It’s that time again – checking the weather forecast obsessively, debating each and every outfit combination possible, and contemplating the perfect play list.
Ah yes…another race day is upon us. We will run our final 10K race together this weekend en route to Disney’s Princess Half-Marathon. Our race calendar has kept us busy since the spring with at least one race every month. And yet, slowly but surely, our calendar has teeter-tottered the other way and we now have more races behind us than we have coming up. (Reading this sentence likely strikes fear in Alana’s heart as she was probably hoping I hadn’t noticed that!). But, what is happening now is that the races are spreading out as the distances are getting longer and we’re starting to move from running races as part of our training, to training for races. With our goal race now less than 4 months away, we don’t have as much time for 5K and 10K races (those are now speed workouts or tempo runs) and the focus is on the long runs…this is all another way of saying it is time to
PANIC get serious!
As we have navigated the newbie waters of racing, we have trial-and-error’ed our way through pre-race preparation, taking lessons from each race (such as Alana learning that yeah, you have to train for these things and me learning that tapering is not necessarily a dirty word). And by the way, we don’t have this all figured out yet either! However, in the hopes of saving some of our fellow runners from repeating our mistakes, here are a few tips to ensure you’ll be kicking serious asphalt in your next race.
Leading up to a race, it is recomended to taper your training. You may be confused as to what that means exactly – we were! If you are a runner like me who has a hard time taking a break from pounding the pavement, you can relax: it doesn’t mean not running at all, but just running shorter distances and/or easier workouts as well as taking a couple or a few days off right before the race (if you are only taking one day off, make it the one that falls 2 days before the big event). Also keep in mind: the longer the distance, the longer the taper. In the past, I have run and run and just kept running like a mad woman before races, determined not to change my training plan. This made some sense because the races were simply “check points” to keep our training on schedule. However, as I started to get a bit more competitive with myself, I realized I wasn’t setting myself up to run my best. In fact, I was often cranking it up on race week which just left me feeling lead-legged and tired come race day. When I decided to experiment and actually take a little break beforehand, I found myself feeling refreshed and energized and ready to run by the time I donned my race bib (cue the PR!). So now I am a believer in the taper and trying to embrace it! That said, not every race can be as important as the next. If a race really is just part of your training plan and you are treating the race as your long run for that week, you don’t need to change much to your routine – but you also need to adjust your expectations accordingly.
The week leading up to a race is the time to start tucking in at a decent time and getting yourself rested. Many people don’t sleep well the night before a race and this is not a show-stopper, so long as you are well rested overall (and it is actually the sleep you get 2 nights before the big day that is most important). So leading up to the race, try to take it easy and sleep well. This is not always easy as our lives don’t grind to a halt just because we have races on the calendar: we still have families, jobs and other responsibilities to manage. Try to give yourself a break where you can. If the laundry can wait, let it wait until after the race! Getting an extra hour of sleep each night can make a real difference, especially if (like us) you aren’t even close to getting that mythical 8-hours of recommended sleep per night.
The week before a race is a good time to feed your body only good things (okay, technically you should always do that – but this blog is not fictional so let’s get real). Treat your body like a car and only put in the best fuel. I also tend to eat a bit lighter when I have a race coming up – more salads than usual, less (or no) evening snacking no matter how healthy. I want to be at my lightest on race days. Even though my weight only fluctuates by a few pounds, I want it to be at the low end of normal on race day. I always feel that extra pound or two might slow me down! (Confession: this may be a problem due to the Halloween candy in my house this week!) Don’t try anything new the night before or the day of the race. Do what has worked for you in advance of your training runs. This is not the time to experiment as Alana found out when she ate seafood the night before a race only to wake up with food poisoning! And if you have heard about carbo-loading, remember: it is not proven to work for female athletes (BOO! HISS!) and should only be considered for races longer than 10K. If you are going to experiment with it, it is apparently more beneficial to do so 2 nights before the race. Go easy the night before – you don’t want to run with a “carb hangover” the next day!
