Sage Advice For Running — And Finishing — Any Race

How not to blow your race before you get to the starting line.

Eat Smart

On the plane ride to a half-marathon in California a few years back, one of the runners I was coaching casually commented she’d just started the Atkins Diet that week and had already lost five pounds. Despite my carefully-worded suggestion that she aim to ingest some carbs for energy over the remaining 48 hours leading to the race, she stuck to her nearly 100 percent protein diet right up to the start, ran OK through mile 8, then staggered through the final 5.1 feeling “really tired… like I was running in mud.” Really?

Sage Advice: Stick to the daily and race day nutrition/hydration plan that worked best throughout training, particularily during long runs, and save the dieting for the offseason.

Take It Easy

Many of the runners I coach have made the mistake of enjoying the sites and attractions in the host city a bit too zealously in the days leading to their goal race. Often this includes standing in long lines, walking dozens of concrete city blocks, skipping important meals (unless you count a corn dog as a nutritious meal) and avoiding optimal pre-hydration levels. Too often this has resulted in “dead legs” and a disappointing result on race day.

Sage Advice: Schedule your travel to arrive at the race city with just enough time to pick up your packet and relax. Then plan to stay a few days after the race in order to check out the local attractions all the while enjoying the therapeutic benefits of a short, easy walk as active recovery. Consider travelling for 5K and 10Ks instead of just the marathon, to enhance your enjoyment of the host city before and after the race.

Think Positively

Visualization can be an effective tool in the days leading to your big race, but it works best when framed in a positive light. I’ve had runners stuck in a vicious cycle of visualizing “NOT going out too fast,” which then has the negative consequence of accessing and reliving the specific memory of them “going out TOO fast.” As a result, many age-group athletes are prone to either unintentionally repeating the mistake on race day or feeling so overcome by anxiety thinking about it that they woefully underperform.

Sage Advice: Visualize your race through a prism of positivity, such as, “I will pace the first mile optimally,” or “I will welcome late race discomfort as a sign I am experiencing just the right sensations for achieving my challenging goals.”

Beware the Expo

The race expo can be a wonderful experience full of amazing energy and great deals, or, if you aren’t prepared, it can be a snake pit full of danger at every corner. Common race expo errors many runners make include spending way too much time standing and walking on a concrete floor, trying food and drink samples that didn’t agree with them, listening to all kinds of advice from otherwise well meaning vendors and fellow racers—none of which was likely to be of any benefit, and could have undermined months’ of careful preparation.

RELATED: Race Day Checklist

Sage Advice: The keys to a successful expo experience are to limit your stay to 30 minutes or less, get your packet and T-shirt first, grab all the free samples you like for trying after the race, quickly purchase any last minute supplies you may have forgotten at home, then head for the exit and the comfort of your hotel room. And for those temped to take last minute advice from strangers, trust your training, trust your coach, trust yourself!

Beware the Course Tour

At my first Boston Marathon, I rode the bus from the finish to the start in Hopkinton. I was relaxed and enjoying the energy of my fellow racers on board while taking in the sights along the way. Unfortunately, after about 30 minutes I started to get really freaked out about how incredibly far we’d driven and how I would have to run this distance if I wished to become a Boston finisher.

Sage Advice: Since then, I’ve followed and shared this advice regarding pre-race bus or car rides. Don’t look out the window! Instead, start up a conversation with anyone about absolutely anything but how far you’ve been driving. Or read the newspaper, close your eyes and listen to music or simple take a nap. Also, even if you have a car at your disposal, I’d advise not driving the course ahead of time. With traffic, map-reading and wrong turns, it’s bound to take longer than you think, and that can only detract from your mental outlook.

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