If you are even considering a race this summer, be sure to take some notes! Our running expert, Mike, weighs in on how he preps for race day.
In 2011 I started running “competitively”. By competitively I mean try not to get left on the road after the course was closed. I had no idea what I was doing nor did I really care. My only thought was get to the finish line so I could forever brag about completing 13.1 miles. Then came the problem. I got hooked! I knew this new addiction would require some research if I was going to do it right. I began questioning how I could not only run faster but more efficiently. One of the key points I found was how to prepare leading up to a race. The following are some examples of how I ran my first couple races compared to how I run them now. Sleep
Kids, a social life, housework, your job, we all have things that keep us from getting to bed on time and turning our brains off. While it’s not always easy to get the amount we all want it’s definitely essential for an active lifestyle. When running 6-20 miles for your long run your muscles take a bit of a beating. Sleep is a key time for recovery. According to a 2013 Gallup poll the average American gets 6.8 hours of sleep per night as opposed to the 8 that is recommended. Some people can function efficiently on 6 while others take all they can get. When I started running we had a 6 month old and I wasn’t as strict with my sleep routine as I am now. These days you rarely catch me up past 10 during the week (usually allotting me 7.5 hours) especially if I’m planning an early morning run the following day. While I haven’t quite figured out how to sleep soundly the night before a race I will say adding this recovery time has been both welcomed and appreciated by my legs.
The next key point in race prep is tapering. After a couple of months of hard running it’s key to give your legs a breather. Believe it or not you can definitely over train for a race as . You want to be able to go into a race with fresh legs so you’re actually able to race as opposed to feeling like you’re dragging dead weight around the course. While tapering isn’t exactly key for a 5k or 10k I like to give myself a couple of weeks before a half marathon & sometimes 3-4 weeks before a full (depending on what my body is telling me at the time). This includes shorter long runs, maybe replacing a midweek run with some cross training, or killing all speed work a week before the race. Chances are you’ve put in the work by the time so listen to your body and give it a fighting chance.
In my early races I wore all cotton, basketball shorts, and multiple layers. Mistake. There’s nothing worse than carrying sweat drenched clothes on your back for 2+ hours. My thought on this, if you’re going to be out in the elements for that long then spend a little money to do it comfortably. Play with gear during training. Try new shorts or socks on a long run to see how they hold up. Make sure your shoes will be at optimal mileage for race day by cycling in another pair if need. See if you have any problem chaffing spots with your new brand of tank top (and apply Vaseline vigorously!) You have months of training to figure out what works best for you, don’t wait until race day to add something new to the arsenal.
Many races provide a free bag check area. If you’re traveling alone this may be something to look into. This can provide you a spot to put your keys, post-race fuel, or some warm dry clothes for the ride home without carrying unneeded items with you.
I’ve saved the most important point for last. I once had a friend tell me her pre-race dinner was Taco Bell. Honestly, I’m not even sure if that qualifies as food! Needless to say I wasn’t surprised to hear she had to make a pit stop a few miles in. Diet comes into play in so many ways before, during, and after a race. Let’s get one myth out of the way right off the bat: Carb loading is not a real thing. At least not in the way people have thought it to be for years. People used to advise loading on carbs the night before a big race. Chances are that’s going to get you in the same spot as my Taco Bell friend by mile 5. “Carb loading” is done weeks/months in advance. If you’re using a well-balanced nutrition plan then your body has already learned to burn fat and carbohydrates stores as needed during competition.
Two days before the race I usually have my last good-sized meal. I view this as my last true day of getting in these essential fats and carbs. I’m not gorging by any means but I am definitely trying to get a good balanced meal in. The day before I try to eat a decent breakfast and lunch followed by a lighter dinner menu. For example I may eat oatmeal and fruit for breakfast followed by a lean sandwich with veggies and hummus then a good chopped salad with a protein and garlic bread for dinner.
On the morning of I’m not much of an eater. In fact usually I take in nothing at all. I’ve been known to have a cup of coffee before a race but lately the first thing I’ll have (besides water) is a GU around mile 7. I’ll follow the first up with another every 45 minutes (or as I can tolerate them).
They aren’t enjoyable by any means but they help to keep me energy levels consistent along the course. The last piece of advice I’ll give is to know your course. Study the map and know where you’ll be able to get fuel. Smaller races may not have as many stations as you’re used to so be sure to bring a fuel belt if you’re questioning it. As noted before, not every brand of gel or fuel is for everyone. You’ve put in the time and training. Don’t blow your race because you relied on the directors to fuel you to the finish. You want something special, carry it with you.
Hopefully this helps you as you put your finishing touches on race prep for this season. If you have any direct questions let me or Cassie know!