It’s finally here!
Months of training and hard work all leading up to your one big race.
You’ve got to get it right.
In this article, we are going to steer you away from crucial pre-race mistakes so that your day runs as smoothly as possible.
The advice to follow can be applied to any running race- from an important burst of speed on the track, to a marathon, or further.
1. Celebrate Too Hard The night Before
It can be tempting to want to celebrate the culmination of all of those months of training with a beer or two the night before the big race.
Or maybe you feel like a drink would just take the edge off those dreaded pre-race nerves.
Don’t do it!
Surprisingly, studies have shown that even one drink of alcohol the night before can compromise your running ability come race day. Drinking alcohol can disrupt your sleep and inhibit your body’s ability to store glycogen.
So skip alcohol entirely the day before your race (and obviously the morning of…). Trust me, it will only make that post run beer all the more satisfying.
2. Eat anything new for breakfast
If you usually have toast for breakfast, have toast for breakfast on race day.
Just because you’ve heard that oatmeal is a great breakfast for giving you energy on your run, it is still a bad idea to try it out for the first time on race day.
Stick to what you know. Your nerves will most likely be all over the place on the morning of the race, making the thought of eating hard to stomach. So make it easier for yourself and your gut, and don’t get inventive with breakfast and risk a sloshy gut.
3. Leave things to the last minute
There can be a surprising amount of organisation needed for a race, and the last thing you want is to be flapping around come race morning.
Depending on the race, here are some top tips for getting prepared:
- Lay out your running clothes the night before.
- If you need it, make sure you have your race number and safety pins handy the night before.
- Make sure you have your ideal breakfast and caffeinated beverage of choice in the house.
- Have in mind how you are going to get the the race location long in advance of race morning.
- Cooridinate in advance with anyone who is coming along to help you out on race day, be that your race crew, anyone dropping you off, picking you up, or cheering you on.
- And don’t forget to set your alarm!
Related: Marathon Training Plan Mistakes: Don’t Make These 9 Errors
4. get caught up in ‘what ifs’
After so many months of training sessions, mental preparation, visualisation, and time investment, it is easy to get caught up in thoughts of how everything could go wrong just before the race.
Don’t let yourself get swept away in self-destructive thought loops. Don’t worry, you won’t forget how to run the second the gun goes off. And yes, you can trust your training plan to get you to the end.
Try to calm the mind with meditation, a shakeout run, a good book, or a feel-good movie. And remind yourself that you’ve got this!
5. Wear your legs out
Although a shakeout run has been shown to improve race day performance, aside from this small pre-race jog, you want to avoid doing any other physical activity.
The day before your race, feel free to put your legs up and keep them there All. Day. Long.
If you do end up filling the day before your race with vigorous activity, you run the risk of toeing the start line with tired, worn-out muscles, or the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
This one’s hardly a challenge, just take it easy! You’ve earned it after all.
6. Let yourself get cold
This one is for just before the gun goes off. A warm up is called a warm up for a reason. You want to avoid standing around the start line of the race for too long.
If you fail to warm up properly, especially for the shorter distances, you won’t be primed to give it your all straight out the gate, and you’ll end up being much slower. Not only that, but studies have shown that by not warming up, you put yourself at a higher risk of running injuries.
So for that last stretch before the gun goes off, your focus should be on staying warm.
Think a warm up jog, short strides, dynamic stretches. Wear layers of clothes that you can easily strip off once the clock creeps closer to the starting time.
7. skip the carb load
The famous carb load! Why oh why would you want to skip it!?
Carb loading is a great tool for smashing race day, particularly if your race is a long distance event. If done right, it helps to stock up your glycogen stores in the muscles and liver.
Although a night before the race pasta party is all well and good, you actually need to be carb loading gradually in the lead up to your race
Start carb loading three to four days before race day and keep at it all the way up to race day morning. That way, you’ll have lots of excess glycogen stored in your muscles and liver that you’ll be able to tap into when it counts during your race.
For a full rundown on carb loading, check out this article: Carb Loading For Runners: How To Carb Load + Common Mistakes
8. carb load too hard too late
So, we’ve just said that carb loading is good. But you can actually have too much of a good thing. If you go in too hard at the pre race pasta party, you can be left feeling heavy and drowsy on the morning of the race.
And if you leave all the carb loading to the last minute, your muscles and liver just won’t have had time to be able to stock up on all of the glycogen possible.
9. sleep too little
Sleeping right is key to being on your A-game. If you don’t sleep enough it can have negative effects on your running performance, and more generally just make you feel worse on race day.
However, it is all too normal to be nervous the night before a race and to not be able to sleep. That’s why it can be a good idea to allow for this and go to bed extra early the night before the race.
Not only that, but going to sleep earlier allows for the fact that races often start very early in the morning (especially when you get into the seriously long stuff).
Don’t feel silly for getting into bed at 9 pm (or even earlier!) the night before a race. I’ve quite proudly gone to bed at 5 pm the night before a race that started at 6 am.
10. not hydrate properly
Hydration isn’t all about what you drink while you’re racing, but pre-hydration is often just as important, and shouldn’t be skipped.
If you turn up to a race dehydrated, your performance will suffer. Studies have shown that not being sufficiently hydrated can actually increase your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), the likelihood of experiencing GI problems, your heart rate, and your body temperature.
On the flip side, there is such a thing as being overhydrated. By knocking back large amounts of water just before a race, you’ll likely feel bloated, heavy, and uncomfortable, and increase your chances of taking unwanted bathroom breaks which will eat into your race time.
But more seriously, being overhydrated for a race can cause a dilution in blood sodium levels which can cause disorientation and headaches.
So, stay consistently hydrated in the few days leading up to your race. Take regular, small sips from an on-hand water bottle and avoid sinking litres of water at a time in the hope that more water = better.
Race day is here, and no amount of mentally pouring over the intricacies of your training block is going to change that fact.
It is now time to sit back and trust the process. Trust that your training has been sufficient to get you to the finish line, even if it hasn’t gone 100% to plan (secret: it never does).
You have everything you need within you to finish the race with a smile.
Be proud of yourself, the hard work is over! I like to think of the race as a celebration of all of my training. Get swept away in the excitement and enjoy it!
What do i do now?
Quite often we find ourselves at a loss after a big race. There’s only one thing for it:
Recover like royalty.
Check out this article: How To Rest Like An Elite Athlete
You might not feel like running much after a big race. And that’s totally normal. Give yourself a well-earned break and you’ll be back at it when the time is right.