We always say that getting to the starting line of any race is harder than getting to the finish line. And for when you train through snow, ice and dark of winter for a spring event, you have to brave weather conditions that most people wouldn’t drive in, or face monster mileage on the treadmill.
After having put in all that hard work, you want to make the most out of your training on race day. Follow-these tips to ensure that your big event goes as smoothly as possible.
In the final nights before the race, review your training log, and reflect on all the time and effort your poured into training. Add up all the miles you logged while preparing to get to the starting line, and let that number serve as a reminder of your strength, commitment, and discipline. Take note of all the workouts you powered through when you would have rather have slept in. Draw confidence from all that you accomplished to earn your place at the starting line.
Before race weekend, take some time to map out what you will eat before, during and after the race. This is especially important if you’re traveling to your race. During race weekend and the event itself, you’re likely to be distracted and stressed, and it’s easy to make bad eating choices, or neglect to get the fuel you need to run strong. If you are preparing for a long-distance race, you must have a strategy for how you’re going to refuel at regular intervals throughout the race. Use the strategies that worked best during your long training runs. Don’t wait until you’re hungry or tired to fuel up; by that point it will be too late to recover. If you successfully execute your fueling strategies, you’re more likely to achieve your race-day goals.
Adrenalin swells at the starting line. In the early miles of the race, most runners tend to take off as fast as they can go. It’s best to start slow with the idea that you’ll finish strong. Focus on maintaining a sustainable pace, then gradually accelerating and gaining speed with every step toward the finish line. Though it is tough on the ego to let people whiz by you, they will likely be walking and clutching cramped-up muscles in the final miles. Trust the process. All the energy you save early in the race will be energy you will be able to unleash in the finishing stretch, when you will need it most. You worked so hard to get to the starting line, you want to dash across that finish line with your fists pumping. In order to have that kind of celebration, you must have the patience and the courage to start slow.
It’s not easy to be patient at the starting line. Your muscles are loaded with carbs and caffeine. Lots of people accelerate early figuring that they can “bank time.” This never works. They always run out of energy before they finish. Think instead about banking effort. The effort you save in the first few miles is energy you will have to spare in the final miles.
If you see a port-a-potty and the question occurs to you - “should I go?” the answer is yes. You don’t want to be derailed by a pit stop right after the starting gun fires.
While you can draw inspiration and camaraderie from the other runners in the pack, avoid chasing a runner who is ahead of you. You don’t know whether that runner is having the best race ever, or just a few steps from hitting the wall. Tune in to your own level of energy, and make sure that it’s sustainable. You might repeat the mantra “sustainable pace,” or “run your own race,” syncing the words to your footsteps.
When you start to feel tired, do a body scan. Unclench your jaw, your fists, unknit your brow, take your shoulders away from your ears. Breathe. The same pace will start to feel much easier. Make sure that you’re breathing. It’s very easy to inadvertently hold your breath when the going gets tough.
Have a strategy for how you’re going to contend with the negative voices that will inevitably pop into your head at some point during the race. How are you going to respond to thoughts like, “I can’t” and “I’m tired”? Pick a mantra that means something to you. Have a person or a memory in mind that will inspire you to keep giving your all. You might visualize a strong finish, or remember the loved ones who encouraged you during training, and are cheering you on on race day.
During the race, it can get very unnerving to hear other runners’ GPS watches tracking mileage and splits throughout the race, while trying to make sense of that information with the sideline clocks at various splits. Pick one-time keeping device to use during the race. Just focus on that. It’s a good idea to use the sideline clocks; you don’t have to worry that they’ll lose their signals from a satellite, or run out of batteries. This will really reduce your stress during the race.
Whatever the finish-line clock says, just by earning the opportunity to pin on that race bib—with courage, discipline, patience, and hope—you will have achieved what many people spend their whole lives dreaming about. Whatever your race result is, take time to savor your accomplishment. Celebrate all the hard work you put into the event, and the smart decisions you made to get to the starting line.