Like many facets of running, race preparation can be deeply personal. And it can vary greatly depending on the distance being raced. Experienced runners are used to covering long distances, so I’ll focus this post on distances exceeding a half marathon.
One of the most important things about a race is nothing new. You've been training for months for this race and you know what breakfast works for you. You know what shirt feels best given the weather. You know how to fuel up the day or two before. You know what gels won't upset your stomach. Two corollaries to this:
- I'm firmly in the don't-wear-your-race-shirt-for-the-race camp (you may have purchased the shirt, but you haven't earned it yet)
- Find out what gels and/or drinks the race will have on the course and test these out on your training runs - if they work for you, great, if not plan alternatives
Respect the taper. 2-3 weeks before a big race you should start tapering, reducing both your distance and intensity. This will allow your body to recover from all that hard training you've put it. You'll start to build up lots of antsy I-wanna-run energy that you can tap into come race day. And there is nothing you can do in the last 10 days that will give you a better race - but plenty you can do to make it worse.
Don’t be tempted to workout hard right before your event. In 2011 I was signed up for the Scotia Half Marathon - on the Friday before the race I was enticed to go do the Grouse Grind. Big mistake, terrible race.
Taper tantrums. We all get them, and I pity our partners and families who have to deal with them. You're going to feel antsy, irritable, and every sniffle will feel like the bubonic plague. You may lash out at innocent store clerks and you'll be totally distracted at work. And don't count on getting a good night's sleep the night before the race. Odds are you'll be tossing and turning and checking the time constantly.
Be prepared. If you're running a hometown race you'll have the advantage of having your entire running wardrobe to choose from. If you're travelling, pack clothes for various weather scenarios and keep a close eye on the forecast as your travel dates approach.
Plan your race, race your plan. Going for a PB? For a BQ? Know the pace you'll need to hit. Does this race have pacers? Do these pacers run straight through or are they running 10-and-1s?
Have a back-up plan. Racers often set up A, B and C goal times. A is your utopian ideal - the race where everything goes right and not only are you ahead of pace the entire time, but you've got enough left in the tank for a great kick at the end. B is your realistic goal. This is your game plan - steady pace and strong finish. C is your disaster plan. A foot of snow in May? Heat wave in February? Time to re-evaluate your race.
There are two mantras for the few days before the race:
- Never be tired, never be hungry, never be thirsty
- Don't walk when you can stand, don't stand when you can sit, don't sit when you can lie down
Finally, two tips for the race itself:
- Thank the volunteers - they've been in the hot sun or freezing rain for hours and will be there for hours more. Racing would not exist without the countless hours that volunteers put in. And when you get the opportunity, get out there and volunteer yourself.
- When you get to the water station, don't grab water from the very front - odds are it'll be crowded. Look for the volunteers half way down, they'll have water for you.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself! This is what we do for fun! Smile, wave, and give little kids high-fives. You won't regret it.