Racing season is here! Time to get serious about committing to those racing goals and assuring that your body is well prepared to make it to the start line. Often times it can be difficult for me to discuss an upcoming race with someone. I would rather discuss it after I have completed it. A lot goes into making it to the start line, especially if it is your goal race. Not a training race, a goal race! The mothership! So many things can contribute to your training not going as planned. Injuries, health issues, unplanned events that disrupt your regularly planned schedule, are just a few things that can keep you from getting to the starting line. And, even when you reach the starting line (congratulations!), there are still issues that can arise, keeping you from completing the race that you imagine.
For me, one thing that alleviates some of the unknown going into race day, is preparation. Here are my top five tips for prepping for your next race:
1) Physical Preparation: Maybe the most obvious one! Have you followed a training plan? Does your body feel ready? Of course physical preparation should have started weeks or months before your goal race, but it is important to remember as you approach your race, your body needs rest. Tapering can bring on anxiousness and body aches you never knew you had. It is common to find yourself tempted to train when you should be resting before a race because you feel like you are unprepared. This is the wrong strategy to use. You must allow your body the time needed to soak up the stress you have put on it so that it can come back stronger and prepared to fight. Tapering before a race, is a time to take on a new book, catch up on those training or nutrition articles you've been meaning to read. The week before a goal race should be dedicated to resting your body and allowing yourself to trust in your training.
2) Mental Training: We've all heard the saying, "Physical strength is what gets us to the starting line, but mental strength is what gets us to the finish line." This one is so true, especially for the endurance athletes out there. Our mind can play some crazy games on us. The lows get can lower if we aren't careful, but the good news is more information comes out daily on training your mind for toughness. During your training begin visualization practice. This is when you are actually visualizing yourself running through the course. Is it the 20 mile mark, passing an aid station, those muddy hills? Visualize as much of the race as you can. Picture yourself beginning the race, as well as, finishing it. What will that look like and what will it feel like? Practice meditation and relaxation. I love using the app Headspace for guided meditation. Give up 10 minutes of your day to meditate. Meditating helps to slow your mind, ease anxiety, calm your nerves and feel mentally prepared. I don't always make the commitment to meditate, but when I do, I can feel the difference. Develop a mantra or a source of motivation for yourself. When I completed the Ironman, my Dad said to me, "This is your day." I never really thought it would make such a big impact on my race day, but I thought of it over and over again. This was my day, this was my time. I still think of that mantra during races. Maybe it isn't a mantra that you need, but just the thought of a motivating factor that can help you get through those lows. Telling the people at work you finished the race they never thought you could finish. Proving to yourself you can do it! Even just one word can help push you to the finish. Mine is, Believe. What will yours be?
3) Nutrition: What you eat and drink the week before a race will play a part in how you race. Be careful not to spend too much of your taper time at the local pub or pizza place. This is a time to feed your body all the nutrients it needs to function at it's very best. Think clean eating, vegetables, lean proteins and fruits. Drink lots of water so that your body is fully hydrated for race day. Not only is the day before the race important, but two days before the race is even more important when it comes to race, rest and nutrition. During your training you need to discover what meals work best for you and which ones you should stay away from. Now is not the time to try out new foods. Stay away from heavy dairy and anything that can cause an upset stomach or even worse, possible food poisoning. Stick to a balanced intake of protein, carbs and vegetables. Best bet is to cook your meals at home. Whatever nutritional temptations you have, keep them for the post race celebrations. It will be worth it! Make sure to plan your pre-race meal. If you'll be in a new town for a race, plan ahead by checking out restaurant reviews and menu items on Google. If it is a big race in a small town, request reservations so you aren't left waiting on a table to open up. I know I need down time before falling asleep the night before a big race and you will too. Make sure to plan your dinner routine accordingly. In addition, have your breakfast ready to go. Typically, there is nothing open early enough on race day for breakfast, which means I have to shop for my race day breakfast ahead of time. And, coffee?! Make sure you know where the coffee shop is on race day and when it opens! When you don't have your morning routine together, it can throw you off and cause additional race day morning stress, that is not needed.
4) Study Session: Have you done your race research? Memorized the course? Know when hills or tricky turns are on the map? Triple checked the starting time and race packet rules? It is important to prepare yourself for aid station markings, so that you can continue to keep yourself properly fueled and hydrated throughout the race. If you are running a trail race in an unfamiliar place, be sure to review the map so you don't end up off course. Are headphones allowed? Do you need to carry a water bottle or will water at the aid stations be enough? Have you checked the race website or social media accounts for any updates? Occasionally, I will get race updates sent to my e-mail and they will go into the SPAM folder. Be aware of any communication coming from the race directors. This is also a good time to let family and friends know where to look for you or meet you after the race. At the very least, schedule a place to meet your family after the race. When you finish, you will be tired and hungry; the last thing you will want to do is walk around looking for your significant other in a crowded area. Study up and spread the word!
5) Equipment and Materials: Now it's GO TIME! Walk through every part of your race in your mind. Do you have everything you will need? Race bib pinned on shorts or singlet? Places to store your gels? Your favorite race socks set out? Last minute equipment checks are important, especially if your race requires a lot of equipment (think triathlon). Always pack a back-up shirt, shorts, long sleeve and light jacket. Here in Chicago, weather can change from 82 degrees and sunny one day, to 40 and rainy the next. For real, it happened last week. Keep your eye on the weather and plan for everything. When you go to bed the night before, you should have all your materials set out and ready to go. The easier it is to get going in the morning, the more time you can spend using your energy towards race strategy and shaking off the nerves.
Here is a quick running check-list for race day:
- Shirt or Tank
- Sports Bra
- Long sleeve or Light Jacket (wind or rain)
- Race Bib pinned on
- Water Bottle or Belt
- Gels, GU or Chews
- Watch (fully charged)
- Music Device, Headphones*
- Hat or Visor*
- Vaseline or Anti-Chafing lotion*
Side note: if you end up wearing a jacket or long sleeve to the starting line and then realize you don't want it, hand it over to a friend or family member and ask them to bring it to the finish. It could end up being cold at the finish and this is a perfect opportunity to get some warmth back in your body!
There you have it! You should be prepped and ready to go for your next big race! And remember, it doesn't become an adventure until something goes wrong! Embrace the obstacles and enjoy these moments.