Follow these tips to get to the starting line prepared to race.
With all the hope and hard work that you’ve invested in your goal event, you want to arrive at the starting line feeling calm, healthy and ready to run your best. Here are a few reminders to keep you on track in the critical days and hours before the starting gun fires, and to help you recover after you cross the finish line.
THE WEEK BEFORE THE RACE
Stop stressing. 5Ks and 10Ks are hugely positive community events. At most races, there are plenty of spectators cheering and plenty of food and drink at aid stations. Many runners – no matter how seasoned they are – fear finishing last. But try not to focus on it. In all likelihood, you won’t be. People with a very wide range of abilities and levels of fitness participate in these races, and many people even sign up to walk them from start to finish.
Cover the route beforehand. If possible, run, walk or drive the route where the race will take place. By becoming familiar with the course, the turns, and the elevation changes, you’ll have a sense of where you’ll need to push and where you can cruise. And finding the race start beforehand will prevent you from getting lost on race morning.
Eat what works for you. Your best bet is to eat whatever has worked best for you – given you a boost without upsetting your stomach – during your regular runs. Don’t eat anything heavy within two hours of the race. A smoothie containing fruit and yoghurt is always a good choice because it gives you a good balance of carbs and protein but not too much fibre (which could cause GI distress).
Get ready the night before. Lay out your gear and get as much sleep as possible – aim for eight hours. But don’t stress too much if you can’t sleep. If you’ve banked a few nights of good sleep in the lead up to race day, you’ll be fine.
THE DAYS BEFORE THE RACE
Don’t do anything new. Race week isn’t the time to try new shoes, new food or drinks, new gear, or anything else you haven’t used on several workouts. Stick with the routine that works for you.
Get off your feet. In the days before you race, try to stay off your feet as much as possible. Relax, and leave the lawn mowing, shopping, or sightseeing for after the race.
Graze, don’t chow down. Rather than devouring a gigantic bowl of pasta the night before the race, which could upset your stomach, try eating carbs in small increments throughout the day before the race.
Put your hands on your bib. The night before the race, lay out your clothes, and if you have your bib, fasten it on. That’s the one thing you need at the starting line. Don’t show up without it!
Limit your sipping. Yes, you need to stay hydrated, but no major drinking 30 minutes before the gun; sip if your mouth is dry or it’s particularly hot out. Some athletes will take a mouthful and use it as a rinse and spit. Your best bet is to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Arrive early. Get to the race at least one hour before the start so you’ll have time to pick up your number (if you don’t already have it), use the porta-loo, and warm up. You don’t want to be running to the starting line.
Identify yourself. Put your name, address, mobile number, bib number and emergency contact details clearly on your race bib.
Bring a rubbish bag. A heavy-duty rubbish bag can provide a nice seat so you don’t have to plop down on wet grass. If it’s raining at the start, you can use the bag as a raincoat.
Bring extra tissue. The only thing worse than waiting in a long porta-loo line is getting to the front and realising that there’s nothing to wipe with.
Don’t overdress. It will probably be cool at the start, but don’t wear more clothing than you need. To stay warm at the start, you may want to bring (expendable) clothes that you can throw off after you warm up.
Set at least two goals. Set one goal for a perfect race and another as a back up in case it’s hot, windy or just not your day. If something makes your first goal impossible halfway through the race, you’ll need another goal to motivate you to finish strong. And it’s best to set a third goal that has nothing to do with your finishing time. This performance goal could be something like simply finishing; running up the hills rather than walking them; or eating the right foods at the right time and successfully avoiding GI distress.
Line up early. You don’t want to be rushing to the starting line, so don’t wait for the last call to get there.
Start slow, and stay even. Run the first 10 per cent of the race slower than you normally would, with the idea that you’ll finish strong. Don’t try to “bank” time by going out faster than your goal pace. If you do that, you risk burning out early. Try to keep an even pace throughout the race, and save your extra energy for the final stretch to the finish.
Most races provide some aid stations along the way with bathrooms, water, fuel, and/or medical help. This is great because you don’t have to bring your own. However, it can be tricky to negotiate when there are dozens of runners all trying to go through at once. Here are some tips to get through them smoothly:
Find out what they’re serving beforehand. Check the race website before the big day to find out whether they’re serving water or sports drink at the race. Try the brand and flavour that they’re serving before the big day so that you can make sure it sits well with you. If it doesn’t, you can bring your own.
Don’t stop short. As you’re approaching an aid station, you’ll see a lot of people pile up right in front to get their drinks. You’ll want to run past the pile-up and target the end of the aid station.
Go to the end of the table. Look for one of the last volunteers – make eye contact – and hold your hand out to reach for it. Make sure to ask “water or sports drink?” before you take it.
Step away. Once you get your cup, step away from the aid station, so no one runs into you from behind.
Pinch and sip. Pinch the cup at the top so that it forms a spout, and sip. Remember: pinch and sip.
Take your time. Don’t worry about losing time here. It’s worth the few extra seconds it takes to slow down to make sure you’re getting the fluids down, and staying hydrated. If you try to drink while you’re running, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with the drink up your nose or all over your clothes, and that can make the rest of the race pretty uncomfortable.
AFTER THE RACE
Keep moving. Get your medal and keep walking for at least 10 minutes to fend off stiffness and gradually bring your heart rate back to its resting state. Be sure to do some post-race recovery stretches.
Refuel. There are usually snacks at the finish line, but what the race provides may not sit well with you. To recover quickly, bring a snack with a combination of protein (to rebuild muscles) and healthy carbs (to restock your energy stores). Consume it within 30 minutes of finishing the race. You might try a sports recovery drink, energy bar, or other packaged food that won’t spoil, spill, or get ruined in transit.
Get warm. Change out of the clothes you ran in, and get into dry clothes as soon as possible. After you cross the finish line, your core temperature will start to drop fast, and keeping sweaty clothes on will make you cold.
The next day, get going. As sore as you might feel the day after the race, it’s important to do some sort of nonimpact activity like walking, swimming, cycling, or working out on the elliptical trainer. The movement will increase circulation to your sore muscles and help you bounce back sooner. Just keep the effort level easy.