, we’ll get in a run the afternoon before to get a look and make notes about the course which we later talk about in a team meeting. If we arrive the morning of the race, we will get to the venue early enough to get in a good warm-up.

For most courses, I stress to my athletes to see the latter half of the course and know where the finish line is. The starting area isn’t as important, unless there is some sort of an issue like a pot hole right where you may run. But know your finish line!

Too many times in both cross country and road races, some finishers just do not pay attention. I’ve observed many runners not following the cones or stop before they get to the finish line. During my second year of coaching, one of my female runners made all-conference because she knew where the finish line was. She was within a pack of about four runners and two of them let up at the beginning of the finish chute, rather than at the finish line. A big difference in her case since she was the last one to make the cut for all-conference!

So for road racers, it is good to preview a course any time you have the chance, particularly if you are planning to try for a personal best time. The big races will have course maps available in advance of the competition. If time allows, run on it a few weeks beforehand at about the same time of day so conditions will be similar.

During my road racing days, if I went to a significant race and arrived the night before, I’d at least try to drive the course to get a feel for it. But driving a course and running on it are quite different, particularly if the course is rolling. Riding in a car just does not give you the same feel. But riding in a car may be your only realistic chance to preview a course if you running a marathon.

If you are one that is training for a race like the Peachtree, just running the course isn’t enough in preparing for race day. Again, relating back to my cross country coaching, we prepare our runners for our big meets by training for the same kinds of course conditions. If we know the big races will be run on hilly courses, we’ll spend more time running hilly loops and running more hill repeats. If the course is relatively flat, then we’ll do more training on flat areas or hit the track more often. One year we knew that our region cross country course was being run on sandy soil, so we spent some time running in sand.

Any time you can train to assimilate your course conditions will give you more confidence come race day. The same holds true with training for weather conditions. A competitive runner cannot be a “fair weather runner.” I stress to my runners to be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions and they will gain an advantage over those less prepared.

There are some instances where you just cannot be prepared for every racing pitfall. Those come with experience. The more one trains and races in all sorts of conditions, the better prepared they will be to handle such conditions when the big races come around. If you are the kind of runner needing ideal conditions to run your dream or goal race, it will never happen for you.

If you did not watch the men’s Olympic marathon last summer in China, you missed an impressive race by Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya who, despite extremely hot, humid conditions, beat the field and set an Olympic record while becoming the first Kenyan to win marathon gold.

Had he trained only in ideal conditions for ideal results, he’d still be waiting for his dream moment. The next time you’re challenged by the weather or have issues with particular running terrain, remember you are preparing yourself for doing your best under unlikely conditions.

Good luck!