Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ready for race day? Tips on how to be totally prepared.

With our current round of New Balance No Boundaries programs getting close to race day at the Happy Girls Half on May 29th, and with 5k's at the Three Sisters Marathon on June 4th or at Heaven Can Wait on June 5th, it is time to start talking about preparing and performing on race day! Whether you are a little anxious or simply ecstatic about race day, here are some tips to help calm your nerves and get you on the mark, fully primed and ready to run your best.

The week before...
- Sleep -
Be sure you are getting plenty of sleep the entire week before your big day. Eight hours a night is the general rule to help your body recover fully, rebuild muscle, and be alert. Sleeping and running certainly go hand in hand, as studies have shown that not only does sleep help you run better, but running helps you sleep better. It has been shown that runners fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and sleep more effectively than non-runners.
An often overlooked factor: if the start time for your race is especially early or in a different time zone, you will want to adjust your alarm clock to match your race day wake-up time, so that the early morning isn't such a shock. If you always wake up at 8:00 a.m., but the gun goes off Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m., I would suggest setting your alarm for 5:30 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. that week so you can get in the routine of getting up, eating your meal earlier, and feeling fully awake by 7:00 a.m. (or whatever your start time may be). But, remember to go to bed a little earlier too, so that you can maintain your 8 hours of sleep.

- Taper -
One of the best things about the week(s) leading into your event is the taper. All the "hay-is-in-the-barn" hard work, big miles, and endurance are already stock piled up. The main purpose of your training leading into a race is to maintain the fitness you already have and to sharpen up and feel fresh. After all your weeks of building, a down week might leave you feeling antsy and brimming with energy... this is a good sign! You will be feeling great and chomping at the bit on the day of the race.

You may want to do some sharp strides one or two days during the week leading into your race. Run three or four "strides" of a distance of 50 to 100 meters, at or slightly faster than your race pace. You can run them in a lightweight racing shoe or in a barefoot running shoe, on a surface that is similar to the race course so that you can practice good, quick running form. Focus on a quick, short cadence and midfoot strike.

The day before...
- Hydrate -
Be sure you get plenty of water in your system the day before the race. If you feel thirsty, it is too late - you are already dehydrated. So, if you are feeling thirsty when you wake up, you only have a few hours to get hydrated before the gun goes off. Additionally, if you attempt to down three bottles of Gatorade the morning of your race, you are going to feel all that liquid sloshing around in your stomach. This will have you feeling mighty lethargic and down right uncomfortable during your race. By drinking at least 64 ounces of water during the day before your race, you won't be forced to flood your system right before take off.

An easy way to be sure that you are hydrated is to carry a water bottle with you all the time. This makes it easy to track how many ounces of water you have consumed and also keeps water handy at all times. Fleet Feet carries a large variety of handheld and waist-pack water bottles by Nathan, Ultimate Direction, and Amphipod.

- Eat Hearty -
It may be wise for you to eat a little extra dinner than normal the night before the race. This way you won't be as hungry the morning of your race and will be able to eat a little less for breakfast, so you won't be digesting right up until or during your race. A little extra is enough, though. Don't overeat to an uncomfortable point.

Keep dinner simple. Avoid overly spicy, heavy, or acidic foods that will still be sitting in your stomach in the morning. Be sure to get plenty of complex carbohydrates to load your energy stores like whole wheat pastas, grains or bread. Pasta with marinara meat sauce has always been a favorite dinner entree amongst distance runners. You might want to give that a try, or a simple rice pilaf with chicken and veggies may be another good option for you.

The morning of...
- Wake-up call/Breakfast -
If you are wanting to eat much of anything the morning of your race, you may want to set the alarm clock a little earlier. Be up early enough to eat your breakfast no less than 2 hours (ideally 3 hours) before you will race. Stick with foods that are easy to digest, like raw fruits that are not acidic (think bananas or melon rather than apples, oranges or pineapple). Some other good sources of carbohydrates include oatmeal or rice cakes. If none of the above sound too tempting, or you are nervous about eating solid food consider getting your carbohydrates and calories using one of the many products offered by Hammer Nutrition, Gu Energy, or Powerbar. The staff at Fleet Feet is happy to help you choose between all of the options available.

Another thing to consider: Some studies show that one to three cups of coffee (more specifically, the caffeine in that coffee) produces big mental and physical benefits for runners, inc
luding improved alertness, increased sprint speed and decreased recovery times. Just be sure you don't replace all your water with coffee - you need to hydrate, too.

Protocol -
If you have never done a race before, a delightful mix of pre-race nerves and adrenaline may make the experience a little intimidating. How do I get my race bib? What is the proper placement of my race bib? Where should I line up?