It is important to hydrate well leading up to a race – in fact, this is important leading up to your long runs too. So, if you are in heavy training mode, this should be a constant whether you have a race on your calendar or not. This means adding extra water to your diet. You can get creative here with flavored water if need be. Personally, I love coconut water. Just try to be conscious of what you are putting into your body. Some running experts will tell you to study your urine colour to ensure it is that of “pale straw”. But really, who knows what colour pale straw is or wants to examine their urine? Just drink up and forget about it!
It is a good idea to have plan going into a race. Many runners break the course into sections with different goals for each piece – for example, in a 10K race, you might think of the first 2K as your warm up, the middle 5K as a tempo/steady run, and the final 3K as speedwork (aka running as fast as your legs can take you!). Having a plan can help as you hit the mile markers – it will give you something to focus on other than the numbers. I inevitably hit a rough patch in most races, and I hear this is pretty common. This is the part of the race where, although your body is doing the work without any major issues, your mind starts to whine or protest or focus on the negative. I hate these mid-race slumps or funks or whatever you want to call them. I rarely ever hit one on a training run, so I am always surprised when it happens in a race. It is very hard to work through it and maintain your pace – and this is easier to do if you have a plan to focus on. I try to organize my play list to help me through areas where I know I might be struggling too. I am still searching for that key catch phrase or mantra I can say to snap myself out of the funk when it hits. Some runners have great success with counting their steps during this patch as well.
Most often, runners will choose a time-based goal. Or, if it is your first time running a certain distance, simply finishing can be a great goal as per Alana’s goal to finish the Princess Half-Marathon “in an upright position without having elephant ankles”. It can be a great idea to set some other goals too that are not as focused on time. If you miss your time goal despite your best effort or because of something that was outside of your control, does that make the whole race a failure? No! You can have other goals too – like running for negative splits, thanking a volunteer on the course, passing someone along the route, etc. When we run Disney, my goal is not to miss Cinderella’s Castle (hey, I missed three huge giraffes at the Toronto Zoo race…I get in a zone and it happens). And in terms of time, try to have an A goal (ie the time you want to hit if everything goes your way, exactly as you planned) and a B goal (ie the time that would be acceptable if something goes wrong or you are having an “off” day). Quite hontesly, the only person who cares about your race stats is you. It’s great to push and challenge yourself – but don’t be too hard on yourself before or after the race. It’s a small percentage of the population out there participating in races – it is hard to remember this at times, but just getting yourself to the start line is a pretty major accomplishment!
If you run with music, this is a no-brainer: get some new tunes before a race. Retire any tired songs that make you roll your eyes. And, geeky as it sounds, grab a calculator and figure out where you’ll be in the race at certain points of your play list and adjust accordingly so that you have the music you need to run your best. Since you are tapering, you should have some extra time to work on your play list and, come race day, you’ll be glad you did. While you’re at it, charge that iPod.
Our favourite topic: running outfits. Before your race, check the weather forecast and choose 2 outfits – one for cooler weather and one for warmer weather. Keep in mind, the forecast is just a guide and you want to dress for about 10 degrees warmer than the temperature because, once you get moving, you’ll warm up quickly. I would much rather shiver my way through the first mile than be sweating to death by the mid-way point, so you’ll find me in capris and tanks as long as possible. Arm sleeves are a great way to deal with cooler temperatures too – you can wear them to cover your arms when you start, and roll them down to wrist cuffs as you run. Besides, they come in some amazing patterns and colours and generally look pretty badass. Whatever you choose (and we think the more colorful and sparkly, the better) should not be new on race day. It can be purchased FOR race day, of course…but take it for a practice run before you race. Remember to pack a jacket for before and after the race when appropriate, and bag-check it so you don’t have to deal with it while you run. We learned at our soaking wet race last month that extra socks and shoes are also a good idea. Take the time to organize all of this leading up to the race so you don’t end up doing a midnight laundry session the night before!