How to Tackle an Unfamiliar Race Course

Tips on assessing an unfamiliar race before the gun goes off

Pirate Invasion of Belmont Pier

With the heat of the summer comes the heart of racing season. If you’re tackling new races this season, you’re also tackling new courses. You already know to check the course map and elevation, but that only tells you some of the story.

So grab a race map, recruit a navigator, and drive the course. You’ll get a lay of the land, find landmarks to help you through the race, and get a more accurate feel for the course overall.

Here are a few course-driving tips:

Don’t be Intimidated: Miles seem much more daunting when you drive them than when you actually run them, I promise! The first time I drove a half marathon course in Columbus, Ohio, I wanted to cry halfway through the driving tour and stopped paying attention to anything, because I felt overwhelmed. Fear not, brave runners -- it’s all relative.

Note Landmarks: Have you ever noticed how things seem to take longer when you don’t know where you’re going? I find this particularly relevant to running. Take mental notes such as, “Once I get to the beautiful lake, I’ll be halfway through the course” and repeat these notes in your mind during the race. When you know what to expect and where to expect it, you can compartmentalize the course.

Enjoy the Scenery: You never know what will help you through a tough stretch. So make mental notes of beautiful areas/houses/statues/bodies of water/whatever. Most recently on location in Madison, Wisc., I had to tackle a big ol’ hill in the first mile of a half marathon. But I knew from driving the course the day before that the hill included breathtaking views overlooking a lovely lake. I barely even noticed the incline on race-day, because I was busy taking in the sights and sounds.

Be a Tourist: No matter where you are, I contend that there’s no better way to experience a place then see it on the run. So know learn the significance of your locale before you pound the pavement, and you’ll be sure to appreciate your journey all the more.

Remember, it’s more than a race—it’s an experience! So drink in all of the sights and sounds and enjoy the ride.

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