Preparing for race-day
First of all, congratulations to you! Taking on any health or fitness event is something that should be recognised and celebrated! It's hard work following a training plan and you should be proud that you are challenging yourself to achieve a goal that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
Whether it be The SMH Marathon, The Gold Coast Airport Marathon, City 2 Surf, Sutherland to Surf or the Blackmores Running Festival, all of these events have two things in common - the weeks of training in the lead up to the event and the hype before the race… But what are the essentials you need to know about preparing for race day?
The weeks leading up to pre-race day
1. Follow your training plan until the end (this includes
tapering) Everyone (myself included) thinks that if they add a
little extra mileage onto the legs in the weeks leading up towards
the race that it will increase your performance on race day - the
truth is, if you have been following a well-structured running
plan, you won't need to do any extra km's because your body has
already done the hard work, it has built a solid base and is now
requiring those recovery days for your muscles to repair in order
to prepare you for the big event.
Extra km's outside of your training plan will only fatigue you (your body is already under stress from all the training) and will put you at risk of injury.
Stick to the plan and follow the tapering!
2. Fuel - to eat or not to eat? What should I eat for fuel on
During your training runs is the time to trial what fuel that you are going to use for race day.
For smaller distances like 5km & 10km's races, you could simply use a quarter or whole banana or even an apple on the morning of the race, about an hour before you are due to start. For long distance events (this is anything classed over 14km's) you need to be getting in some extra fuel in the days before and on the day before the gun goes off.
For any event, your pre-race breakfast should be exactly the same as what you have eaten before your training runs.
During your training plan this is where you trial what foods you perform best with.
No matter your race distance you should never do anything in the immediate lead up to the race that you have not done before! If it hasn't been a part of your training plan before the event, don't start it now!
If you need new shoes, wear them in at least a couple of months prior to race day!
It sounds pretty obvious but I have first-hand experience with this error, last year before completing my first half marathon I purchased new shoes because my old shoes had almost worn through.
Stupidly, I had hardly broken these in (even though they were the exact same make shoes I had been wearing) & chose to wear them only 2 weeks leading up to my race.
I finished the race fine, but could barely walk for days after, even needing antibiotics to heal a huge infected blister on my foot from my new shoes. Rookie error!
4. Listen to your body
If it hurts, don't push through and don't run! There is a difference between sore muscles/discomfort and pain.
I know, easier said than done when you have been working so hard towards that big goal for weeks and all of a sudden you have to miss a training session because something hurts, but rest and recovery is just as (if not more) important as those scheduled training sessions.
If you have the flu, use that as a signal to give the body a rest. It's trying to tell you something, if you have an unusual pain in your quad, rest it - it's your body's subtle way of telling you it needs a break before injury occurs.
And get a massage or two! Rest and recovery also means including deep tissue massage into your training plan to help release those muscles and helps to recalibrate the body.
Get a high energy playlist together and trial your running belt/arm band.
This is a must for longer distances, there's nothing worse than clock watching, counting those km's down! There are actually some great downloads available on iTunes called "running trax" that have lots of high energy music for runners.
Also, trial out what's comfortable to wear, not just in terms of clothing for the run but also where you plan on carrying things like your keys and phone for music.
Same goes for headphones, visors, hats and sunnies. Figure out what works for you before race day.
6. Brain Training
Aside from the physical aspect of training, training your mind is as equally important.
We overlook the importance of training our brains (during our training) to use positive messaging and reassurance to push through fatigue and to keep going when times get hard.
Instead of fighting fatigue or giving in to it, work with it - this conserves energy and stops the negative self-talk that can potentially ruin your race.
Don't stop! Slow down your pace until your legs pick up again and your heart-rate comes back down, while telling yourself to refocus on regathering your pace & stride.
Through the inner qualities of consistent, deliberate and steady paced movement, you will continue your "flow" and avoid disrupting your momentum.
The all-important days leading up to race-day
1. Enjoy the taper
It can feel unnerving that your training load decreases after it's been so full-on for weeks in the lead up to race day but trust the process.
The taper is designed to allow your body to recuperate, rebuild, and be fresh for race day. Adding in extra mileage or training at the last minute provides no benefit and can cause your fitness level to dip and actually lessen your race-day potentia Enjoy the taper and focus on getting yourself mentally prepared for the race.
