The key to running a successful race is how you prepare. I have collated a list of things to do before a race, drawing on my 15 years of running experience.
1. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration during a race is one of a runner's biggest fears because invariably it will lead to increased symptoms of exhaustion as muscles fail to get the moisture they need to function effectively. You need to take on board enough water to keep hydrated, without drinking too much which will leave you feeling sluggish and heavy as it slops around in your stomach while you run.
If you are running a marathon make sure you check out where the water stations are sited on your route plan before you set off and always use the water provided. You need to take on board pint of water every 30-40 minutes to maintain your hydration levels and boost performance.
Tip: Ideally you'll need to consume about 1-2 liters before the race, but do not drink it all just before you run! Instead stagger when you drink it, take about 1 liter at breakfast and a further liter before you reach the race venue. Do not drink or eat anything 40 minutes before the race to allow your digestive system to settle.
Also try to avoid energy drinks as whilst they provide a short burst of energy this quickly disappears leaving you feeling more tired. Stick to water.
2. Warm up / Stretches
Gentle stretches help to prepare your body for the rigors ahead and lengthen muscles and tendons that may have become tight in the anxiety that builds just before a race. Invariably this may help to ensure that you get the maximum use out of them when you start running as they will be ready to respond. It will also help to reduce the prospects of injury.
40 minutes before the race you should begin your warm up program. Spend time going through a range of stretches focussing upon a number of muscles that you will primarily use when running. These include:
- Achilles Tendon
- Calf Muscles
- Lower back
- Shoulders and Neck
There is a great program of stretches available at http://www.fitnessthroughexercise.com/cooling-down.htm
10 minutes before the race, stop stretching but in order to keep your muscles warm and nimble go for a gentle jog, to get your body prepared.
3. Positive Mental Attitude
Use your 40 minute warm up to focus your mind and think about the goals you have set for the race. You may want to win it, to beat a personal best time or just finish the race, but getting your attitude right is key. Clear away thoughts of failure from you mind and visualise achieving your goal.
Tip: To help get yourself focussed it may help to separate yourself from others during your warm up or whilst doing your 10 minute jog just prior to the race.
4. Eat a high carbohydrate breakfast.
Some runners are so nervous the day they race that they skip breakfast because they can not face it. Breakfast is essential and a high carbohydrate one even more so because you need to maintain your blood sugar levels and whilst not eating may seem a good idea at the time, you will most certainly take an energy dip during the race which will effect your overall performance .
Tip: Try to eat wholewheat cereals or toast. Fruit is also a great idea as it is full of natural sugars and loaded with energy especially bananas and apples.
5. Sun Cream
If It is especially hot on the day of your race apply sun cream liberal. It is a little known fact but runners are often more exposed to UV rays because of the time they spend out doors. The long term effect of this exposure without sufficient protection can lead to developing skin cancer.
6. Display your race number clearly
Usually you will have received your personal race number, or set of numbers, prior to the race. It is really hard for race officials to record race results if you have displayed your number in the wrong place.
Tip: Ensure that you use safety pins and attach your race number at the front of your body between your lower chest and top of your stomach.
7. Arrive early for the race
Arriving early is beneficial for two reasons a) it helps race officials as they have ample time to ensure you are properly registered and b) give you sufficient time to warm up.
There have been examples where half of the competitors in a race still had not arrived 15 minutes before the race was due to start. After a mysterious surge of runners arriving with about 5 minutes to go, the race was delayed by 30 minutes whilst race officials deal with all the registrations. This is really annoying for all those who arrived early and have warmed up ready.
Tip: Arrive about 1 hour early. This will ensure you have a good starting position and the best place in the parking lot, so you do not have to walk miles after the race when you are feeling tired.
8. Check food and drink rules
Always check before the race whether you are allowed to eat or drink your own items during the race. Whilst this sounds trivial it could get you disqualified, as not all races permit it to ensure all competitors are on an equal footing.
Tip: It you are allowed to consume food during the race opt for Banana Raisins. These are a high energy food and a preferred option because they are small and easy to slip into your mouth without disturbing your stride.
This article has attempted to provide a practical guide to the things you should do before a race. Whilst these are a good guide, there may be many other individual things that you also want to do and that's fine.