By Chris Winter
Has it happened to you? You've put in all the work -- weeks of uninterrupted training, the long runs, the speed sessions and those hard workouts in the pouring rain -- all to have it unravel at the last minute due to injury or a cramp mid-race. Unfortunately, this can be an all too common scenario afflicting even the most experienced runners.
Running can be a fickle thing at times, but it doesn't always have to be left to a game of chance. Here are six tips to help keep you out of trouble on race day:
1. Tapering For Optimal Race Performances
Tapering is a challenging thing to really nail. The amount to taper is unique to each runner and is very dependent on three key things:
Race importance. First thing you need to decide is if you really need to taper for your upcoming race. Some races you may have been training months for, while others are just glorified training runs. For the important races you'll want to taper more seriously for, while for the less serious races you can train through them, keeping your mileage steady.
How much training you've done. If you are coming off a long hard block of training leading up to your goal race for the season, it's wise to taper a little more to ensure you are well rested and ready to roll. If your training has been a bit spotty you can keep your training volume a bit higher and do a shorter taper just the few days before the race.
The length of race. Tapering for a marathon is much different than a 5k. A good rule of thumb is that the longer the race, the longer the taper. While a marathon taper typically lasts for two to three weeks, the taper for a 5k race may just be seven to 10 days. The key is to progressively reduce your volume and intensity (i.e. 80 per cent of your normal training three weeks prior to the race, 70 per cent two weeks prior and just 60 per cent the week of the marathon).
The key to any good taper is to stay activated. While you might be running less volume, keep the number of weekly sessions the same. This will keep your body activated, making you feel less lethargic and "heavy" come race day.
2. Eat To Win
Race week, and especially race day, is no time to try something new. Stick to your normal routine, eating foods you've consumed before previous races or hard workouts.The image of a group of runners propped up over heaping bowls of pasta the night before the race "carbo-loading" is a bit of a myth. Unless you are running a marathon, your carbohydrate stores are not in jeopardy. Eat a normal portion pre-race meal and when in doubt keep it simple, avoiding anything rich, heavy or spicy.
3. Sleep Is Your #1 Recovery Tool
Even if you typically operate in a sleep-deprived state, it is important to catch up on your sleep the week of the race. It takes a few repetitive nights of good sleep to recover your energy stores so aim for 8-9 hours a night for the week prior to your race.It might be difficult for you to get enough sleep the night before the race, especially if it starts early or you're feeling a bit anxious. If this happens, stay relaxed and just focus on getting the best sleep you can given the circumstances -- remember that the night before the race isn't as critical, and that lots of elite athletes have had their best races after a single night of poor sleep, provided they were well-rested the week going in.
4. Hydration - Consistency Is Key
Temperature, humidity, length of race and your personal sweat rate are all important factors when it comes to optimal hydration. In warmer temperatures or for longer races, it is more important that you are well-hydrated, but be careful not to overdo it! A good rule of thumb is to ensure your pee is light in colour but not completely clear -- think lemonade. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day. That way you will have a good idea how much you've consumed and that you are consistently hydrated. Also, by adding electrolytes to your water you can ensure that you are maintaining important electrolytes.
5. The Right Shoe
Having the right shoes on race day takes a bit of planning on your part. While you may want to wear the same pair of runners you've done all your training in, be sure that there's still some life in the shoes before race day. Trying to make a pair of shoes stretch an extra week could be an unnecessary risk that leaves you on the sidelines with a last minute injury. On the flip side, don't break out a new pair of shoes on race morning. Be sure to do at least a couple of training runs with your new pair to ensure they are properly worn in.
6. Pace Yourself
Race morning is an exciting time. All the people, music, competition and a little extra dose of caffeine can get really get the adrenaline pumping. This extra boost can be the X-factor that propels you to a personal best, but it can also be your downfall, causing you to start the race at a pace that you might not be able to maintain. Pacing is key. Come up with a game plan and try your best to stick to it. Elite runners aim to get through two-thirds of the race feeling "in control," and then begin to push it a bit harder, with the goal of trying to finish the race strong.
On the surface, running is an extremely simple sport. It's just putting one foot in front of the other, right? Experience will tell you that running your best is much more complicated than that. It takes a lot of little things coming together on a particular day for it to end up in a positive result. Control the controllable and you'll find yourself having more good days than bad -- and enjoying the racing experience a lot more.
Happy running! Join Chris this Sunday March 20 in Vancouver, B.C. at the Modo Spring Run-Off 8k!
Based out of Vancouver, B.C., Chris Winter is an elite middle distance runner competing for Canada, New Balance and The Speed River TFC. Chris has competed for Canada on a number of national teams in track and field, cross country and road running. With the help and support of his sponsors, coaches, friends and family, he continues to pursue his Olympic dream with hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio De Janeiro. Connect with Chris on Twitter and Instagram.
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