“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
– Alexander Graham Bell
For many runners, race day is the payoff for their investment in the time and effort of running and training. To ensure that an event is successful, good preparation is needed in all areas: mental, physical and otherwise. From the seasoned veteran to the first time 10k runner, connecting the dots of race preparation will help reveal your true potential come race morning.
Here are 7 tips to help you prepare in the weeks and days leading up to your event.
(3 Weeks before Race Day)
The most difficult part of training for many athletes is often not running.
A taper is generally a 3 to 1 period between your peak training and race day where your training volume and intensity decrease with the goal of going into the race as recovered as possible.
The tricky part is not tapering too long or too light and losing a bit of fitness, while at the same time not tapering enough, and going into the race below your full potential and not fully rested. Remember, it is better to be 10% under-trained than 1% over trained for an event.
While watching any elite event, such as a track or swim meet, athletes are often seen staring off into space before competition. What they are likely doing is visualizing the competition to come.
Research and experience clearly show that visualizing different aspects of a race improve performance, decrease stress, and make the entire event execution smoother. From what you are going to wear that morning, to your bike to run transition in a triathlon, to that huge hill at mile 4, picture it in your mind in the weeks preceding the event.
(1 Week Before Race Day)
5. Know the Course
I was completely unfamiliar with the course of my 50 mile race last year. Along with a number of other runners, I missed a turn and added another few miles. This was so demoralizing for one runner he quit! Read past race reports and become familiar with everything on the race’s website. Know the course inside and out. This includes an elevation profile so no late race hills sneak up on you, as well as a map to reduce the risk of you getting lost.
For my ultra marathons, I watch videos from runners, read race reports, and write out my plan for and visualize every major section of the race- all in an effort to prepare myself as much as possible.
(2 Days Before Race Day)
4. Lay everything out
A few days before the event, lay out your gear, apparel, and nutrition. Be certain nothing is missing; a checklist can even help you be consistent race to race. While doing this you can pin your bib to your shirt, fill your water bottles, etc. You do not want to arrive at the race venue and realize you forgot your favorite socks at home!
(On Race Day)
More than anything, improper nutrition can wreck you on race day. I always try to eat very lightly the day before an event. 12 hours is the general time it takes a meal to pass through you. Avoid the pre-race pasta extravaganza! Do you want a pound of pasta, cheese, sauce, and garlic bread sitting in your lower gastrointestinal system when you toe the starting line?
Find your race day meal and it can help you prepare not only physically but mentally by bringing some comfort and routine to an otherwise busy day full of new adventure. My go-to meal is a huge salad and a bunch of fruit. May be a bit too much fiber for some, but it works for me.
2. Warm Up
Getting to the race nice and early will lower any stress and allow for plenty of time to warm up. Very light jogging and dynamic stretches are simple and easy ways to keep you warm and limber the morning of a race.
Generally the shorter an event, the longer the warm up. If I were to do a 5k, I would probably spend about 5k warming up prior to the race. Before a 100 mile ultra marathon, I’m as lazy as humanly possible; the first 20 miles are my warm up.
1. Never do something new on race day
This is the number 1 rule on race day. From shoes to clothing to the fuel you use during the event, stay consistent with what has worked for you in the past! Even different brands of sports drinks can potentially affect you in a variety of potentially unpleasant ways.
While we’ve all heard stories of runners who just “show up” on race day and run a great race with no preparation, being well prepared will not only ensure you will likely race better, but also feel better about the results.
By considering the event as a weeklong process from training to preparation to the finish line you will feel more satisfied post-race and more importantly run a more consistent event. Once you find your own routine of race preparation gearing up for an event will become second nature and the fun of race day will be with you throughout your training and prep.
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