Tip #1 – Don’t stop running!
Many runners take days off from running before races. It’s actually best to do a little running each day right up until the race. For mysterious reasons, too much rest after heavy training for an event often causes the body to switch into a sort of “shutdown mode” that leaves the runners feeling flat in their race. Don’t overdo it in your last days of training, but do something.
In fact, not only should you keep running through race week, but you should also do some fast running. Your next-to-last workout before the race should be relatively easy, so you’re not fatigued on race morning, but it should include a dash of speed to prime your nervous system for competition. For example, run three miles easy, then run 6 x 30-second relaxed sprints.
Tip #2 – Get in the zone
Runners typically perform best in races when they are eager and moderately anxious but not too nervous. In the final days before the event, do whatever you need to do to put yourself in this frame of mind. If you need to get more psyched up, watch a motivational running movie such as Pre or Chariots of Fire or listen to energetic music. If you need to calm your nerves, distract yourself by going out to dinner with friends or watching a comedy with your family.
Mental rehearsal, or visualization, is a powerful tool of psychological preparation for a race. It is not a tool you have to save for the night before a race, but there is certainly no better time to use it. After settling into bed, clear your mind and imagine the next morning’s race as vividly as you can. Obviously, you can’t go through the entire course in real time, so focus on critical parts such as the start, challenging hills and so forth.
Imagine moving with impeccable form and feeling strong, but not unrealistically so. Don’t complete your mental rehearsal race miraculously free of fatigue. Instead, see yourself fighting through the fatigue. Your race will be challenging, and if you expect it to be tough you will perform better than if you wishfully think it might be easy.
Tip #3 – Know the course
The fewer surprises you experience during your event, the better you will perform. To minimize surprises, familiarize yourself with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon or Half Marathon course as well as you can before race day. Read the course information, study the course maps, and make special note of where the aid stations and hills will be. If convenient, drive the entire course. This is time well spent.
Tip #4 – Carbo-Load
Research shows that one day of very high carbohydrate intake (4.5 g of carbohydrate per lb of body weight) is sufficient to maximize muscle glycogen stores. But you might as well start two days out for good measure. The best time to start carbo-loading is right after your short, fast workout, when your muscles are most receptive to glucose.
It takes some work to consume 4.5 g of carbs per pound of body weight in a single day. To get there, be sure to consume high-carb foods and beverages at every meal (e.g. oatmeal and orange juice for breakfast, noodle soup for lunch and a rice dish for dinner) and supplement with high-carb beverages such as Ensure between meals.
Tip #5 – Plan a smart pre-race breakfast
Nutrition is more important than sleep on race morning, so it’s important to wake up in plenty of time to consume and digest a high-carb pre-race breakfast. Aim to consume 75-100 grams of carbohydrate three hours before your race start, or at least 50 grams two hours out.
Tip #6 – Stick to your pacing plan
Hopefully you have used the training process to establish an appropriate race time goal and pace target for your race. Having set a smart target, avoid any temptation to abandon it early in the race unless you have very good reason to believe that you are better off running faster or slower. Feeling great in the first several miles of a half marathon or marathon is not a sure indication that you need to speed up. You should feel great in the first part of a marathon or half marathon even if your pace is perfect. You will start feeling tired eventually!
The smart way to pace a marathon or half marathon is to run conservatively through the first half of the race and then adjust your pace as necessary once you’re close enough to the finish to be able to make reliable calculations of the pace you can realistically sustain the rest of the way.[sgi:MattFitzgerald]