Top 20 race preparation ‘do’s and don’ts’ (written for UK Athletics 09/08).
Race day is approaching – you’ve trained consistently hard, remained disciplined and dedicated and are physically and mentally raring to go...so, as runbritain editor, NICOLA BAMFORD warns; neglect at your peril the “5 P’s” - Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Participation!
If sensible planning is the key to avoiding race-day failure, simply follow the ‘Top-20 race preparation do’s and don’ts’ below, to narrow your chances of disappointment come the bang of the starter’s gun....
1. DO ease-down in your training before hand and possibly have a sports massage. Depending on the race distance and the importance of the race to you, a training ‘taper’ is advisable so you can increase your chances of running to your full potential. By easing off the mileage and intensity of your runs and sessions, you’ll start to feel fresher and well-recovered come race day. In addition, a sports massage will help flush all lactic acid and iron out any muscular niggles. Remember – no pain, no gain!
2. DO have a carbohydrate-based meal the previous day/evening. By stocking up on carbs (a.k.a energy-producers), you should have enough energy for the following day – just make sure you don’t over-do it and ensure you balance your meals with enough protein and healthy fats – try the classic; Spaghetti Bolognese.
3. DO go to bed early. Even if your race isn’t until the afternoon or evening, it’s vital to stock up on plenty of sleep – rest is important for the regeneration of muscles after exercise and for providing you with enough oomph! the following day. Try to get at least 8-hours each evening and remember - the quality of our sleep before midnight is double to the zzzz’s you catch after 12pm.
4. DO wake early. If your race is at 9am, try to get up at 6 – trust me, even though it seems cruel and unnecessary, your body will thank you come the race start. Again, if you’re racing later on in the day, don’t be tempted to sleep in for too long or you may feel over-tired and even lethargic when the racing shoes come out.
5. DO pack shoes, kit, pins, drink and food and keep personal belongings safe. A runner’s kit bag should include all race attire and refreshments required – don’t expect to find anything you need at the race HQ – this includes safety pins to attach your race numbers and even a first-aid kit. Try to leave your bag with someone you know and trust and attach a name-tag with your home address to your belongings in case they get lost.
6. DO hydrate. Drink a decent amount of water up until an hour before the race (unless it’s hot and humid; where you should sip water if your mouth feels dry). Be warned, though – drink too much H20 and you’ll feel it sloshing around inside you during the race and been subjected to one or two inconvenient ‘calls of nature’.
7. DO fuel up – up to 3hrs before. If you’re racing at 10am, eat your pre-race breakfast meal by 7am – if peckish later on, you can always have a banana at 8:30/9. When racing in the afternoon or evening, go about your usual three square meals during the day – but steer clear of fats, spicy food and junk food.
8. DO walk the course to stretch your legs and assess the route. If you’re racing over a lapped-course, you’ll have time to walk it without getting tired and wasting precious time – if the course is a simple out-and-back stretch; wake your legs up by walking a segment of it.
9. DO warm-up adequately with a run, drills or stretching and strides. Depending on the race distance, a typical warm-up should include a 10-minute jog or steady run followed by either stretching or dynamic drills to prepare the muscles and then finally some strides at sub-race-pace to stretch the legs and keep your heart-rate elevated for the impending challenge. Ensure your warm-up is not so over-enthusiastic that you’re knackered by the time you hit the start-line, though!
10. DO mental preparation. You can be as fit as Paula Radcliffe, but if you don’t approach a race with confidence and self-belief, you’re doomed to fail before the competition’s even begun. Remind yourself of past and recent achievements in racing and training situations and visualise yourself running a sensible race and achieving your goal.
11. DON’T over-eat the night before. Too many runners fall into the trap of believing more food equals more energy – wrong! – More food equals more weight to drag around with you! Maintain your usual portion sizes and trust your body to work on the amount of food it’s used to utilising for energy.
12. DON’T worry and stress about race day. The more anxious you are, the more energy you’ll expend, which you could really do with reserving for the race itself. Remember – you can’t control the uncontrollables like the weather for instance. Try to stay as calm, focused and controlled as possible in the run-up to the race; no matter what the obstacle, you’ve not trained so hard to let unimportant factors ruin the race for you - you can over-come anything!
13. DON’T eat anything too heavy, unusual or dry on race day. Stodgy and new food to your system will undoubtedly play havoc with your digestion and potentially give you stitch. Dry food, too, will absorb the water you’ve diligently been taking on and in turn, divert it away from the muscles which need it – instead heading to the stomach. Also avoid having more than one cup of tea or coffee, as these absorb our much-needed nutrients.
14. DON’T forget layers and dry kit. Even if the forecast is great, always take spare socks and kit to keep warm and dry. It may seem a heavy inconvenience at the time, but there’s nothing worse than being cold and wet before or after the competition.
15. DON’T take valuables. Leave your bank and I.D cards, any special possessions and expensive objects at home. It’s better to have a small purse or wallet with only coins in, than risking the loss and nightmare replacement of your valuables.
16. DON’T wear new shoes. Test out new racing shoes on a steady or easy run a couple of days before the race – this is important in order to see if they’re comfortable and to ‘break them in’, which should hopefully decrease the chance of blistering.
17. DON’T forget to familiarise yourself with the ‘need to know’ areas. It’s vital to be clued up on where to register, warm-up, find the start, toilets and refreshments. You don’t want to be running around like a headless chicken now do you!
18. DON’T tire yourself out at the race. Once at the race venue, it’s easy to become distracted by goods stands and socialising with other runners but you must stay focused on the job at hand and be selfish by looking after number one! You can do anything you want afterwards!
19. DON’T neglect your feet and sensitive areas. If you’re prone to blistering and chaffing no matter how good-a-fit your shoes and clothes are, then try preventing the onset of troubles by taping, plastering or rubbing anti-chaffing cream or Vaseline over the ‘danger-spots’ beforehand.
20. DON’T get psyched-out. It would be such a shame to ruin or hamper your performance because of a last-minute crisis of confidence. Remember – it’s just another race; you love running, there’s no pressure and have faith in yourself – you might be surprised at what you can do!