Spring is just around the corners and many of us have early season races on the horizon that we are preparing for. Additionally, it is March Madness with many other championships happening in college and high school sports. As I listen to ESPN radio and read the news and hear radio hosts and coaches talk about players, there is a common phrase that is repeated again and again that, to me, is like fingers on a chalk board. It's when they say this player or that athlete "really stepped up today" or they "rose to the occasion."
Why is it that I do not like when this is said? Because if you ever have to rise to the occasion or step up to the occasion, then you are not properly prepared for your race or competition. In my time working as a contractor with the Navy, I was told something that really made me think how we as coaches should prepare our athletes and how, as athletes, we prep for races. I was told they never want anyone to rise to the occasion, they want them to fall back on their training.
The thinking is, we want to take as much chance out of our situations as possible. There are many things we cannot control, however we want to control everything that we can. No one should show up to the start line hoping on luck or chance to reach their goal. Anytime a world record is set, that athlete trained to set that record with efforts at or faster then race pace. Anytime a distance or goal is achieved, the athlete is prepared for that. The game winning shots in the NCAA basketball tournament and game winning drives in football have been rehearsed time and time again. It is the preparation of the athlete that allows them to take advantage of those moments, that makes others look on in awe and say "WOW".
This coming Sunday I have a half marathon as a prep race for the Boston marathon in just over four weeks. This race was chosen because it is hilly and will prep me for any hills at Boston. Even though the half is being used as tune up for Boston, I will also be prepared for the half, I want to know everything I can about the course and competition. On packet pick up on Saturday, I will drive the course to familiarize myself with it and finalize my race strategy so I know what to expect on race day. What are the hills like. Is it more down hill in the beginning, with more up hill at the end? Were are water stations? I will gather as much information as I can as that will dictate my pace and effort. Example, if it is an uphill finish for the last couple miles, I want to make sure I have conserved energy so I do not suffer and break. For Boston, I have found a Youtube video of the Boston course and I have watched it a couple times and will watch it more so I can familiarize myself with the course as much as possible, where the hills are, how it should be broken up, and what are key landmarks to look for.
You may not be able to drive the course before your race and there may not be a video to watch, so you want to do what you can. Look at the course map, look how it compares to google maps to find landmarks, find something that shows elevation differences so you know when the race has a hill or is flat. The more prep there is, the less there is left to chance and you can enjoy race day and fall back on your training for a successful race day.