My recent “I did everything wrong at my first half marathon” post got my Tri-coach cousin Judie thinking about her own advice (fresh in her mind, since she’s a coach and all). It didn’t take much to get her to agree to a guest post! Thanks, Judie!
The weather in the Midwest is finally warming up (again), the days are getting longer, and the summer race season is fast approaching. It’s like waiting for Christmas for summer athletes, and we’re ticking off days until our races … 3 … 2 … 1 … GO!
But wait! Before you hop in your car to drive to the race, there are some things you should think about and be prepared for. Keep reading and see if anything is new to you.
1. The NUMBER ONE rule of racing: Do not do/try/wear/eat anything new on race day! I can’t stress how important this is. The stress of racing brings enough physical and mental unknowns, you don’t want to discover that your new socks are giving you a blister 3 miles into your half marathon or that the sports drink makes you nauseous (more on this later).
2. What also may vie for the NUMBER ONE rule of racing: Plan the Race, Race the Plan. So many athletes toe the start line with no idea how they are getting from that start line to the finish (don’t I just run/swim/bike? Well yes, but…). Sit down a few days before the race and jot down how you plan to race. Use your training as a guide–it is most likely that your race pace will reflect your training, so make note of how you expect to feel throughout the race, what you think your mile splits might be, and how you intend to deal with the unexpected things that could happen (blister, no sports drink, Garmin dies….). If it’s a long race, you should also plan out your nutrition based on what worked well for you in training (more on this later too). The hard part: Once you are RACING you need to follow this plan! Race-Brain believes the body can achieve miracles and that Day-Before-Race Brain is a sissy. Don’t let Race-Brain take over your carefully crafted plan, you will pay for it later.
3. Do a dress rehearsal sometime before the race – wear what you expect to wear, practice your nutrition strategy with the gel/gummy/drink you intend to use in the race to make sure you know how your gut responds to this stuff. If it’s a big race where hydration is critical (especially races longer than an hour), find out what is being served on the course and try it out in training. I have seen at least one race offer a sports drink with no calories before, if this doesn’t work for you, make sure you have something with you that does. If you know that you’re sensitive to the electrolyte level in your beverage, start working with electrolytes early in your training in case the sports drink isn’t mixed per the label directions (it happens!!). And in the name of all things good and decent, please don’t try the electrolytes on the marathon course if you haven’t tried them in training! It sounds like a good idea at the time (remember Race-Brain), just don’t do it.
4. It doesn’t matter what your sport is, don’t go out too fast. When the mojo is gone, it’s GONE and it isn’t coming back! In your race plan, acknowledge that you are going to start a little behind your target pace/heart rate/power and try to negative split the race, meaning you finish at a faster pace than what you started with. Race-Brain will try to talk you out of this too! Don’t let it.
5. Pre-race dinner is always a touchy subject before a race, especially if it’s out of town. Believe it or not, I did a half Ironman with a pre-race dinner from The Cracker Barrel and rocked it out, no pasta in sight. Truthfully, you need to eat what fuels you well, so practice this in the months before the race so that you know if Thai food is magic and if steak and a baked potato will leave you flat. My personal preference is some clean protein, rice, and a heap of vegetables in late afternoon, not evening, so I feel light on my feet in the morning. It’s also a good idea to avoid strange food, food from strange places, or anything else that gives you the heebie jeebies the day before the race–to the portajohn is not the ideal place to do your warmup strides!
6. Pre-race sleep: Let’s face it, most of us can’t sleep the night before a big race. For some people it’s the anxiety about the race, for others it’s the hourly clock-watching that starts at 2am. A better bet is to get a good night’s sleep two nights before the race, that way you’re well-rested going into the night you aren’t going to sleep through!
7. Pre-race breakfast! Please tell me you eat something before your long runs. If you have a race that starts at 6:30am with a transition that opens at 5:30am and an hour car ride to get there, you had better know what you can eat in the morning or you’re going to be chewing your arm off by the time you get into T1. Same goes for your long running races, you need to practice eating something between when you get out of bed and when you train so you know what you can fuel with the day of your race. Some people like peanut butter toast, some people do oatmeal, maybe just a banana, but get a couple of hundred calories so you’re not starting your run or race on a partially full tank.
8. I never would have believed it until I did it, but you can over-hydrate before a race the same as you can over-hydrate within a race. Your body can only absorb so much water, after that you’re just depleting your electrolytes and you need those to keep your muscle activity top-notch.
9. Shoes. A girl can never have too many. A girl can, however, have too many miles on her running shoes! Hopefully you keep track of your mileage on your shoes (one more thing TrainingPeaks is good for). If you’re running a marathon, you should aim to have around 100 miles on your marathon shoes so that you know how they’re going to behave but they still have plenty of oomph left for the big day.
10. Bikes. If you’re racing tris this year, don’t wait until the day before the race to get your bike tuned up! Give yourself a couple of weeks to make sure that anything discovered in the tuneup can be fixed well before you need to rack your bike.
11. Wetsuits. More tri stuff, if you’re racing in a wetsuit, you need to practice in a wetsuit. You should practice your race distance, as halfway through your 1.2 mile swim is a bad time to figure out you needed BodyGlide on your neck. Your wetsuit will change your stroke somewhat; you need to practice that stroke to make it efficient just like you do in the pool. A word of caution though–chlorine is bad for neoprene, so if you’re tempted to swim in the pool in your wetsuit it would appreciate a nice shower when it gets out of the pool just like you do. And another piece of advice, especially if you bought a $300 wetsuit, spend the money and get an appropriate lubricant for your wetsuit–Pam and Crisco are bad, SuitJuice and TriSlide are good.
12. For tri’s and bike races (training rides too!!), never leave home without two tubes and your tools and a pump. I have loaded bikes into the car with good tires and taken them out with flats, be prepared to do quick tube changes before the race starts. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve loaned my bike pump to before races! If you don’t know how to change a tube, ask someone or attend a clinic. If you ride your bike farther from home than you care to walk this is a mandatory skill!!
Hopefully these dozen suggestions will help you out in your next race season — be smart and race your plan!