Race day is coming! You have been training, slowly building endurance, strength and speed, investing more time than you thought you had, and now that goal race you have been dreaming about is just a few days away. Especially if this is going to be your first race, you may have no idea of what to do in the days leading up to race day – even if you are a more experienced runner, there are still plenty of opportunities to self sabotage! Here are some key tips to help any runner make the most of the last few days before you are racing.
You have done all the work – a training stimulus or specific session generally takes around 10 days to translate to a physiological benefit. So if you are 10 days or less away from your race, there is no more specific training you can do – the key emphasis now is on keeping mobile and healthy, easy paced runs with some pickup over the last 100 to 200 meters to bring some speed into your legs, and get you thinking about your finishing burst! If you have been following a training plan then you should now be tapering, a period at the end of the program (normally starting 2 weeks before race day), where training volume is reduced. The idea is that it allows your body to recharge and arrive at the start line with the freshest legs possible. Continuing to train hard or long during race week will result in you starting the race feeling fatigued, not the place you want to be to have your best race experience!
Eating & drinking – by now you know what works for you nutritionally from your training runs. For race week, keep doing whatever you are used to, adding a small amount of additional carbohydrates for the last three days before race day to ensure that your body’s glycogen stores are topped up. This can be an extra banana or 2 slices of toast each day. We also recommend that you graze, so eat smaller amounts more frequently, avoiding infrequent huge meals. The same is true with hydration as well, so sip frequently, taking on board an additional glass of water for the last three days before race day. The night before your race is not the best time to experiment with a new meal that you haven’t tested in training – I know it’s tempting, especially as you’re likely to be in a new place that you may not have visited before! Save experimentation for after the race! Stick with you what you know works for you, it will be the best way to help you prepare.
Sleep – we all get nervous the night before a race, it’s just a natural part of the process for us as humans. To help yourself prepare, the most important sleeps are in the week before the race. Get yourself into a rhythm of getting to bed a little earlier than usual, and allowing yourself a chance to relax and get enough sleep. There are many, many runners who get very little sleep the night before their race, so keep calm if this could be you too.
Nothing new on race day – race day is not the best time to experiment with new shoes, socks, race vest, shorts or skirt, underwear, hat…everything should be tried and tested, giving you one less thing to take your attention away from your focus. Think about cutting your toenails earlier in the week before your race, the night before, or race morning is not the time to do this!
Goals – setting goals is an important, and exciting part of the process of being a runner. The way we approach goals can have a huge impact on our experience of running. Most runners will either set their goals at an unrealistic level, and then experience great disappointment when they achieve less, or expect very little, and over achieve. Whenever we work with athletes, we always recommend setting three goals for any race or event:
- Your dream goal – this is what you think you can achieve if everything falls perfectly into place and you have an absolutely stellar day
- Your realistic goal – this is the goal that you can realistically expect to achieve given everything that has taken place in preparation for your race
- Your self-acceptance goal – this is the goal that no matter what happens, you will still love and accept yourself
Relax, Breathe & visualize – we highly recommend taking some time to focus on just your breathing, and giving yourself a chance to relax. This can be a great way to prepare you to visualize and focus your thoughts, allowing you to control where your attention is. Practice this every day during race week, taking a few minutes to get yourself comfortable in a chair, on your bed, or a space on the floor. Start by taking some deep breaths in through the nose, and out through the mouth; then gently close your eyes, and bring your breathing back to normal, in and out through the nose. Focus on your breathing, and be aware of the rise and fall of your stomach in tune with your breath. Then allow yourself to visualize your race, from the start, through to the finish. Picture yourself running strongly, with your body relaxed and taking everything in your stride. Also picture how you are thinking and feeling during your race, and use this opportunity to create the race experience you wish for. See yourself running to the finish line, feeling strong and proud of your achievement. Watch as you cross the line with a big grin, and whatever celebration feels right for you. Then bring your focus back to your breathing, and then whenever you are ready, open your eyes, take a stretch, and give yourself a hug!
Listen only to positives – often the days before a race, when training volume decreases, can be a time when the “taper tantrums” arrive. Many runners start to think negatively about their preparation, themselves, what they are getting into…and start a negative cycle of thoughts that can have a negative impact on your race. If you find yourself starting to think negatively, then stop, and substitute a positive thought instead. Whatever thoughts we focus on we empower, so it makes sense to think about ourselves in positive ways.
Develop a race plan – we have found that it is really important to develop a plan for your race. How to make sure you don’t start too fast, get swept up and then have to slow down as oxygen debt catches up with you. When to take on board fluids and gels, when is the right time to push, and when to relax. This will be different for each race location, so it also helps to have some knowledge about the course and study the course profile.
Weather – your race may be in a location and environment that is new to you. Keep a watchful eye on the weather as race day approaches – we have always found it is better to prepare for a range of conditions even if it means carrying home a few extra items that you didn’t use rather than being caught out. If it’s going to be cool at the start, then plan to visit your local thrift store before you leave home for your race, and get a long sleeve top and some pants that you can wear over race gear, and throw off at the start.
Positive Race Workshops – at each race in the Vacation Races series, we will be holding a Positive Race Workshop that covers goal setting, relaxation and visualization, focusing on positives, and developing a race plan. We invite you to come and find out why runners have been saying our workshops changed their race experience. This is one feedback we received:
“I’m not really quite sure where to begin with my gratitude. I thought I was ready for the half before meeting you and taking your training session…..I couldn’t have been more wrong! Your words were inspiring, your knowledge was incredible, and your attitude was amazing! You helped me to realize how much inner strength I already had and how powerful my mind could be while making my way up the giant mountain!
Because of you I’ve truly fallen in love with running all over again! And, the icing on my running cake? I LEARNED HOW TO RUN DOWNHILL!”
Cheryl, from St.James, MO
Active at Altitude is the Official Training Partner for Vacation Races.