Preparing for a race: Either we have been there ourselves or we have had friends who after training so hard, for so long missed out on performance goals. Despite putting in the miles, running the speed workouts and tackling the hills, still somehow we managed to fall short of the standards we had set for ourselves. A successful race often comes down to the final stages of your training cycle. Whether it is setting a Personal Record related to time or running a new longest distance it is often the preparation that goes into the final part of the training cycle that determines if you reach your goals or not. The weeks before – Once I select a goal race, I develop a training time line working back from race morning approx. 6 – 8 weeks. From this starting point I ensure my base mileage is in line with the race distance and my performance goals. If my fitness level is not at a point that supports my goal distance or pace I add on to this time line. This is the point that I consider the start of the training cycle for this race. Setting this starting point I also consider in the taper required for the distance I’ll be racing. A normal taper period is three weeks out from race morning. I plan my last long run and build in a 3 week taper from there. The first “taper” week I cut back my mileage roughly 20%, followed by another 20% the second week and the final taper week I plan a conservative mileage total around 15 miles with at least two days off before race morning.
The week before – This week is a very conservative running week. I focus on recovery, sleep and nutrition including hydration.
For the rest of this post I’ll assume a Saturday morning race start time. I plan to have all of my running miles in by Wednesday night, giving me approx. 60 hours of recovery time prior to race morning. My goal is to arrive at the starting line fueled up, well rested with some zip in my legs and no nagging injury issues. During this 60 hours of down time I may do some light walking to keep my legs limber and the wheels moving.
The preparation that I do off my feet gets a lot of attention during this time. If I have any nagging injury issues I addressed them hard during this time. My plan of attack incorporates foam rolling, icing, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a therapy, compression gear and elevation, all tools that help get my legs back to 100%. Sleep and eating are also very important elements leading up to race morning.
During the week prior to race morning I go to bed a little earlier than my normal bedtime to ensure I’m well rested. No late night monster movie marathon during this week. I plan to get my best night of sleep on Thursday. I also focus attention on my eating habits and my hydration plan. No nights out on the town or “all you can eat” 5 alarm chicken wings for me.
During this time I make a conscious effort to get in plenty of water/sports drinks. I stick with the tried and true. Most importantly this week is NOT about trying something new. The goal of this week is to have a solid and conservative week in all three departments.
The days before – Normally two days before a race I focus on the finishing touches, i.e. carbo-loading, hydration and rest. I was told by a good friend and ultrarunner (Garth P) that in his mind and experince the most important meal was the night before, the night before a big race. For a Saturday race that would be the Thursday night meal. I’ve have followed his advice since my first marathon in 2005 and I believe his advice is true. I plan my best and biggest meal of the week for Thursday night. My favorite pre-race meal being spaghetti with meat sauce, two meat balls, a few slices of bread.
There is no portion sizing here, I go for it… This is my
” Carb Loading” pig out meal.
Friday morning I have a good breakfast, lunch and my traditional pizza meal for dinner. I’ll also snack on some solid energy food throughout the day to keep the munchies at bay. To ensure my hydration is on point, I’m never far from my water bottle.
The night before – The goal of race-eve is to find my happy place and get to sleep. Friday night I get off of work and get home as soon as I can. No shopping trips to the mall, no ultra-runs through COSTCO and no standing in line waiting on a place for dinner. I try to get home, get dinner and get off my feet as fast as I can.
My favorite pre-race dinner is PIZZA. I stick with what works, and pepperoni pizza works for me. A normal race-eve routine following dinner finds me laying out my race gear and powering down early for some time to relax. I try to enjoy some quiet time with my wife, watching TV or some mindless surfing on the internet. Before it gets too late I call it a night. I plan to get my best night of sleep the night before because I have a tough time getting to sleep on race eve. Most nights before a race I find myself visualizing the race. Most often my mind works overtime on my plans and expectations for the start, the finish and any segments that I may find challenging, climbs, downhill’s or the transitions through the aid stations. Although not physically taxing the mental side of this night can wear you down if you don’t watch it.
The hours before – I’m not one to show up late. The #1 goal of the last few hours before the start is to get to the starting line in a positive frame of mind, with energy in my tank and with time to gather my thoughts. For marathon and longer distances, I normally wake up three hours before race start. The very first thing I do after brushing my teeth and washing my face is to get in my power breakfast. I’ll normally have a few pancakes, a breakfast drink and some form of sports drink to give me a solid carb load. I plan all this with enough time for my belly to settle and the food to process so that I’m not racing with a food bomb in my stomach. I also plan to have enough time prior to leaving the house to take care of other “business.”
I like to arrive at the race location an hour before the start with the goal of avoiding the parking issues, time to visit the port-o-lets and time to listen to some music. After all the work has been done it’s now down to a fleeting few minutes to put the finishing touches on a hopefully successful race.
The minutes before – The calm before the storm. Depending on the distance I have to walk to get to the race start, and my warm up plan, I normally begin my journey to the starting line around 30 minutes out. During this time I review my race plan, check all my race essentials, race number, water bottle and that my shoes are tied properly, as I make my way to the corral. Like the icing on a cake…this is the time where my preparation gets to shine. While standing in the corral 15 minutes before the gun goes off, I normally consume a power gel and take a last small drink of water. If my wife is with me this is the last moment I’ll get to spend with her prior to the race starting. We pray, then she gives me a kiss and wishes me good luck. All the work is done it’s just me and the open road ahead of me. The months of training, weeks of preparation, days of focusing and the hours and minutes of racing all come down to the attention I give this last step in my training cycle.
How do you prepare for your race after the majority of work has been done?