The Power of Routines and Breaking Them

Runners love routines. Everything we do is a routine. Our mornings, our activation, our warm up, even where we race, is all routine. I sometimes feel as though there is a competition of who can have the most solidified routines.

I, too, love a good routine. It feels familiar, it makes me feel grounded and in control. But one thing that I wanted to work on this year, was to break routines. Last year, I was all about familiarity before races. Sasha and I rented an Airbnb for most of our races and could have exactly what we needed.

My ideal pre-race meal is salmon with sweet potatoes and a roasted vegetable salad. That’s great when you have a kitchen, but you know what they definitely do not serve in an Olympic village in Rio? There might be salmon, but not when you need it, no sweet potatoes, very little vegetables. I vividly remember walking back and forth, and back and forth through the dining hall (panicking, sweating) desperately looking for salmon that was never found.

I’ve been trying to be a little more flexible with routine the night before a race so that this doesn’t happen again. I think being more adaptable is a good skill in race situations because sometimes uncontrollable or unpredictable things happen and you can’t let these things ruin all of your hard work. While I have been keeping the risk low, I’ve been putting myself in different situations to see how I’ll cope.

But what I really needed was to be thrown into a completely non-routine situation. Like last Saturday in Belgium.

Ideal Travel

Arrive at the race location two days before my race, especially if it’s in a different time zone. For a race in Europe, arrive in Europe five to six days before the race.

KBC Night of Athletics Travel

Leave Toronto at 11:55pm on Monday, arrive in St. Moritz, Switzerland at 11:50pm on Tuesday.

Leave St. Moritz to travel to Leuven, Belgium (three hour train to Zurich, one hour flight to Brussels, 20 minute train to Leuven) at 6:30am on Friday.

To recap, I was in Europe for 3 full days before my race.

Ideal Pre Competition Workout

20 minute pre run activation, 20 minute run, 2 x 200m strides at race pace, 3 short strides, 5- 10 minute cool down

KBC Night of Athletics Pre Competition Workout

Arrive in Leuven at 4:15pm, be informed that the West Hub group is “pre comping” at 4:30. Run to the track, hoping that I don’t feel terrible from the 6 hour travel and add a few minutes to reach 20 minutes, then do pre run activation, 200s and strides. 

Ideal Pre-Race Dinner

Salmon with sweet potatoes and a roasted vegetable salad

KBC Night of Athletics Pre- Race Dinner

Walk around downtown Leuven with Rachel Cliff and Jess O’Connell (secretly trying to find somewhere that serves fish, but knowing that this probably won’t happen). Settle on an Italian restaurant, stress over the menu for awhile, order a seafood pasta with tomato sauce, no vegetables.

Ideal Pre-Race Night

Get treatment and relax

KBC Night of Athletics Pre-Race

Get a little lost on the way back to the flat, run to try not to be late, have treatment for 15 minutes because I’m so late.

None of these things were exactly as I would want for my routine, but I ran a nine second personal best in Heusden (15:08.5) and placed 6th in a very competitive field. I did manage to keep my race day routine in check, as I’m not ready to toy with that yet.

I told my sports psych the night before the race that I was tired, and jet lagged and a younger me would have been completely distraught, but I actually didn’t care. I am in the best shape of my life and sometimes you have to game up when an opportunity presents itself. Maybe if my planning for this race had been better, I would have run faster, but this race taught me that I am more resilient than I think. We may hold our pre race routines dearly, but they are not the most make or break element of racing.

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