I worked for an athlete a couple of years ago who ran a race but didn’t feel great doing it. She couldn’t figure out what might have caused her to feel so poorly when her training runs went pretty well and she felt strong throughout the training cycles leading into this race. When I brought up the start time of the race as the main factor that might have caused her to feel so poorly, she was completely baffled. I pointed out to her that almost all of her training runs had taken place late at night, around 10:00 p.m., and that the earliest she had started a workout had been around 3:00 p.m. She had not been training like she’d be racing, and she paid the price on race day.
When plotting out your road map to your goal event, I'm sure you consider the workouts that it will take for you to get to that goal. When you consider those workouts, you’re thinking about the discipline, how long or how far you’ll be going, and you might even think about the intensity of those workouts. But have you ever considered the time of day that you’ll be completing those workouts, and how that timing can impact your performance on race day?
The most frequent example I’ve encountered of an athlete actually considering the time of day in their training is for a race like the Rock ‘N Roll Las Vegas Marathon - a race that is held in the evening. These later-day races tend to at least cause athletes to consider what they will need to do all day on race day in order for them to perform optimally, but I rarely see that same consideration given for training plan workouts conducted at the same time of day.
Most races are held in the morning, and in the very early morning hours at that. For athletes who train at that time of day, these races likely will not pose a challenge since they will be racing how they have been consistently training. For athletes who consistently train later in the day, however, early morning races can be tricky to navigate.
If you have a “traditional” schedule (which includes sleeping at night and then going about your daily activities during the day) and complete your training workouts later in the day, you’re probably not training how you’ll be racing. Completing a workout after you’ve been up and at ‘em for an entire day, had time to fuel and hydrate, have multiple bathroom breaks, etc. is drastically different than waking up after fasting all night and then racing within a couple of hours of that wake up. Conversely, if you sleep during the day and are awake at night, then races are effectively taking place at the end of your day, and need to be treated as such.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it: uncertainty is the number one challenge for an endurance athlete on race day. If an athlete isn’t completing training workouts at the time of day when he/she will be racing, then how he/she will be feeling and performing under those time of day conditions is absolutely an uncertainty. The athlete won’t be used to how their body tolerates racing intensity at that time of day, how to fuel optimally with limited time before race start, and perhaps even waking up that early.
Even if you can’t complete all of your training workouts at the exact time that your goal race takes places, there is immense value in completing at least one key workout per week at the same time as you’ll be racing. So, if you’re going to be running a half marathon that starts at 6:30 a.m., it makes sense to get your long run in in the early morning hours. For races like IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3, the timing issue is even more complex due to the duration of these events.
Starting a long ride in training at 3:00 p.m. isn’t optimal since most athletes won’t be riding at that time on race day, but starting a long run later in the day makes sense since that is the time when many athletes will be running in an IRONMAN event.
So as you consider your path to your goal event, I encourage you to consider the timing of that event and what you can do in your day-to-day training in terms of workout timing to set yourself for success. You’ll decrease your race day uncertainty and likely have a stronger performance on race day as a result.