Follow These Do’s and Don’ts of Race Week for a Successful Performance
This weekend (July 29th), I will run the San Francisco Marathon. While covering the marathon distance has become rather routine for me in training for ultramarathons, the idea of running it for performance is more foreign. The last time I stepped to the starting line to run 26.2-miles for a performance goal was 2011. Over the last four months, I have re-taught myself many different aspects of running this shorter long distance race.
Now that race week is finally here, I am reminding myself of the Do’s and Don’ts of Race Week. Many of the following suggestions apply for ultramarathons as well. However, I feel the more commitment you put to working for a specific time goal and the shorter the race, the easier it is to focus on the wrong things come race week.
Circumstances out of your control, such as bad weather, sudden illness, or travel delays can cause unnecessary anxiety. While focusing on the elements of preparation that you can control can give you the best peace of mind that you have done the correct work for race day and prepare you for any unplanned events that might occur.
It’s important to try to maintain your regular routine all the way up to race day. This includes the time of day you wake up and go to bed, when you train, and when you eat. Your body and mind work best off of consistency, so don’t disrupt it before a big race. If you regularly run four days per week prior to your long run, then maintain this number of runs (just shorter distances and efforts) prior to race day.
Worrying before a big race is so easy to do. Oftentimes, these worries center around doubts in the training we have completed. Take your mind off the race by reading a new book, mediating, going for walks, or starting a new TV or movie series. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about the things that you cannot control. Learn to focus on the positives of having more time on your hand with less training during your race taper.
For example, two weeks prior to the San Francisco Marathon, I took a weeklong trip as a leader for a high school church conference at the University of Tennessee. I could have easily worried about only running 9 miles the whole week, dealing with impact of humidity, or getting very little sleep each night. Instead, I looked at the positives of helping your youth transform their lives, walking a total of 80 miles up and down the hills around campus, and enjoying some time away from work.
If you are not an early bird already, then come your race taper try to transition to waking up early in preparation for race day. Like many marathons, the San Francisco Marathon starts at 5:30 AM. I like to be awake at least 90-minutes before all my long runs, which means setting a 3:00 AM alarm clock come race day. Is your body use to be awaking at that hour, let alone ready to run 26.2 miles? Give yourself plenty of time to wake up, eat breakfast, hydrate, get dressed, and get where you need to be on race morning. Start building that routine one to two weeks out from race day, so that you won’t have to be running around stressed on race day.
Likewise, if your marathon start time is later in the morning than you are use to (i.e. Boston Marathon), then prepare yourself properly in both your pre-running routine. Practice running some of your long runs during training later in the morning and early afternoon as well.
Eating a large meal the night before the race or chugging a gallon of water the morning of the race is not going to help your performance. Instead, the focus on hydration and eating should start early in the week. As a long distance runner, a regular routine for eating and drinking should already be in place. Race week is the time to follow that plan and avoid the cheat foods and drinks. Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go. If your schedule race week is going to be a busy one, prep out meals for you to eat and stick to your routine.
Start making your packing list and bringing everything together in one place early in the week. I’ve been guilty before of leaving town without gels or the right socks. The stress of having to find where to buy these items, is not worth it once you are on the road to your race. You know from all your training what you are going to need for the race, so get it organized ahead of time. If you are traveling by plane and need to check a bag, put the running essentials in your carry-on so they don’t get lost.
Many races will offer a gear check at the start line as well. And, some races have restrictions on what gear can be used on course. Know these details ahead of time about your race and make a plan to utilize race resources if necessary. An extra shirt or pants can be nice for cold morning starts to pull off a stow at gear check right before the guns goes off. Likewise, getting out of your race clothes after you finish, can make post-race celebrations more enjoyable.
I’ve witnessed many runners buy a new pair of shoes race week, change up something in their diets, or switch out the brand of anti-chafing cream they use because of a good review they heard. You need to do everything you can do to resist these temptations, especially from the race expos!
Your training plan was the time to figure out what worked and what didn’t work. This goes for shoes, shorts, socks, gels, sports drinks, shirts, anti-chafing cream, bottles, watches, and everything else you plan to use during the race! If you feel that you didn’t nail down your gear and nutrition plan completely, that’s fine. Keep going with it through this race to see what happens, then try to make improvements during the next block of training.
Sometimes a new project at work or home is unavoidable. If this happens during race week, don’t stress. Take a minute to sit down and collect your thoughts to make the best plan to do with whatever has come up. If there is the chance that something will not get done because of travel plans, then let those involved know ahead time. If training for a particular race has been a big part of your life, then chances are that family, friends, and co-workers know when your event is taking place. Make sure they understand your limitations come race week.
It should go without saying, but just as you should not experiment with new gear or food come race week, don’t start a new type of exercise. Often times, our taper phase can leave us filling anxious or very energetic. Likewise, a destination race can make us want to explore and try new things. Again, avoid the temptations and plan accordingly. For destination races, try to plan the adventures for after the race and take a few more days to celebrate your race accomplishments.
Many marathon and race expos can be quite the experience. Sponsors and vendors bring out products to sample or celebrity athletes to talk to. However, spending too much time on your feet the day before the race isn’t the best strategy. For major races with multi-day expos, try to get your race packet and expo experience out of the way on the first or second day, not the day before the race. Then, get away from the race scene and relax. If the day before the race is your only option, then set a short time limit on yourself, then get off your feet and relax.
Remember race week is all about giving yourself the best possible chance to perform to your expectations. Trust that your training has been sufficient enough to get you through the event. If you have had successful race in the past, try to remember what you did during those race weeks and duplicate it as much as possible. Find what works and stick with it. Lastly, remember that the race is the reward for all your hard work. Avoid temptations, cancel doubts out with positive thoughts, and have fun soaking up the experience of completing your challenge.