Top 3 Reasons Endurance Racers Fail to Cross the Finish Line and How to Avoid Them!

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The more mistakes we make in a race, the more we learn...but that is a hard way to learn!  It is much more enjoyable to learn from the mistakes of others;).  After two decades of endurance racing, I have seen (and made) nearly every mistake in the book.  And through all of them, the same 3 issues float to the top year after year in all disciplines of endurance racing.  


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The human body is an amazing machine.  With a strong driver at the wheel (mental strength-another topic!), it will literally keep moving forward for an infinite length of time so long as we support it optimally.  So, what do we need to do to achieve relentless forward progress?  Read on to learn the top 3 reasons racers fail to cross the finish line in endurance events and my tips to help you avoid them!  *Note: These tips apply to any endurance event- not just races- such as big day hikes, paddling adventures or any other event lasting more than 2 hours.


*Excerpt from my Online Webinar: Endurance Racing 101  Download it today!


TOP 3 REASONS ENDURANCE RACERS FAIL TO CROSS THE FINISH LINE AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

Absolutely anything can happen on race day and there are no guarantees, but there are few major ways you can blow your race experience. Don't fall prey to the most common endurance traps and you will increase your odds of success exponentially. These issues are big enough to end your race and torture you in the process but the solutions are so simple!


#1: Blowing Up.

Failure to pace appropriately is one of the top reasons racers fail to finish (or finish strong) in endurance events.  Starting too fast for the distance and your fitness is a recipe for disaster in the mid to later stages of endurance events.  Adrenaline and ego are a terrible combination for many racers and it takes discipline, logic and experience to overcome these influential tyrants. Your training will determine your race pace and you should know what pace/intensity you can compete at by the time you reach the start line. Follow your race plan and run your own race.Put your ego aside, respect the distance and 'let them go'. Many people get caught up in the sensation of being 'left behind' at the start of a race.  That's just ego and adrenaline talking.  You have no idea if other racers are pacing appropriately and you cannot control the fitness of others around you.  With optimal pacing for a strong finish, you will likely pass many jack rabbit starters as wounded soldiers later in the day! Here are some guidelines to help you with pacing for a strong finish, while you are learning more about your body:

  • Race in Thirds. This is a must do strategy for new endurance athletes while you are learning how your body responds to new distances. In fact, all endurance athletes will benefit from using this strategy! This applies to kms of single day events and days of multi-day events as well. Don’t blow it all on the first day!

  1. First 1/3, go slower than you want to. The pace should feel too easy. If you think you are going to slow, go slower lol;) Hold back and follow your pacing per km plan for guidance if need be- because adrenaline will try to trick you.  The easier you start, the stronger you will finish. I promise. Trust me on this one. It is going to be a long day/week.

  2. Second 1/3 should feel just right, comfortable and steady- a pace you could imagine continuing for the duration of the race.

  3. Final 1/3, should feel challenging-you are running an ultramarathon/riding a marathon/doing an ironman! Push yourself to hold this pace and even ramp up the intensity as the kms tick down-  and finish strong.  But DON'T lay down the hammer until you can hold it all the way to the end!

  • No heavy breathing and no burning legs in the first 1/3 of the race other than short climbs (a few minutes). Unless you are an experienced endurance athlete and know your body inside and out while competing at the distance, this strategy is a must. Avoid pushing your body into anaerobic training zones- otherwise you will build up bi-products early on that create fatigue and slow or stop you in your tracks in the later stages of the race. If you still have juice in your legs in the final 1/3, then you can consider gradually ramping up your pace as you get closer to the finish line. But never never never push your pace into the red line in the early stages of an endurance race. It just doesn't work. This isn't a 10k or a half marathon. You need to stay aerobic and well under that red line to finish strong. Did I mention, it's going to be a long day?

  • Push your strengths and pace your weaknesses on race day and you will race within your abilities and finish strong.

  • Know the pace times you will need to make race cut offs- even if you don't think you will need them. Things happen. Plan B or Plan C may take effect and you may be working hard to make cut-offs. Know what pace you need to maintain in order to stay under the wire.

  • Respect the distance


#2: Bonking.

