Happy Thursday afternoon!
After a little blog housekeeping, I’ve decided to move my super professional racing advice from my Racing page to an actual post.
Take or leave any of it…these are just some of the lessons I’ve learned through the racing I’ve done. Hopefully they help!
Racing is one of the best ways to get into running—it did it for me! It gives you a tangible goal to work toward, and there’s something magical about crossing a finish line after months of preparation.
Here are 11 tips and tricks for having a great race.
1) Start slow!
Say it with me: “I will start slow.” Repeat. Repeat.
This point cannot be stressed enough. Several first-time racers, and many experienced racers, start too quickly, driven by adrenaline and nerves, and by the end of the race they’ve completely depleted their energy. There is no shame in starting off slowly, as there’s plenty of time to establish a good pace, and you’ll end up being very thankful for starting off carefully when you’re flying at the end. Negative splitting exists for a reason…you’re really going to be thankful in those final miles that you had some stored energy from a conservative start.
2) Stick to your routine.
Race day and the days before a race are NOT the time to start eating anything new, wearing new gear, or changing up your normal daily habits. Stick to what you know so your body and your brain are familiar and comfortable before, during, and after the race. Indian food is delicious, but trying it for the first time the night before your first half marathon is probably not the best idea.
You might also try a “dress rehearsal” run before your race, specifically a half or full marathon. During this run, wear everything you plan to wear on race day, right down to your iPod strap and sports bra, so you can ensure that nothing rubs wrong or fits funny. Chafing is not to be messed with.
3) Dress down.
I promote this idea in day-to-day running, but especially in races. Wearing less clothing will almost always be superior to wearing more. Of course, waiting at the start line before a race in the cold morning will make you wish you had long pants and a sweatshirt, however this doesn’t mean you should clad yourself in running tights, pants, gloves, hat, and scarf. Go to Goodwill, and buy yourself some sweats that you can throw off when the gun goes off, or invest in some arm warmers that can easily be removed and stored if need be. Chances are you’ll be running further than you normally run, which will ensure a warm body temperature. There will be space blankets and warm clothes at the end.
4) Set a few goal times.
If you are running your first big race, there is no shame in having a goal of simply finishing—which is an accomplishment in and of itself! However, if you do have a time in mind, I recommend having a reach goal time and an acceptable goal time. Kind of like your reach school when applying to college—it’s ideal, but you don’t put all your eggs in that basket. It’s great to go for a PR, however in order to ward off potential disappointment if you fall short of the time, set another time that you know you’ll be pleased with. I like to have A, B, and C goals…C normally being, “I’ll be happy if I can finish.”
5) Plan your carbo-load. Sure, a big plate of pasta the night before a big race should do the trick, but I’ve found that it’s really helpful to experiment with what works best for your body beforehand. You’ll have long runs you need to carbo-load for before the actual race itself, and you can use these as a chance to try out your pre-race meal. For my first marathon, I found a meal that fueled me up great, but also didn’t leave me with any cramping or feeling overly-full. The key is really what works for you.
6) Plan ahead!
There are a lot of little details that, if overlooked, can make race day stressful. You don’t want anything small to take away from something you’ve spent so much time preparing for. Plan your driving route to get to the race, including potential traffic, ensuring you’ll have plenty of time to get there. Figure out where you’ll meet your supporters after the race so you aren’t wandering aimlessly sweaty and dehydrated. If you’re traveling, make sure you pack all necessary clothing for different weather conditions.
7) Be picky.
This might be more of a personal thing, but I’ve found that being very specific in terms of my race day attire, playlist, and post race meal has really made the event feel more special and distinct. There are some routines I stick to (I always start and end with the same two songs), but otherwise I try to honor each race as its own. Customizing a race according to your preferences helps to not only get you more excited, but it allows you to have comfort in knowing you’ve given some forethought to the event.
8) Know your fuel.
If you have trained using your own hand-held water bottle, then you are probably pretty well aware of how much water you need to take in during a race. However, if you aren’t sure, it’s probably not a great idea to take water at every fuel station along a race route. It’s fine to stop every so often, but you don’t want to upset your stomach by ingesting more during your run than you’re used to. The same strategy goes for gels and sports drinks as well. Know what works best for you, and stick to it during the race. Remember, use water and sports gels/gummies OR a sports drink. Using gels and sports drinks together is often too much glucose for the stomach to handle and can quickly lead to stomach aches.
9) Trust your training.
Pre-race nerves (and bathroom stops) are inevitable before a big race, whether its your first or 50th. Although self-doubt may creep its way into your psyche, remember that if you’ve trained hard you are both physically and mentally prepared. Training programs are tried and tested to ensure success for their users, so on race day be proud of your work and trust you’ll do the best you can.
You’ve spent several months, weeks, and hours devoted to a race that will only last for a few hours. Once the gun goes off, leave all your stress, anticipation, and doubts behind and just have fun! You’ve earned it; no matter what the clock says at the finish line, you’ve accomplished something that most people would never even attempt, and that alone is reason enough to be ecstatic!
11) Rest well.
It’s easy to get hyped up on post race energy and enthusiasm (as you should!), but this can also make you forget that your body needs its rest. Take the next 24-48 hours to sleep, eat, and stay off your feet. You’ve earned and need a rest period after a big race, and you should ere on the side of caution in terms of activity. Your immune system is weakened after so much exertion, leaving you prone to sickness after finishing a race. Also, your muscles have been broken down significantly, and not allowing enough recovery time is the fast track to injury or permanent damage. So prop up those feet, enjoy a beer, and leave the workout to your TiVo.