Training for a big race is like playing a great game of chance: You put a lot of time and effort into your preparation with the hope that your commitment will pay off in the form of a personal best or the achievement of some other preset goal.
Circumstances out of your control, however, such as bad weather or a sudden illness, can sometimes put a wrench in your race plans and worrying about them can cause unnecessary anxiety. Focusing on the elements of your preparation you can control will put you in the best position to achieve race-day success—despite any unplanned for occurrences after you take off from the starting line.
Brad Hudson, founder of the Boulder-based Hudson Elite training group, and long-time running ace Reno Stirrat, who has logged a sub-2:45 marathon for five straight decades, share some of their top dos and don’ts leading into a big race.
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…maintain your routines.
Both Stirrat and Hudson say it’s important to try to maintain your daily routine leading up to a big race. “This means go to bed at the same time and try to eat at the same time,” Hudson says. “Your mind and body thrive on that consistency, so don’t disrupt it right before you race.” Another aspect of being consistent is to think about what you did before other successful races. Hudson suggests trying to duplicate those elements as much as possible. “Know yourself,” he says. “Know what works best for you and don’t veer from that.”
…rest and relax.
Hudson says the adrenaline you experience on race day is part of the “fight or flight” response in the brain. “Try to be calm the day before [the race],” he instructs. “Bring a book to read or put your feet up by watching some TV in bed.”
If you’re having a hard time sleeping, Hudson says not to fret. “Relaxing is more important than actually sleeping the night before,” he says. “Think of how you can best be calm, so that can mean avoiding negative people and negative things.”
…believe in yourself.
Remember that you’ve worked hard for this day and believe that all the miles and workouts you’ve logged will pay dividends. “Remember that the journey is over and we have a great destination to enjoy,” Stirrat says.
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…experiment with new gear or fuel.
Hudson says he’s witnessed many runners buy new running shoes at the expo the day before their race with the hope that their new kicks will help shave off precious time. “You need to resist that temptation,” he says.
Stirrat agrees, saying, “Never wear new shoes that haven’t been broken in. Blisters and uncomfortable shoes can bring disaster to a race. A shoe works when you don’t notice them during a race. This means they are doing what they were designed to do.”
Experimenting with new types of fuel, such as gels or blocks, may upset your stomach if you haven’t tested them out in training. Same goes for shorts or singlets that could cause chafing. “Bring your gear with you to the race,” Hudson says. “Don’t buy it the day before.”
…get too caught up in pre-race excitement.
The day before a race can turn into an unexpected social event. Hudson advises his runners to limit that day-before socialization and save it for after the race. “I suggest that runners remember why they are there and to take care of their own business and to go after your goals,” he explains, “so that means watch the time they spend walking or standing around chatting.”
…overeat or over-hydrate.
It’s easy to make a regrettable mistake at the pre-race pasta dinner by overdoing it at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Also, avoid chugging a gallon of water the day before your race because you’re panicked about being dehydrated. Instead, begin gradually hydrating for longer races in the 3-4 days leading up to the event. “[You] don’t want to have that full feeling before the big race,” Stirrat says.
Stirrat also advises keeping it simple the morning of the race and sticking to your usual breakfast routine in order not to have any unplanned bathrooms stops along the course. “Bathroom stops during the race add time and the anxiety of finding one,” he says.
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