When you are pulling out all the stops!
So you have trained and prepared and now you are at the starting line. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are ready to go for it.
1. The Plan: Have a Plan A and a Plan B and C. Then be prepared to through all them out and wing it.
2. Route Book: This is your race bible. Be sure to review it and keep it in your possession. While these usually wind up being extra weight they do make a good souvenir. Keeping your route book stored in a Zip-lock bag will protect it from the elements.
3. Plan the day: Prior to each stage, review your road book to plan level of effort between Check Point’s, amount of water you will take, distances, compass bearings, etc. Consider writing on the back of your hand or a small note card key pieces of data you may need. Be sure to get any last minute information during the pre-stage brief each day.
4. Route Finding: Most stage races mark a majority of the course for you. The degree to which it is marked may vary greatly. Special markings may also be employed (three flags before a turn, etc.). Fully comprehend what to look for and keep your eyes open. It is very easy to miss a marker and wind up taking a 30 minute hit trying to get back on course. It is better to slow down some and think about the situation instead of rushing and getting lost.
5. Aid stations: The purpose of aid stations during a self-sufficiency race is minimal. Therefore minimize your time in aid stations. Preplan what you intend to do. Loosen water bottle tops just before you arrive and have your punch card ready. Check-in, pick up your water ration, check-out and get going. Yes, aid stations are a convenient location to adjust equipment, get things out of our pack, or even take a short break. But think of this, if during the course of a 150 mile (250 km) race there is an aid station on average every 6+ miles (10 km) there are approximately 20-25 aid stations. For every extra minute you spend in each aid station this adds almost 30 minutes to your overall time!
6. Run your own race: These are long events. You need to be able to run your own race and not be overly influenced by other competitors. They may be having a great day when you are not at your best. Trying to perform in a similar (or better) fashion to others day after day can lead to disaster. You must be able to pace yourself and know when to push it and when to throttle back.
7. Night Running: Unless you are an elite runner you will be running some portion of any stage race in the dark (usually the “long stage”). Be able to cope with this. You need to pay particular attention to staying on course and that is why your headlamp is a critical piece of equipment. Consider teaming up with others at night since multiple headlamps are better than one. Slowing down in the dark is also not a bad idea since you are more likely to miss a turn or trip over something thus risking injury.
8. Pack Weight: Depending upon your ambitions, the race and other factors your pack weight can vary. The race leading elites will have their kit weight down to around 16.5 lb (7.5 kg) or less at the start. Some other competitors may be in the 25 lb (11.3 kg) range. Both of these weight do not take into account any water carried. This should give you an idea where you should be and the trade-offs you may need to consider (food vs. “luxury equipment”). In the end you have to carry it and every ounce/gram counts. As a rule of thumb you should strive to keep your equipment weight equal to or less than the weight of your food.
9. Water load: Minimize the amount of water carried between check points if possible. Example, drink lots before starting and fill only one bottle for the first leg. BIG CAUTION: you really need to know what you are doing in order to not come up short!
10. Keep critical items in reach: Be sure to pack on the move food and frequently needed items (such as lip balm, compass, toilet paper, etc.) where you can readily reach them such as in a front pack or side pockets. This will minimize the need to remove your pack and save you time and effort.
11. Run with the terrain: Adapting your running style to roll with the terrain will help you maximize your pace for the energy expended. If it is sandy or steep slow down/walk more and eat, rest or visit with a competitor. If the terrain allows, open it up and make some time. Constant levels of effort work better than trying to maintain a constant pace.
12. Sand/Dune running: There are some techniques for efficient running in the sand. Take shorter strides and try to run more flat footed. Avoid running in the path of others since the sand will be broken up. If possible try running on the tops of sand dunes slightly to the windward side. The sand is usually packed down there and you will not break though as much.
13. Fueling/electrolyte plan: The mantra should be eat early and often. Food in your tank is better than food in your pack. This goes for electrolytes too. These should be done on a regular schedule (every 30 minutes, etc.) so a constant level is maintained.
14. Keep pack tight: Nothing is more annoying than equipment hanging off your pack and bouncing around as you try to concentrating on running. Be sure gear is stored away well and your pack zipped up securely before starting out for the day. If you no longer need to strap an item (such as your sleeping bag) to the outside then move it to inside your pack.
15. Have and follow a recovery regime: This could include hydration, a recovery drink, self-message, compression, stretching or whatever you are used to. This should be started immediately upon arrival after the day’s stage if possible. Recovery is key to successful stage racing. Rest all that you can, put your feet up and avoid any unnecessary exertion.
16. Following: While there are no real rules about following other competitors you should not BLINDLY follow them. Be aware of where you are, the course markings and where you need to go. Those in front of you can also miss a turn! It happens more than you would expect.
17. Long Stages: The best advice for these is to keep pushing through until you are done. Avoid stopping and sleeping if at all possible. Slow down if you must but even that will be faster than 0 mph (0 kph).
18. Follow the Rules: Don’t try and push the envelope here. Follow the rules and give yourself some margin. If an issue comes up resolve it immediately if possible. Those at the front of the pack can expect extra scrutiny but everyone should be prepared.
19. Team Racing: Some stage races have team categories. If you decide to participate as a group be sure you and your team mates are matched fairly well in capabilities. You will have to be racing at the lowest common denominator each day so try and hold up your end of the bargain and be supportive of your team mates when they are down. Enjoy the race together.
20. The over part: At the finish you will see a huge amount of emotions. Many will be ecstatic, some will be in tears (mostly of joy). Some will be ready to start looking for the next stage race to do. Others will want to throw their equipment away and never do another one again. Believe it or not, most of those with these negative feelings will in a couple of weeks look back at what they accomplished and begin to change their perspective. Some actually go on to compete again.