Another top reason racers fail to cross the finish line (or finish strong) is failing to follow a strict nutrition plan.  The first hours of an endurance race are critical in regards to nutrition as you cannot make up missed fueling in the latter stages of the race.  We tend to not feel hungry during the first hours due to adrenaline and pre race fueling, so it is important to set and follow a schedule right from the start of the event.  In later stages, many people lose their appetite or feel nauseous and stop eating which is a disaster waiting to happen. Experimenting with a variety of foods and consistencies during training will prepare you to tackle your nutrition with 'plan b and c' during your event.  Practice eating on a schedule during your long training sessions and experiment with solids, semi-solids, liquids, sweet, salty etc.  Eat early, eat often, be strict about your fueling schedule and caloric intake per hour- but be flexible about your choices. If you 'don't feel like eating' you likely need to. Slow down, get your gut under control and get those calories in before pushing on.  Do not skip fueling times- get those calories/electrolytes in every hour.


  • Follow your fuel/hydration guidelines-bring what you are used to and anything that you think you might crave. Sweet, salty, hard, soft, liquid, solid- variety. Stomach's can be fickle during endurance racing after hours of continuous movement, your taste buds may surprise you. Be open minded, browse aid station tables to see if a craving strikes you. 'What' you eat during an endurance race is much less important than 'when' you eat.  Get the required calories, electrolytes and water into your body, on schedule, in any form you can. Set a timer and NEVER skip or miss your scheduled time for fueling.  Eating and drinking early and often will keep you strong until the very end. Once you fall off track with your fueling schedule, the rest of your race can fall off the tracks.  The following guidelines are a starting point but need to be personalized for the athlete and conditions.  This is what training is for!  You are an experiment of 1.

    30-90grams of carbohydrate or 200-400calories per hour in any form

    1-3 cups of fluid per hour

    200-400mg sodium per hour 

  • If you don't 'feel' like eating, it usually means you need to. And when you stop eating, the crazies can get in the way of reasoned thinking. Low blood sugar, exhaustion and mental fatigue can prevent you from making sound decisions which will then send your race further array. Not following your fuel plan (that means calories, water and electrolytes) can result in nausea...which can cause you to consume even less...which can eventually lead to additional stress on the system and vomiting...which leaves the body further depleted and potentially unable to rally. Do not drink plain water- be sure you have electrolytes (especially sodium) to go with it every hour to avoid diluting your body fluids and making the situation worse.

#3. Falling apart.

Self care is the glue that keeps an endurance athlete together. As soon as you notice something isn't quite right, stop and take care of it right away. Self care is how you stop small problems from becoming big issues or stop signs. Blisters, hot spots, wet feet, hunger, cramps, nausea the list goes on. These are the small things that can blow up into big things and end your day. Spending a few minutes taking care will save you many more minutes or hours of suffering later in the day. Stop, I promise it is worth it.


Taking the time to tend to little issues early on can prevent major show stoppers in the later miles. I call this Self Care and it really can make or break your day during endurance racing. Optimal fueling/hydration and pacing within your abilities are critical during endurance racing, but self care is the glue that holds it all together in the end.


Try to anticipate what 'could' go awry out there and put a plan in place to remedy each situation. Even if you have the perfect day, knowing you have a plan in place can bring much needed peace of mind on race day. As soon as you feel an ache in your leg, a pinch in your foot or a stone in your shoe...stop.  Stop and address all small issues so that they do not turn into big problems.  Taking a few moments for self care will always pay you back multiple times in the end.


RED FLAGS

  • Blisters and Hot Spots - stop, assess and fix with clothing adjustments, tape/lubes etc

  • Chafing - stop, assess and fix with clothing adjustments, lubes etc.

  • Nausea- slow down, assess nutrition intake, correct, take ginger gravol

  • Hunger - eat!

  • Heartburn - medication, water

  • Too hot - cool off!  Rivers, ice, cooling sleeves

  • Too cold - warm up!  Gloves, hat, windbreaker

  • Wet feet - change socks/shoes or apply cream

  • Cramping - slow down, assess nutrition intake, correct

  • Sleep monsters- caffeine!

  • Low motivation - bag of tricks!

  • Pain...HA!

Have you made any or all of these 3 mistakes?  You are not alone!  The goal is to avoid making them again!  Train hard but race smart and you will reach your endurance racing goals!


*Excerpt from my Online Webinar: Endurance Racing 101  Download it today!

Cheers,

Sarah.