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Final Race Preparations

Throughout my long coaching career, I can look back on many major wins that should not have happened. Often, my athletes have upset the favorites or more talented competitors because of intentional planning and execution of final steps leading up to the race start. Typically, this is the final 24-48 hours and well after the physical work has been completed. The small details that make a difference were unrelated to how many miles they ran or how fast they clicked off their intervals or tempo runs. The successes, in part, came because they simply heeded the wise words of Benjamin Franklin when he said “If You Fail to Plan, You are Planning to Fail”.

 

First consideration is SLEEP!  Most people believe that as long as you get a decent night’s sleep the day before your race you are golden. The truth is that studies show consistent and uninterrupted sleep over long periods of time (the weeks leading to a major competition) have a profound benefit to performance. Since most of us cannot live a life of long and peaceful slumbers, we need to find ways to reap the benefits of sleep during the 2-3 days before a race. Often, the night before a race can include some butterflies and minor nerves, so it is important to plan ahead and make time for quality sleep 2 and 3 nights before your race. Recent studies show that sleep deprivation can slow metabolism, which is a key component to breaking down glucose for optimal performance. Exhaustion also slows reaction time, which many would think is unnecessary for distance runners, but not true.  At the muscular level, reaction time is important for all athletes as the proper firing and reaction of muscle tissue helps avoid injury and plays a role in leg turnover.

 

The next important pre-race ritual should be they inventorying and staging of all race gear. This includes every piece of clothing that you will leave the house with on the day of your race. Nothing should be left to find on the day of your competition. This includes your race kit or the items you will walk to the starting line wearing. Typically, your race tank top, shorts, racing shoes or spikes, BIB number, socks, hat and gloves for colder days. Obviously, there may be variations based on climate and preference, including running tights, compression shirts, headphones, running belt or pack, gels, bars, and the many other racing accessories when have become obsessed with over the years. Next, prepare your sweats or outers layers which you may wear during warm up and pre-race dynamic activities. Finally, your athlete bag, which usually includes an extra tee or pair of socks, raingear for insurance, roller or stretch band, wallet, phone, sunscreen, water bottle, and other items you may need.  I have trained my athletes to carefully perform the ritual of “laying out their battle gear”. This means finding a place in your home where no one will disturb your planning. I have my athletes pin their BIB to their racing top which is carefully laid out above their racing shorts or bottoms. Their socks and running hat and/or gloves will sit next to their kit. Finally, their outer layers, packed bag, and any other items going along for the journey are added. No items are left to find on the day of the race, often causing panic when it is nowhere to be found. Always take a final look at the weather forecast, both temperature and precipitation, the night before and again the morning of your race. This will ensure that you have properly planned to protect your body from any conditions.

 

It is also vital to map out your travel route and plans to get to the event area, on-time. Always be mindful of how the actual event may impact traffic, parking, and detours. Major races such as marathons may close some roads that you typically use. An influx of more people in the area may slow down your travel. Something as simple as adding 15 minutes to your ride could negatively impact your perfectly planned warm up routine. Always have a plan B in case your car doesn’t start, train or bus is delayed, or weather changes travel times.

 

Fueling for optimal performance is key to achieving your goals. You have worked extremely hard to get ready and simple decisions about what to consume the night before and day of your race can ruin everything. Avoid greasy and sugary items within 24 hours of the start.  You don’t have to change much, just eat what usually works best for you with very little change. Ensuring that you fuel with key carbohydrates is vital and can make or break your performance, especially for races over 5k. This is particularly important during the 3-5 days leading to your big race, depending on the distance. Do not try something new before a race. Test all performance supplements during training sessions, not for the first time on race day. Many of the available gel packs, energy bars, protein-based items are helpful, but everyone’s body reacts differently. Some need a tremendous amount of water to dilute while others take longer than others to react. Always test your choices before the impacts really matters. Always eat 2-3 hours before bedtime for proper digestion. The same 2-3 hours is recommended before the START OF YOUR WARM UP on race day, not the actual start time. This will ensure that your body has broken down the nutrients and is ready to put them to use. Hydration is at the center of fueling for best outcomes. Always remember, hydration is an ongoing process, not something that you do a few hours before a race. As a runner, you should rarely be more than 5 feet from your filled water bottle. It’s pretty simple, the lighter your urine, the more hydrated you will be at all times.

 

Other details to pay attention to for your perfectly planned race day include:

 

·      Location of Packet Pick Up if you haven’t done so already. Is it 100m from the start or at a local run shop a mile away?

·      Are their waves at the start or assigned corrals that I need to know about?

·      Am I racing the morning of day light saving changes which may impact my plans?

·      Am I meeting or picking up friends which may impact my travel time?

·      Do I have the breakfast items I need for the morning?

 

As I shared, training my athletes to be prepared have always put them in a position to succeed. Rarely were their reasons for failure things within their own control. Proper planning eradicates excuses and provides a feeling of readiness, and always clears the pathway to success. Time and time again, my athletes stood on the starting line with the fire lit in their eyes as their competition ran to the start in a huff, screamed because they couldn’t find their BIB, or opened a bag to realize they left one shoe at home. My athletes and I would share a confident stare of “We got this today”. Often, I was able to stand at the finish line with thrilled competitors who were elated about what they had just accomplished, in part due to proper planning.

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