You've done the hard work....... You've consistently dragged yourself out of bed early in the freezing cold to commit to your training, or went out on those hot, humid days to not get off track. So how do you make the most of the event and capitalise on your efforts?
Here's my top 10 must do's as race day closes in:
#10: REGISTER EARLY: Firstly, registering early commits you to the event, thus committing you to your training on a more specific basis. Often the reason why people get off track with their training. Secondly, you don't want the frustration of doing all the hard work, to find that there's been a sell out by the time you get online with your credit card in hand.
#9: WEAR YOUR RACE GEAR: It's no doubt common knowledge by most that you should 'bed' your shoes in to avoid blisters or other nasty uncomfortable surprises on race day so I'm not going to nag on this point. What IS however often overlooked is your other gear. It may come as a surprise that shoes are not the only thing you wear to a race, (well for the non-nudist folk anyway lol). With that in mind, items such as your shirt, shorts, or socks can play havoc should you not test them out prior. Your new fancy 'highly recommended' socks may have a seam that creates a point of friction, turning to blisters. Your shirt may just happen to rub under the arm causing chaffing, etc etc. You get the idea.
Work out what you intend to wear for the event, and wear this during some of your longer runs.
#8: FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE COURSE: There's not much point in running 50km's a week on flat bitumen, just to find that it's a hilly, technical single track trail run. Or vice versa. Ideally, if it's a local course, try to go out for a few sessions on the actual route to get familiar with the terrain, turns, or other conditions that may throw some interesting challenges at you on the day. You have enough to contend with on the day let alone having random obstacles come up along the way.
Most well organised events will have on their website a course map and sometimes some course notes if it's fairly lengthy and/or challenging. Be sure to check these out, and especially where you are able to park on the morning. CBD events can sometimes see people missing the start of their race as they didn't consider parking restrictions or the sheer volume of entrants taking up what parking may have been there.
#7: TAPER DOWN ACCORDING TO YOUR RACE & TRAINING: Don't overtrain!!!!! In fact, it's a widely accepted rule amongst distance runners that "it's better to be undertrained than overtrained at the starting line". I find myself sounding a little hypocritical as I rite this point, sitting here majorly overtrained 2 days out of a marathon. The purpose for this is because I was not actually training specifically for this event, but merely entering as I didn't want to miss it.
The length of tapering, and strategy behind it will vary depending on a few variables. The event length, the amount of training miles your doing, and your personal recovery rate (which varies from one person to another). By considering these items, one can strategize their way to their perfect taper plan.
#6: PRACTICE WHAT YOU'LL EAT: Don't make the stupid mistake that myself along with many others have made on race day by eating something on the morning or during an event that you haven't tested on training runs. Just because you've eaten this particular item before and it hasn't caused any issues, that doesn't mean it's ok for you whilst running. The tummy can become quite sensitive for some people (myself included) and can make an intended PB possibility turn to an utter mess of discomfort and misery should you not manage this item carefully.
Be sure to get into a routine of WHAT you eat, and WHEN you eat it in conjunction with your training runs. Find what works best for you on your tempo runs as well as your long runs; as your race day will be somewhere between the conditions of these.
#5: HYDRATE CORRECTLY: The importance of good water levels in the body is often overlooked in terms of performance. The fact is, water is vital for energy transfer through the bloodstream, so should you be under hydrated before and/or during the event, you will suffer.
Good hydration does not start on the morning of the race by downing 2 litre's of water. For proper hydration the body needs 3-4 days to take in and stock up levels.
With all this in mind, it must be noted here not to OVER hydrate either. Over hydrating, or Hyponatremia, occurs when the body is over-saturated with water creating an imbalance of vital electrolytes, with most importance on sodium levels.
A good sign is (a tad bit graphic but needs to be said) your urine should be a real pale yellow colour for the 3 days leading up to the event. (ideally at all times but that's not always manageable). Should it be a bright yellow, you are under hydrated; whereas completely clear may be a sign of over hydrating. Be sure to manage this item closely.
#4: SLEEP: The night before the big day can be a little unnerving. So much so that insomnia is a common threat to a runners plans. The good news here is studies have shown that the sleep you get 2 nights before the event plays a higher role than that of the night immediately before the event. ie, If your race is to take place on a Sunday morning, be sure to get a good nights sleep on Friday night. Should you struggle to get some shut eye on the Saturday night, it's not going to affect your performance as much as you may think.
The longer your event, the more important this aspect becomes. Not necessarily for physical performance, but more so the mental side. For example, if you've got a marathon or more on the cards, the mental endurance for these events is critical. Be sure to consider this need and match the supply to the demand.
#3: FUEL UP ACCORDING TO YOUR EVENT: There is a heap of contradicting arguments out there as to whether 'carbo loading' is beneficial or detrimental to your performance. Not having a PhD myself nor conducted detailed studies it would be inappropriate for me to say which is right or wrong on a broad scale. However, what I can say is that energy levels become of vital importance when you intend to put in 100% on race day. The longer and/or more intense the race, the more important this topic becomes.
It is my personal plan to fuel up well 48 hours out from the event, mainly because I do not intend carrying unnecessary weight in the gut that the big 'night before pasta party' can do to you. Digestion takes time so don't think that because you ate that huge bowl of spaghetti the night before that it will of great benefit.
Limited fuelling could see you run flat before you finish, making those last few km's quite challenging indeed.
Overdoing this aspect can do you a disservice by adding extra weight, and also requiring the body to be utilising vital energy supplies to processing and digesting that food, rather than utilising this energy for your intended purpose: Surging towards that finish line!!!!
Be sure to not only consider the energy itself, but also vital minerals and vitamins that the body will need throughout and after the event. This item becomes more and more crucial the longer the event length. Potassium, magnesium and sodium to name a few play a huge role in keeping the body functions and muscle contractions in order, and become depleted very quickly in marathon and ultra marathon runners. Be sure to adequately stock up on these before and possibly during the event if conditions require it.
#2: PRE PACK YOUR GEAR: Don't leave it to the morning of the race to go finding that odd sock or locate where the kids have put your race bib. These morning arte often an early rising as it is, let along having to deal with getting all this together as well. You want you pre race routine to be as comfortable and easy going as possible. Lay all your gear out in an easy to see, clear space and check that your typical breakfast supplies are in stock.
Allow yourself every opportunity to get the head into the right space rather than running around crazily looking for your gear all morning, and having to rush to the start line all hyped up.
#1: GET UP EARLY: Set 2 alarms, one being across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Firstly, if you're like me, it takes the mind and body a little while to fully get into action on those early mornings. But more importantly why I get up earlier than needed for the race, is you need to have breakfast around 2 hours before start time. This will give the gut plenty of time to digest the food properly, so this process is not having to occur while you're trying to push up that nasty climb.
Again, having all this time on your hands before the race allows you to just relax and enjoy the experience which is essentially the reason why we run isn't it????
With the above tips in mind, you're now ready to go about your race in best form. You've trained well, and now you've prepared yourself in such a way to give you every opportunity towards a rewarding outcome. Whether this is a podium, a PB or merely a memorable finish.
Plan ahead and you're sure to be rewarded!!!!!