For example, yesterday (August 29th), I completed a 5K, my 22nd race of the year and one of hundreds I have done since I was 13. Running is a pretty simple hobby, especially for me as I prefer a minimalist approach. But to pull into a parking spot 40 minutes before gun time and realize as I looked at my daughters in the back seat that I had forgotten one essential piece. My shoes were at home. I have the habit of wearing my shoes as little as possible, saving them almost entirely for running. In the process of getting my daughters ready, even though I reminded myself to grab them, they stayed on the shoe rack. My normal habit is to set them directly in front of the door. One time not following this habit and there I was, making a simple yet huge mistake. Luckily, there was time to go back across town and grab them.
On the note of forgetting, I believe my average for leaving my watch at home on race day is half the races. I have mostly gotten out of the habit of training with my watch, but use it for backup at races in case of timing malfunctions. I don’t race by it, but like knowing how I did as soon as I cross the line. I can’t even count the number of times I have been just getting on the highway, running over the mental checklist and realize my time piece is probably sitting in the last place I left it. Not a crucial thing, but still a bit of a hassle.
One of the most important rules of racing is to know the course. I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to check the race map beforehand, whether or not you are a front runner. I seem to have gone off course a lot recently, both my fault and due to misdirection. Race Directors, a simple paper map posted at the check in table is invaluable. Chalk washes off, signs can get moved and volunteers can make mistakes. Know where you are going before the gun goes off. Just yesterday I missed a turn because as I pulled into the lead and got into ‘the zone’ the resulting tunnel vision caused me to miss a race marking and a volunteer. I can fault no one but myself for not winning that race.
In all my years of racing, I have one DNF. I was in high school at the time and it was a cross country meet at Blue Lake Park. I remember it was cool and very windy. For some reason after warming up, I decided I was going to race in my warm up pants. As you can imagine, baggy pants and a strong wind make for a horrible combination. I probably didn’t even make it to the first mile before dropping out. I was not dressed for the conditions, nor determined enough to finish in spite of them.
Clear back in middle school I did something that I have only done once in my career. I jumped the gun. On a three command start, I accidentally hopped forward on the second command. It was a nervous reaction, and since I was right on the line, I hopped out in front of everyone. I’m sure I was quite red in the face as I stepped back to my place. The funny part is, the starter fired to gun to get everyone going, then fired it again to bring us back.
I guess if you could sum this all up in a couple words, it is to ‘be prepared’. Weather, mistakes, distraction, all simple factors that can totally change the race experience. Even the most seasoned veterans are prone to make mistakes at times and the key thing to remember is to not get caught up in them. There is always another race, another chance to pr. If nothing else, these mistakes become just another funny story to laugh at, a reminder that sometimes even the simple things in life can be easily upset.