"Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete."
Unfamiliarity with the course can lead to mistakes and catastrophes.
The last thing you want during a race is a surprise. Even good surprises have negative consequences and may leave you wondering if you could have done better if you had only known. Knowledge of a race course can be divided into 3 parts: The start, the main body of the course, and the finish.
Knowledge of the body of the course can be obtained prior to the race. For major events, study maps, profile diagrams, pictures and videos. Find out what the typical weather is and what past extremes have been. Talk with others who have been on the course. If you can, go over the course yourself by car, bicycle or on several training runs. The important things to determine are the location and degree of any obstacles such as hills, tight turns or constricted areas. Identify dominant landmarks such as turnaround points, aid stations and points where you might want split times. Other items to consider are where toilets are located, the type of surface you will be running on and exposure to potential winds, sun, rain etc. If you can, check out the course at the same time of day as the race will occur.
Some knowledge of the start and finish areas can be obtained prior to race day. If possible, these areas should be viewed before the race for their general features and terrain. Make sure you locate your starting position well before the start and stay close enough during your warm-up to get to it before the gun. Knowledge of the finish may mean the difference between winning and losing precious seconds toward a personal or age group record. You should know exactly where the finish is. Notice if there is a turn or corner just before the finish and how far it is from this to the line. If there are turns near the finish, determine the best position to be in going through them (i.e. the route giving the shortest distance to the finish).
Other things handy to know about the race include:
how long it takes to get from your house or hotel to the race and how long it takes to find a parking spot
the locations of the toilets at the start and along the course
the place to leave and retrieve your gear
the location of aid stations and the types of aid available
the place to meet your family or friends after the event.