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 running race – something that should be fun, 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, think back to the time your sabotage was so effective that you didn’t even make it to the finish line! During many years of running over all terrain I have almost mastered the art of race self-sabotage. Below are 10 of my favourites and yes, I’ve done them all. So… if you’re looking to tank your next race, here are some of my top sabotage recommendations:
One of my all-time favourite sabotages is to leave your best effort out on the mountain/trail/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 your legs, it’s like you lose IQ points and can become as twitchy as that squirrel out on the front lawn. Before almost every race I feel the need to go out for a run and prove to myself that I’m fit. And… if I’m really looking to mess up my race performance, I just go out and absolutely crush my final workout. The predictable outcome is to get to the start line feeling flat, tired and hopefully even a bit pre-bonked.
This is usually a rookie move, but strangely I still hear of experienced runners pulling this sabotage 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 that he has 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!
Along the same lines as above, use some previously untested gear or kit on race day. For example: I love my inov-8 X-Talon 212s, I‘ve done all my training in them and they fit perfectly, so let’s not play it safe, let’s try a different pair of shoes I saw awarded Editor’s Choice in that magazine everyone reads and wear them straight out of the box… what could possibly go wrong? In truth there’s almost no better way to ensure some unpredicted chaffing, rubbing, constricting or 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, you will drop right out.
I’ve had absolutely amazing days and yet finished only 30th. I’ve also had totally appalling days and won by a 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 in the race. To add insult to injury, convince yourself that your finishing position is a direct measurement of your value as a person. That way every time someone goes past you in the race you’ll feel even worse.
This seems kind of contradictory to sabotage tip number 4, 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?
This can range from ‘how hard can a 5k road race really be?’ to failing to notice/comprehend that your 50k ultra also includes 5,000m of ascent in the first 25k. There is nothing quite so demotivating as the realisation that your predicted finishing time has long past, and you aren’t anywhere near the finish line.
This one is actually the easiest one of the bunch. By definition, you’re trying to push to your limit, 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 style of sabotage and wimp-out, the easier it becomes.
With this sabotage you can 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!
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’ve booked the time off from work and you’ve already paid for the travel. There’s no getting around this one; your race is quite likely not going to go the way you planned. Thankfully it means this is quite easy to tie into tip number 8. If you combine them together you can fully expect to tank the entire race week/weekend.
Ah, the ever popular ‘go out too hard.’ Personally, I only like to pull this beautiful sabotage off once or twice a year. That’s really about as often as I need to experience that horrible, blown-up death march! Saying that, I do know quite a few runners 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 six 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 of 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 sabotage options, how does a person choose? I suggest that you be flexible, 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, that you stack several of them together – like the ever impressive #1, #5 & #7 combo… it’s absolutely brutal! And I guess if a person was thinking way outside the box, you could avoid all these sabotage techniques and actually put together one of your best-ever races… but what fun would that be?!