Home Field Advantage

It’s hard to read | but it says “Last Hill” in the middle of the road…a little further up the hill it says “Way To Go!” and even further up, it says “Now Run!

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We often hear people talking about “Home Field Advantage” in team sports. And in fact, a recent study showed that in major American sports, the home team wins more often than not. It’s close in baseball, where the home team wins 53.9% of the time. In hockey the winning percentage is 55.7%, in football it’s 57.3%, it goes up to 60.5% in basketball and a whopping 69.1% in major league soccer.

So what does that have to do with active sports? I mean, most of us will never have the opportunity to play our game in front of a sold out crowd at Lambeau Field. So what kind of home field advantage can we expect to see?

While we will probably never have the opportunity to use the adrenaline created by playing in front of that sold out crowd at Lambeau | there are other advantages to the “home field” that can work in our favor.  

If you have ever run a race in a far away town, the first thing that you probably notice is that you don’t get to go to sleep in your own bed. While it might not seem like a big deal on the surface, it’s just one more thing that you’re thinking about the night before the big race. Probably a little bit of a bigger deal is your morning meal on race-day. At home you probably have a big breakfast, with enough calories to get you through your race | or at least enough to get you a good start on it. For me, that meal has always been a salmon patty, eggs, english muffin, a big glass of chocolate milk…and then an Ensure on the way to the race. On the road, that breakfast becomes whatever the hotel has at their complimentary “Continental” breakfast. That probably means a bagel with cream cheese and an orange juice.

Probably the biggest “home field advantage” in idividual sports is familiarity with the course. In years that I race Ironman Wisconsin, I will ride the bike course at least twice a week, often more. In 2011, me and my training group led out-of-towners (flat-landers) through the course a couple times over the summer. In both instances, the riders from Chicago were amazed with how we all knew exactly when to shift, exactly when we could go a little harder, exactly when to back-off a little and save our energy…we even knew where every little piece of graffiti was on the road! It was a MASSIVE home field advantage.

That advantage also played out on the run course, and especially in the water. Back in 2011, the swim was still a 2-loop course, and ended with a straight-line swim from the last buoy into the shore (these days, you come in at an angle). Those of us who regularly swim in Lake Monona, know that the last buoy was straight out from that big metal building on Wilson Street | something that was much easier to sight on than the finish-line, which got lost in thousands of people on shore cheering the athletes.

The advantage probably isn’t as big on the run course | just keep running, right? While that is mostly true, it’s still nice to know where the hills are, and as importantly at that point in the race | where the aid-stations are! I remember running (o.k., walking) up Observatory Drive and hearing somebody behind me ask “Who designed this course? I’m going to find him…and punch him in the face!” I laughed and asked if he was from here? When he said no | I told him to take a look to the left when he got to the top of the hill | “It will all be worth it,” I assured him. He obviously didn’t believe me, but as I ran away, I heard “Wow! That’s beautiful” as he got to the top of the hill and looked out over Lake Mendota and out toward Picnic Point.

One last “home field advantage” in our sport | you are probably more likely to be greeted by friends and family at the finish line (and throughout the race) during home races. If might not mean winning 70% of the time…or even 53% of the time…but it is a great advantage!

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