for those who love the outdoors

10 July, 2024

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The importance of running your own race

Hear me out. This might sound quite obvious but you’d be surprised just how easy it is to get caught up in a number of things on race day. When you’ve spent all of the time preparing for the race, it’s important not to let various external variables impact race day once you are there.

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Especially in trail races, you are likely to come across some single-track sections. It’s in these sections where it’s easy to feel rushed and like you cannot run your own race.

Here’s a scenario that I have certainly experienced in a number of races- the pressure to not be ‘too slow’ for the person behind you. The pressure to keep up with the person ahead of you so that you can clearly show that it isn’t you that’s holding up the single file line of people that’s just getting longer and longer behind you.

Next you find that you’re worrying too much about keeping up with the person ahead of you and not slowing the person behind you that you’ve actually forgotten to fuel when you were supposed to. So not only are you now not running the race to your pace, but you’re now behind on fuelling and still have a way to go. Oh, and now your heart rate is higher than you were aiming for too.

Perhaps it’s just my ‘people pleaser’ nature… but I suspect that I am not alone in feeling this pressure during a race.

We all enter races for different reasons and with different intentions for race day. For some, this may be their ‘a’ race, the race they’re giving absolutely everything to. For others, this might be a training run- a chance to get a long effort in whilst having the opportunity of a marked course, aid stations and not having to grind it out alone. 

Some people might also be using the race as part of their strategy in working towards their ‘a’ race- a chance to test fuelling, to test a slightly higher output on hills or a smoother journey through aid stations for example. The list of reasons for why someone might be at your race goes on and on. This is why it is important to run your own race.

For the first time, I actually managed to do this during the ultra-trail Snowdonia 100km. I kept reminding myself- ‘run your own race’. This was particularly important since I’d never run for this length of time before. I’d run a 100km race before but not with this elevation, spanning this length of time. Since I was in new territory it was incredibly important not to get swept up, feel the pressure and then pay for it later. 

I kept having conversations with myself preparing for when someone might have asked me to speed up or move or whatever, that we were all just out running our own races… but no one did say anything. If people wanted to get around me they did, i even stepped aside a couple of times to let people past who I could sense were really close because that was a better experience than feeling the pressure from behind. I would also call back- you can come past if you want to. Sometimes people would, sometimes they wouldn’t and I think they were just happy moving as part of a group. 

Trail and ultrarunning are different. There has to be patience in what you are trying to pursue and that has to happen in both training and the events themself. Less tactics around blocking people and not letting them pass- notice I say less, not no. These things do still happen but certainly less so than in traditional road running.

If you want to reach what you are trying to achieve in your race, you can’t be out there running someone else’s race. You have to run your own race. Unless you have entered to specifically pace someone else, it is not your job to pace anyone else or run to their speed. If you have entered to practice things like pacing and fuelling, you shouldn’t feel the pressure to move any faster than planned as this could then throw off the rest of your race along with your training after. 

You may be taking part in this race to practice these things whilst someone else is going hell for leather as it’s their ‘a’ race… your races are incomparable. Don’t get caught up in running their race. Similarly, this might be your ‘a’ race and someone else’s training race. They may have a strategy to absolutely storm it up the hills to practice whether that particular pace/strategy will work for them in their own ‘a’ race… don’t get caught up running their race, putting yourself at risk of declining performance later on.

I know, it’s easier said than done. I am writing this as these weren’t things i’d read about or considered before my first in person ultramarathon [my first was virtual due to race cancellation]. When I was new to ultrarunning and trail running, I didn’t know that people would enter races for any other reason than to race them… so hopefully this can help. Even considering these things pre-race could help you work around it during the race when/if you encounter any of the above scenarios.

Some tips:

  • Repeat the mantra to yourself -run your own race. Or - my race, my pace.
  • Remind yourself why you are there
  • Write any reminders on your hand pre-race if you think you might get caught up
  • If you start to feel pressure from behind, you can always call back- let me know if you want to pass.
  • Or- you can just step aside anyway to let them pass if it’s going to make your experience less stressful. [i have done this many times in ultras]
  • At aid stations, get your bottles out as you approach so that you don’t feel the pressure from those behind while you’re fumbling to get your bottles out and open once you’re already in front of the table.
  • You don’t have to stop at aid stations if you have enough supplies to keep you going until the next
  • Likewise, you don’t have to rush through at record speed. Take the time you need, however, don’t take so long that it could put you at risk of being timed out later, or make it harder to get going again.
  • Run what you can. Walk what you need.

Charlotte Clarke

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Charlotte is an ultramarathon runner. Her aim is simple, to encourage others to get active no matter what obstacles they have had to overcome. For Charlotte, this was two heart operations, but this has not stopped her going on to show what the human body really can do.

As an ex professional dancer and personal trainer she has always found the joy in movement and is an advocate for others finding this joy in movement however that may look for them.

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