QT: Key Mental Lessons Learned By Way of Race Day Experiments


Last weekend, I ran my first race in quite some time.

Me and My New Bling

Depending on how you want to classify things, it had been almost a year, a year and a half, or well over two years since I ran my last race.

No matter how you slice it, I was looking forward to getting out there and pushing it a little bit for the first time (and hopefully not the only time) in 2018.

As race day was drawing closer, I started thinking about how I was going to run the race based on the loose goals that I had set for myself.

Ultimately, I decided to do try a few things that I’ve never done before on race day.

Yeah, yeah. I know you’re not supposed to do anything new on race day.

Well, I did. And what do you know?

Things couldn’t have turned out any better!

The Value of Experimenting on Race Day

In most instances, I totally understand the “don’t do anything new on race day” mantra.

When it comes to wearing new clothes, trying new fueling options, and other external variables that are more easily controlled, it’s probably wise to stick with what you’ve been doing during training.

There are some experiments that simply can’t be tested in training.

Maybe I’m the only one, but my mentality on race day is entirely different than it is for any training run. And as such, any tests or experiments that I run with myself during training would hold zero water during a race.

So as such, if I’m looking to continue to improve I have to be willing to roll the dice on race day and see what happens.

The best way to do that? Find a low key race where you’re not too worried about your results.

That way, if things do end up going off the rails, it isn’t that big of a disappointment because it’s not a goal race.

My Race Day Experiments

Leading up to the race, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of myself.

I literally hadn’t done any runs faster than about 10-minute pace in over 2 months, and my loose goal was to finish in under 2 hours for the trail half marathon.

That would mean that my average pace would need to be 9:06 to come in right at the 2-hour mark.

While I had full confidence in my training leading up to the race and the science behind heart rate training, I was still a bit nervous about whether or not I could go sub-2.

I decided that instead of worrying about monitoring my pace, I’d simply run the race by feel and let the chips fall where they may.

If I came in at 1:59 something, great. And if I finished at 2:01 plus, that would be fine too.

The one area of trepidation that I had about running by feel was that I’d still have my watch on. Would I really be running by feel if I was keeping one eye on my watch almost the entire time? And would I be willing to run by feel if the watch showed me going too fast or too slow?

The solution: change the watch face.

Running By Feel

Running or racing by feel can be a bit scary.

We all know runners, quite possibly ourselves, that have struggled with pacing by either going out way too conservative or (more likely) going way too hard at the beginning of the race and totally blowing up by the halfway point.

That’s why we tend to be so reliant on our watches. If we know what pace we should are aiming for, our watches tell us whether or not we need to speed up or slow down.

If you are confident in your training, you might be surprised to find out that by running by feel you can (often) end up racing faster than you thought you could.

I was hoping to finish in less than 2 hours, but I wasn’t sure if I could do that in my first trail race.

Yet I crossed the finish mat, with Adison in tow, at just under 1:55. I pushed hard, as evidenced by how sore I was for the next day or two after the race, yet I never felt like I was going too hard or too easy.

Adi and Daddy at the Finish

And while my splits aren’t all within a few seconds of each other, for a trail race I don’t think they are that bad.

I’m not going to call anything conclusive after one race, but I was pleasantly surprised at the results of running by feel at a race for the first time.

Running Blind (But Not Naked)

I was pretty committed to running the race by feel for several days leading up to the race.

But I know myself, and I know that I’d really struggle to avoid looking at my watch data for the entire 13.1 of the race.

And I also know that if I was going to be looking at my watch, my analytical mind would take over and I’d stop running by feel and instead worry about pace or heart rate.

I know I could have just left the watch at home, but I did want to make sure I had the data for my splits and things of that nature.

So instead, I changed the display to only show total distance and total time.

And since there was no real “instant feedback” that was on display, I didn’t have that urge to look at my watch hardly at all.

I think I looked at the watch 3 times for the entire race: once early to make sure it was working, and twice when it vibrated late in the race (miles 11 and 12) to see how many miles I had left.

But other than that, I ran the race without any feedback other than what my body was telling me, and I have to say it was a great experience.


Race day experiments aren’t always nightmare scenario that some people make them out to be.

If you have some areas where you struggle on race day, especially if those struggles come from between your ears like mine do, the best thing you can do is try something new in a race.

Try a new mantra. Try running only by feel. Or try going without music.

There’s no telling what might help you shake off some of those mental demons, but odds are that you won’t know for sure what works for you on race day until you try it on race day.

The Hot Mess Herself!


Sometimes, the best thing you can do is try something different on race day. #runnerproblems #runchat Share on X

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