Just to keep it honest, I must admit that I have countless years of experience at sucking come race day. So please note that these top ten tips don’t just come from your Average Joe DNF. No they don’t! Indeed, if they offered a technical degree in RDS (Race Day Suckage), I would not only be the student, but the professor, dean and trustee of the USDS (The University of Race Day Suckage).
10. Try something crazy just minutes before the race
Here’s a real life example. For instance if you really want to suck, I would recommend that you try switching your trusted and true traditional pre-race meal of PB and J on a bagel to something like a bowl of red sugar bomb cereal with plenty of milk.
Now you want to be sure to top up your stomach with a 20 ounce bottle of blue Gatorade just minutes before you PR half marathon attempt. The swishing and swirling combination of white dairy, with red sugar cereal, and blue Gatorade as you run make for the most explosive display of 4th of July holiday hurl your fellow racers will ever witness.
The magnificent pageantry of watching you collapse at mile 5 after a
patriotic display of exploding colors coming from every orifice in your
body will make even the biggest fireworks display seem boring and lame
in comparison. You’ve never seen a more magnificent Roman candle unless
you happened to be at mile five with me a few years ago when the
soldiers running the race all but saluted this real life exploding
9. One word: "Tequila"
A lot of time, effort, and science has been conducted in trying to research the perfect before, during, and after race hydration. If you really want to suck with the best of them, you need only one drink to help you maximize your suckage potential, and that drink comes from the distilled sap from hearts of the agave plant. To many of us that drink is more commonly known as Tequila. As a bonus, Tequila has wonderful natural properties that enhance suckage beyond that of most other alcoholic libation.
Tequila has the wonderful ability to completely dehydrate you the night before a big race. After a night of drinking Tequila, when combined with its slight hallucinogenic effect of the distilled agave plant, makes for a guaranteed PW (Personal Worst) at any big race.
Yes, you'll be sure to go into the race as dry as the Sahara and as goofy as any Walt Disney character. You won’t know even when to swim, bike, or run, and you may just decide that a swim would be better after a long bike and run, instead of before. Besides...why would you want to get in the water when you are already over hydrated on Tequila?
If you really want to be in the race day Suckage Hall of Fame like me, you may want to let “whim” be your guide.
For instance I know of a former professional short course triathlete (who shall remain nameless but forever embarrassed) who, as well, had never run a marathon in his life. He was visiting a friend in the Southwest part of our country who happened to mention that he was running a marathon over the weekend and asked this nameless pro if he wanted to join him.
On a whim the nameless and not yet embarrassed pro said sure. Now keep in mind that he had not only never run a marathon, had never trained for a marathon, but more importantly had not even brought his running shoes with him on this visit.
So on a whim (there is that word again) he decided to borrow his friend’s running shoes and go for it. Except of course that his friend's running shoes were a bit too small, or a bit too big, or a bit too yellow. The exact details of the shoes are not important beyond the fact that they were not this professional's personal shoes, and they certainly did not fit him well.
So on the day of the marathon this soon-to-be-embarrassed Pro lined up on starting line with no training, no goals, no experience at the marathon distance and with shoes that did not fit well. He of course smashed all expectations and ran a marathon so fast that many of us would give our first and last born to ever be able to run such a race with training, experience and goals.
That part did not suck - but the fact that he literally could not walk for the next week…really did!
7. Bet Big…Loose Big
I like to place a bet every-so-often. In fact when race day comes, I’ll bet that we are all betting on something…whether we know it or not. For instance some of us are betting that weather will be cold, while other are betting that it will be hot, while most of us are betting that it will be just right.
We also bet with our training. Some of us bet that we’ll only need to swim a little in training since the swim is the shortest part of the race. Others are betting that we’ll be able to make up any time lost on the bike by having an incredible run. While still others of us are betting that we’ll be able to tear it up on the bike, so the run won’t be as important to our finish time.
We also bet on our nutrition and on even our mechanical skills. I’ve seen more than one triathlete call it a day after they had a flat on the bike. They bet that they would not flat by not preparing to (or even knowing how to) change a flat tire. When they did flat, they lost the bet and were forced out of the race.
But every-so-often, when the stars are aligned just right and the moon is in the perfect place in the heavens, we have that perfect storm of a race when all of our bets go south. Yes, every single bet we placed gets trumped, or gets called as a bluff, or comes up snake eyes.
This famously happened to me in Ogden, Utah, when I decided to run the Top of Utah Marathon, which is billed as being very fast and mostly downhill. In fact the first 20 miles or so are almost completely downhill through a lovely canyon that was supposed to be wonderfully shady and cool. I placed two big bets that day:
1) The weather would be cool. We arrived at start of the marathon at 6:00 a.m. on the top of a mountain and it was already 80 plus degrees....snake eyes. 2) The course would be fast enough to qualify for Boston. And indeed I ran the fastest half marathon of my life, but by mile 18 my quads were so fried from the constant downhill pounding that they turned to noodles at mile 20. Somehow I managed to crawl across the finish line in temperatures approaching 100 degrees for a magnificent new PW.
6. Race on Tubular tires, also known as "sew-ups"
When I was a young buck in college I actually got into a bit of serious cycling and raced for a while. It wasn’t long before I realized that all of the fast guys rode on Tubular tires. Tubbies as I like to call them differ from clinchers in that they don't have beads. Instead, the two edges of the tire are sewn together around the inner tube. Tubulars are used on special rims, and are held on to the rims by glue. Tubulars used to be fairly common on high-performance bicycles, but these days they are an endangered species on most bikes.
However there is still an “old school” hardcore group of athletes that swear by them. They point to the fact that the pros on tour ride them as well as the top triathletes at Kona. They say they are faster because they can be pumped up to a higher pressure, and that they handle better. This is all well and true until you flat.
You may recall the famous scene from a few years ago during the Kona Ironman World Championships when Norman Stadler threw his bike around like a used tissue after his second flat. Why? Because he couldn’t remove his tubular tire from his rim.
Tubular tire are almost impossible to change in a race situation. That’s part of the reason the boys on the tour don’t change them. They just swap wheels.
Worse yet, if you actually do manage to change a tubular tire while racing you’ll live the rest of the race in constant terror. Back in the day when I raced I had a tubular roll off the rim on a sharp bend. It was bloody hot and the glue that holds the tire to the rim got soft and let go. I spent the next two weeks silently screaming in the shower as my body was a tapestry of road rash.
If you truly want to save seconds by riding tubular like a pro, you better be prepared to crash like a pro and/or throw your bike around in disgust with the best of best.
Next time… Top 5 Ways to DNF at Your Next Race or classic mistakes to avoid in 2010
Roman Mica is a amateur Clydesdale triathlete who lives and races in Boulder, Colorado and is the managing editor of everymantri.com and the National Endurance Sports Examiner.