June 11, 2014

Know your race course - Ignorance is not bliss

Who has signed up for a race, not having a clue what the course would be like?  Raising my hand here twice, because my very first and most recent race were exactly that experience.  Before attempting our first race at Disney, Christine and I signed up for a local race to get corral placement.  Did we even know what corral placement was?  Of course not.  But my sister Alison, who was also running the Princess Half Marathon with us in February 2011, advised us to run a 10k and we complied.  Finding a turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day 2010, we drove to the start and were both a bundle of nerves.  The race was held in Virginia Beach near a recreation complex, and we both assumed the race would be on asphalt.  But no, this race included a fair bit of flat trails during the run.  The course markings were probably good, but as a first time racer, I missed one of the turns on the course.  I ended up running about 50 yards and realized that I was the only one on that path.  I immediately turned around, saw Christine and crossed a field to get back onto the race course.  About thirty minutes later, the finish line was in sight and boy was I relieved.

My second mistake with a race happened on Saturday, when I took on the Asheville Half Marathon.  My knowledge of the course was a big fat goose egg.  The online course was featured on the web page here and of course this gave no details of the elevation.  Knowing that Asheville is located in the mountains, I knew hills would be a factor.  However, as a flatlander I did not do my homework and suffered for it.  Here is the course elevation that I should have studied prior to the race.


So after completing not one but two races with ignorance and no bliss, alot was learned and will be applied in deciding which races to choose in the future.

Here are some simple tips:

1.  Search the internet for course information

2,  Talk to people who have participated in the race in a prior year

3.  Use Map my Run to figure out the course elevation and difficulty

4.  Create a route on the USATF website

A big lesson was learned from my race Saturday and I will not sign up for a race in the future without course knowledge.  While it certainly did not hurt me, my race day plan might have changed had I known about the massive hills.  The end result was fine, but the anxiety during my race was huge!

Have you ever raced without course knowledge?  How did it go?


17 comments:

  1. I've never visited any of the race courses in person before running them (except of course the ones in my hometown). I will look at the course online though if it is available. I wish I knew how to gage the elevation charts. We have one hill coming into our development and that is the hill in which I compare all others too. Every time I see an elevation chart I will ask scott "do you think this is as steep as our hill". So fr I haven't encountered anything as bad!

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    1. The only thing you may want to check is the elevation at the start of the race. We are at sea level and we started at 2100 feet....thin air just starting out made it extra hard!

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  2. I will never complain about a 100ft elevation change again. WOW.

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  3. Ahhhh, Asheville is so stinking hilly. A long, long time ago, my parents wanted to move to Asheville. They were under contract on a house and we visited a few times. I threw such a fuss about leaving my school and hometown that we never moved there. And, the one thing I remember from those visits were the hills and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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    1. Lisa it certainly is and a great description. I thought the hills were ghastly and was so happy to cross the finish line!

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  4. I rarely look at the elevation chart. Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego...every place around me is full of hills, so I take them as a given. I'm much more interested in the sights on the course.

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    1. Jennifer, I also like the sights and the hills probably would not have been as bad if we had not started over 2000 feet above sea level!

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  5. OMG I would have died. Seriously. Louisiana is mostly flat as a pancake!
    Thanks for this advice...I'm definitely going to to check elevation charts before I decide to sign up for an out of town race!

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    1. It definitely is worth a look Karen. training on flat land and at sea level can make a race seem really hard if you have hills and like this race, over 2000 feet above sea level at the starting line.

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  6. I could not agree more with you!! I signed up for a 5K color run one time and I knew it had a few little obstacles but had NO idea it was a trail race until I got to the start line lol, and my ankles paid the price and were sore for a few days after. Then when I thought I did my homework well enough for the Alamo 13.1 earlier this year in March, the elevation didn't look so bad. Little did I know that it was the net elevation and did not account for all the hills in each mile. That is where my ITBS started too. Ignorance is so not bliss!

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    1. Sorry you ended up with some nasty side affects after your Alamo half Lauren. Being a smart runner and fully understanding the race course will be something I strive to do in the future!

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  7. Holy junk! That course elevation is no joke! I just looked at the VABeach elevation, thanks to this post, and it goes from 0-12 feet. Woohoo. Exactly what I need being a Charleston girl. They call it the LowCountry here because we are actually below sea level in some spots and there are NO HILLS! Which I love, but makes some races hard.

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    1. Abby, there is just a bridge or two in Virginia Beach for the rock 'n roll race. You will enjoy it other than the heat, which you are already used to!

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  8. As you mentioned, the website didn't provide information on the terrain. I grew up near there and went to college in Asheville, and still had difficulty deciphering how the course was going to be. I did figure out they had you go down the tough hill that the other half had you go up, and that made me think they were trying to make it a little less hilly. I guess there is little getting around hills in Asheville though. It looks like Hill St. was around mile 5 where your chart shows the big hill, and it appears Hill St. lived up to its name! Not too familiar with that portion of the course. I still love Asheville though and its charm, and is probably why races there still draw me in. I'm rather sad the Citizen-Times pulled the plug on the September half.

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    1. Melissa, I am glad I participated in the race, but I am not sure it is one I would repeat....perhaps the 10k if I race in Asheville again!

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  9. Believe it or not, I prefer to NOT look at the elevation charts...they stress me out and then the anticipation is brutal. I ask if it is hilly but I won't look at the exact details. I like to take it as it comes :)

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