First thing's first, don't leave the house without any of the necessities: shoes, top, bottoms and any liquids or gels you will need during the race. To warm up, dress warmer than you think with pants and a long sleeve top even if the weather is fair. While racing, dress lighter than expected (you will heat up a ton once you are moving). You will most likely want to stick with a tank or t-shirt and shorts or capris if the weather is 50 degrees or warmer. If you are going to carry your own liquids or nutrition items, consider a handheld water bottle, waist-pack or backpack hydration system with pockets to carry all your essentials!

Once you arrive at the race venue check-in, usually a last name is all that you will need to retrieve your assigned race number. Race bibs are pinned front and center on or just below your chest. Read directions carefully before attaching any timing chips to your shoes or ankles. Apply any BodyGlide you may need to prevent chafing and take any last sips of Heed
or slurp up a Gu.

Larger races usually have participants line up by anticipated pace per mile or finish times, but smaller events are more low key so just jump in the crowd with the crew that looks around your pace. If you are hoping to win then get on the front line; if you are looking to relax and run some/walk some with friends then head further back in the mob.

- Warm-up -
Before you line up to race either walk briskly or run easily for 10 minutes or until your breathing quickens and you just start to sweat. Then your muscles are warm and you can safely and effectively do some easy stretching. If are you planning on racing aggressively you may also consider doing 3 or 4 brisk strides of 50 to 100 meters that are either at or a little faster than race pace or some other drills. Other dynamic drills that mimic running and get your muscles loose in a running specific manner include skipping and bounding each for 50 to 100 meters.

During the race...

- Have fun/relax -
Avoid being overly nervous before you run. Too much stress and anxiety will only waste your energy in other ways than running well and will also prevent you from enjoying this event that you have trained so hard for. You put in the work and are ready to achieve your goals. Be confident in your preparation and enjoy the payoff of all that hard work.

- Pace -
If you are very excited or nervous about the race you may be at risk of taking off too fast. Your adrenaline and nerves are going to be pumping and your body is ready to perform so the tendency is to take off like a rocket... but then the adrenaline rush simmers down from a flood to a flow and you may start digging into the bottom of your energy tank before you reach the finish chute. Try to maintain a pace so that you are feeling pretty good at least through the first half of the race and then little by little build up your effort as you near the finish.

You can also use a Polar Heart Rate Monitor or a Garmin GPS Watch to monitor pace, heart rate and distance so you know your stats, how far you have gone, how far you have to go and what percent of your maximal effort you are working at.

- Fueling -
For 10ks or shorter you will most likely not have to fuel during your event. On warm days you may want to hydrate with water or an electrolyte replacement like Heed or Gu. However, you will most likely not be so depleted of energy that any sort of Perpetum or other source of calories are necessary. For races farther than 10k like 15ks, 10 milers, half marathons or beyond it may be necessary to take a Gu, Hammer Gel or other carbohydrate source every 45 minutes you are moving and definitely be sure to take Heed or Gatorade or some other electrolyte replacement an aid stations early and through out the race.

After the finish line...

- Rehydrate & refuel -
Be sure to get lots of water back into your system and a good balance of protein and carbs. One really complete and really easy way of recharging your body with whey protein to rebuild muscle, carbohydrates to replenish depleted energy stores, glucosamine to aid in the recovery of connective tissue and your joints and 12 to 16 ounces of pure water is by using Recoverite by Hammer Nutrition in either strawberry, chocolate or citrus flavors. Also consider using compression socks or tights by Recofit, Zoot or Balega to accelerate recovery by helping to move blood back to the heart to replace the depleted oxygen stores and also to flush out toxins like lactic acid . Read more about the benefits of compression and the brands and products available with our Fleet Feet Bend Compression Blog Post.

- Cool down -
After you catch your breath try to walk or run easily for 10 minutes to smooth out the transition from working hard to the race to relaxing and sitting after the race. By continuing to move after an hard effort this will keep your fluids flowing long enough to pump blood back to the heart and lungs to be restocked with oxygen and also move lactic acid out to be filtered from your system to decrease late onset muscle soreness. This will also allow your heart rate and breathing to lower over a longer amount of time which is a more gentle and safe transition that going from a very high heart rate to sitting still.

- Celebrate -
Enjoy your accomplishment and the pay off of all your hardwork. Appreciate your friends, family, coach and supportors and thank them for their help. Appreciate the capacity of your body to carry you through your race. Be proud of the strength you have mentally and physically shown... Relax and enjoy your success!

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