2. Fuel up but don't overload
During the last three days before an endurance run such as a half or full marathon, a runner's carbohydrate intake should increase to 70 to 80 percent of his/her total daily caloric intake. Now is the time to incrementally increase your carb tank but don't make the mistake of overloading especially the night before your run!
You want to avoid overloading the digestive tract to avoid things like feeling sluggish and bloated, stomach distress or worse, diarrhoea mid-race.
When bathroom issues are a concern, reduce the fibre you consume in the few days before the race. For example, eat white bread instead of whole wheat, use regular pasta instead of whole grain. And watch out for coffee! Not such good idea before a big race.
The day before race day, have your main meal at midday and a smaller meal for dinner so you have plenty of time to digest.
To perform your best you will need to be properly hydrated. This starts days before the race. You will need to consume the right amount of fluids while avoiding alcohol and being sure not to over-hydrate yourself. Throughout the day before the race, drink water when you are thirsty, but don't overdo it. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that men consume approximately 3 litres of water per day and that women consume 2.2 litres of water. But just go by the general rule of drinking enough water until you have clear urine.
As a side note: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it increases the level of water that the body excretes through urination. This can leave you dehydrated, so some nutritionists advise you not to consume alcohol at all in the 48 hours prior to a half or full marathon.
4. Check out the race map or better still the actual course
route before the race
You will already have a heightened sense of excitement and fear so try taking out some of the guess work by going for a drive around the event course or even walking it if you can prior to your race (walking only recommended for shorter events).
Research shows that by knowing your surroundings and where you are running, you reduce your anxiety and can somewhat know what to expect meaning you can go into the race
with a little less nerves. This can also be useful for ear-marking the halfway point etc.
5. Be organised!
Make sure you are across all the finer details days before your event such as the race time, how to get to the event (public transport/road closures), where to collect your race bib, how to get to the start line, what layers of clothing you will need to dispose of once the warm up is done, what you need to bring on race day (gels, Voltaren, Ventolin puffer etc.) and food for recovery after the race!
It's a good idea to have your bag packed the night before and have a checklist so you don't have to worry the morning of your race. To avoid a panicked race-day morning, lay out all your running gear (go ahead and pin on the race bib) and anything else you'll be wearing or carrying with you on the run.
6. Get a good night sleep
Try focusing on getting a solid good night sleep not only the night before but also two nights before your race. Don't stress if you don't get a full eight hours sleep the night before. Research shows that if you get eight to 10 hours of sleep on a regular basis, then not sleeping the night before the race most likely won't have any adverse effects on race day.
7. Warm up
It's so important not only to warm up those muscles but also to get your brain into the exercise pattern that it has been training for to signal it to start getting ready to race.
Follow the Trainers advice on the day.
8. Cool your jets!
It is so easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and go charging out of the gates, but if you do you are likely to start out too fast and risk fatiguing too early and struggling over the finish line. You are far better to hang back, get into your groove and stick to pace, that way you conserve your energy so you can push a little hard at the end.
9. Have a Mantra
The power of your mind should never be overlooked.
There will be tough times where your body will feel tired and your mind will tell you it wants to stop. This is where you dig deep and use all of those weeks of training as reassuring messaging that you can and will finish. After all you have trained your body to do this.
Having a mantra can help you pull through the tough parts or when you "hit that wall" to help you keep going.
Some people write a saying on their hand & refer to it when they need extra motivation.
Whatever your mantra is, make it meaningful and positive.
10. Stick to your game plan.
It's time to put all your hard work into action.
TRUST your body to do what you have trained it to do, the weeks of training has all come to this point, to have you complete this race as best as you have trained it to. The body has innate intelligence and knows what to do.
Be reassured when fatigue sets in that your body can push through the discomfort. Silence your mind with POSITIVE thoughts and self-talk and take comfort in knowing that every runner around you is experiencing the same thoughts and feelings that you are right now.
Running isn't for everyone and it takes year of practice to become good at running. It is its own sport that has its own unique training.
Irrespective of the event or distance, you should be congratulated for putting in the hours of mental and physical training it requires to successfully achieve your goal.
Soak up the atmosphere when it comes to race-day and revel in your accomplishment when you achieve that goal because 50% of people who set themselves a running goal, hardly finish the training.
With this experience, you encounter the beauty of being alive and the truth about full-spectrum fitness for the ultimate game of life! Go get it!