At some point in our athletic careers, we've all self-sabotaged what should have been a big day in our lives. Specifically, I’m referring to a race; an event that should be fun and challenging and exciting. Think back to that really crappy race, the one where you crossed the finish line and said to yourself “WTF was I thinking? Why did I do that”. Or better yet, your sabotage was so effective that you didn’t even make it to the finish line.
Through my years of practice, I've been able to come up with a few of my favourite ways to sabotage yourself at a race. I’ve done them all, proving they are all quite effective. So if you’re looking to tank your next race, here are some of my top recommendations;
10. Taper Tantrum
One of my all time favourites, is to leave your best effort out on the track/trails/road in the day(s) before your big race. I’m the first to admit that tapering is tough. Without that chronic training load in our legs, it's like we lose IQ points and can become as twitchy as that squirrel out on your front lawn. Before almost every race, I feel some need to go out and prove to myself that I'm fit. If I'm really looking looking to mess up my race performance, I just go out and absolutely crush my final workout… essentially burning too many of the precious matches you that have in your matchbook. The predictable outcome is to get to the start line feeling flat, tired, and hopefully even a bit pre-bonked.
09. Try some new/untested nutrition
This is usually a rookie move, but strangely I still hear of experienced runners pulling this one off from time to time. Usually the pre-race train of thought goes something like this…“That guy i overheard last weekend sure looked fast. He said he's been killing it with this new chocolate/prune/flax/coconut oil/kale smoothie. Well, that smoothie is obviously what I need to make a breakthrough, so I’m going to use it for the entire race... no plan B. Plan B's are for suckers.” As a bonus, if done right, this one should produce multiple bathroom visits throughout the day.
08. Break in some new piece of kit
Along the same lines as above, use some previously untested gear/kit on race day. For example; I absolutely love my Inov-8 X-Talon 190’s, so why wouldn’t I race an 80km event with a pair straight out of the box... the last ones fit perfectly, so what could possibly be different? There's almost no better way to ensure some unpredicted chaffing, rubbing, constricting, blistering… Eventually the discomfort will chew its way into your head, and you'll either slow right down out of pain and self pity, or better yet... drop right out.
07. Care too much about the outcome
You can't control anyone else in the race, you can only control yourself. I've had absolute amazing days, and finished 30th. I've also had total crap days and won by mile. The outcome should be much less important than the process. But, if you want to really mess up your race and crush your ego, constantly compare yourself to all the fast people at the event. To add insult to injury, convince yourself that where you finish is a direct measurement of your value as a person. That way, every time someone goes past you, you will feel even worse.
06. Care too little about the outcome
This seems kind of contradictory to what i just said, but if you don't care at all about the outcome, then it's not a race. Essentially, you've already given up. Why use the challenge and the competition to get the absolute most out of yourself, when you can just jog it out and not even attempt to push yourself?
05. Underestimate the course
This can range from "How hard can a 5km road race really be?”, to failing to notice or comprehend that your 50km Ultra also includes 5000m of climbing in the first 25km. There is nothing quite so demotivating as the realization that your predicted finishing time has long past, and you aren't anywhere near the finish line.
04. Not being mentally prepared to suffer
Not being mentally prepared to suffer. This one is actually the easiest one of the bunch. By definition, you are trying to push yourself to your limits, which means it's going to hurt. Whether you are killing it on the day, or wading through concrete, at some point your brain is going to try and convince you to ease off and slow down. So, just do it... let up... don't actually try to challenge yourself. The more often you practice this and wimp-out, the easier it becomes.
03. Roll out the pre-race excuses
Make excuses and give yourself an out before even starting. Better yet, broadcast your excuses on social media leading up to the race, so that everybody knows it’s your confirmed game plan.
02. Race when you're injured or sick
Now this one is a bit complex... more grey as opposed to black and white. A lot of times, this is unavoidable. You (usually) can't pick when to get sick or hurt, and sometimes it just coincides with your big race. You’ve waited 3 years to get in the lottery for this one, you booked off work, and you have the travel paid for. There is no getting around this one, your race is quite likely not going to go the way you planned. Thankfully, this one is easy to tie in with the method above. If you combo them together, you can fully expect to tank the entire race week/weekend.
01. Go out too hard
And the ever-popular... go out too hard. Personally, I only like to pull this beautiful manoeuvre off once or twice a year. That's really about as often as I need to experience that horrible, blown-up, death march, but I do know a few people who use this technique at every race. Without exception, someone near me at the start of a race, goes out way too hard. This is totally understandable if you're 6 years old and at your elementary school track meet, but I'm always amazed when an adult (and presumably experienced racer) hits a home-run with this move. Not only will you feel a ton pain and suffering, but your ego will take a hammering as you drop like a bag of bricks backwards through the field.
With all of these great options for self-sabotage, how does one choose? I suggest that you be flexible, and maybe even have a couple of them in mind. You may start with a #8 and realize part way through that a #4 is actually your best move. Or, stack several of them together, like the ever impressive #1, #5, #7 combo... absolutely brutal!
And I guess if one was thinking way outside the box, you could avoid all of these techniques and actually put together one of your best races ever... but what fun would that be?!
Photo credit: Ian Corless