As the weather starts to warm up (save Sunday’s ice storm…) and training becomes more manageable, you are probably starting to focus on a few training goals and races. Selecting a race usually isn’t too difficult. We pick races based on proximity, goals, and usually our training background, though sometimes we get a little over ambitious. The best way to ensure that your next race, or your racing season for that matter, is an enjoyable experience is to be prepared for race day, both physically and mentally.
Race preparation should begin well before the week of your target race. This is not just the act of completing your daily runs and workouts, but also preparing your mind and body for the routine of race day. To begin this process, it is helpful to treat each speed or tempo workout like a mini-race day. Practice the things that you will do the day of the race during and before your hard workouts and/or long runs. This will allow you to create a routine and consistency to prime your body for action.
A basic breakdown of a pre-race routine looks like this: Jog warm up, stretch, form drills, and strides. Obviously, there is a lot of variation from runner to runner, but finding a routine that works for you will help you maximize your race
In distances up to a marathon, start a warm up jog 45 minutes to one hour before the race begins. This warm up allows your muscles to wake up and prepare for the race effort. To know how much you should jog before the race, experiment with different warm up times before workouts to see whether 10, 15 or even 20 minutes of jogging feels best for you. Some people may prefer a walking warm up before a marathon or half marathon instead of jogging.
Once you complete your warm up walk or jog, it is helpful to take some time to stretch your muscles and allow your mind and body to relax before the effort that is ahead. Many athletes will repeat encouraging mantras and prayers or listen to music during this time to help calm their minds or focus on the task at hand. Other athletes will bounce around and chat to other competitors. You probably know which group you fall into already and I would emphasize that whichever group you feel more comfortable in is the best group for you. There are great athletes who jump around and yell things like, “Have you got your pop corn ready? Because I’m about to put on a show!” and other greats who stretch quietly on their own. Embrace your style and practice it on workout days.
Form Drills & Strides
After stretching, move into some light form drills to wake up your fast twitch fibers. Do drills that make you feel smooth and ready to run quickly. I prefer quick skipping drills like high knee skips (A-skips) and high knee skips with extension (B-skips).
At the completion of these drills, run four to six strides with a 45-60 second recovery between each stride. A stride is a speed build-up that lasts 50 to 100 meters. You will start a little faster than jogging pace and build up to a near sprint by the final 15-30 meters of the stride. Time your last stride to finish 5 to 10 minutes before the start of the race.
For longer racers, nutrition is another key aspect of race day to prepare for before race day. The last thing you want to do is to try a new energy supplement during your race only to find that your stomach does not agree with your supplement selection. Experimenting with different supplement types, such as energy gels, energy chews, waffles, beans, drinks, or other nutritional supplements during long runs and long workouts is a good way to separate the effective from the ineffective supplements.
The most important thing to take away from race preparation is that you should be consistent in how you prepare for a race. Having a consistent routine allows the most intimidating race to feel like something you’ve done before. Routines also help you interpret the stress signals you are receiving before the race as positive excitement, rather than negative anxiety, which allows your body to more effectively use stress hormones for your benefit in the race situation. Let your races become a celebration of the hard work you have put in!
Current John’s Run/Walk Shop employee and Lexington Catholic Track & Field Coach, David was the USATF Club XC Champion in 2009, was a 2 time Olympic Trials Qualifier and has a PB of 2:16 in the marathon and 28:14 in the 10K