Having just raced myself and with races coming up thick and fast for everyone, I thought this might be a good opportunity to look at race preparation. When I say preparation, I don’t mean the training that you’ve hopefully been putting in the weeks and months beforehand, or the nutrition and recovery that you’ve nailed. I’m talking about all the other stuff that needs to happen to ensure that your race isn’t derailed by something unrelated to your running readiness. Most of this preparation happens happens in the week before your race – conveniently at the time when you will be tapering (reducing your running volume) and therefore likely in need of something to distract you!
To help you ensure that you turn up at the start line as ready to race as possible, here’s a few things to think about in that final week, looking first at the practical stuff and then at psychological preparation:
- Race morning schedule: Decide what you are going to eat and drink – remember that this will be affected by your race start time and you may need to adjust your alarm to give you enough time to digest your breakfast before the race start. Make sure that you have everything set up to make things as easy as possible on the morning
- Travel: Check your route and journey time, especially if you are travelling somewhere new. Ensure you build in extra time for delays/ missed connections. Where are you going to park when you get there – remember it’s a good idea to have a backup in case your intended spot is full
- Arrival and Registration: Re-read the race instructions. Every race will have different requirements for number collection, registration and the time you need to be on the start line
- Toilets: Check on toilet provision and if none is mentioned then assume there will be no provision. Consider how you will manage this, whether there are toilets nearby that you could use and how to time your fluid intake before the race accordingly. If there are toilets, remember to leave loads of time to use them as queues can be enormous
- Weather: Make sure you regularly check the forecast for race day. Whilst this may not be completely accurate, it will hopefully give you enough information to be able to plan accordingly
- Keeping warm before and after the race: Do you have someone supporting you who could take an extra layer from you at the last minute? If not, could you carry something with you?
- Race kit: This will vary enormously depending on the race – anything from a bottle of water and a gel to a mandatory kit list as long as your arm. Ensure you check the race information for details of what will be available in terms of food, fluids, drop-bags and other support on the route. Whatever your requirements, make a list and pack early. If the race has a mandatory kit list then read it carefully to ensure that your items are compliant. If you are running an ultra requiring you to carry a lot of kit then think carefully about how to pack this: consider accessibility of essential items, waterproofing, distribution of weight, and the balance between being safe and prepared and being overloaded
- Get devices ready: Make sure that your phone, watch, headtorch, and anything else you might need are fully charged. If necessary charge and pack a power bank (and don’t forget the leads!). If you intend to use earphones, make sure that these are permitted as many races ban them, and most clubs won’t allow you to use them when racing for the club. If you intend to use your watch to follow the route then make sure the correct route is uploaded properly and that you know how to follow it. Also make sure that you make any necessary adjustments to your watch settings (e.g. to increase battery life by turning off certain functions)
- Support crew: If you have a support crew (some ultra races allow these), or supporters on the route, make sure they are clear about what you need from them. Give them a list including locations and estimated times when you will need them. Talk to them about how they can best help you psychologically and practically
- Hydration and nutrition: Make sure you have a plan for how much and how often you will eat and drink during the race. Many smart watches will allow you to set reminders if you think there is a chance you won’t remember to do this (reminders can also be a good prompt if you are feeling ill and don’t want to eat). Make sure your supplies are within easy reach. And ensure that you have tested anything you intend to use many a race has been ended by a decision to try a new gel on race day
- Checkpoint plan: If you are running a long race with checkpoints and/or cutoffs, make a note of these. Include any notes on what you intend to do at each checkpoint so that you avoid wasted time or missing important self-care issues such as checking your feet
- Think about your reasons why: Be clear with yourself about why you are running this race – you may need to remind yourself of these if you are finding the race tough. It can even be helpful to have a reminder of these reasons with you – a note to yourself, a photo of your kids etc – whatever it is that’s driving you to that finish line.
- Decide on your goals: You probably already have an ‘A’ goal. This might be simply to finish, or you may have a time or position in mind. Consider adding a ‘B’ and ‘C’ goal: these can help keep you motivated in the event that the ‘A’ goal slips away. They may not even be about finishing, but rather about how you manage yourself on the day, how much money you raise for a charity or just how you will savour the atmosphere and enjoy the day
- Plan for the worst: Think about the things that could go wrong and work out what you would do in each situation. Whilst we can’t control external factors, we can control our response and having a good ‘what if’ plan in place will help you feel more prepared and could save your race. Ensure that you have the right things with you to enable to you to enact your plan (e.g. blister kit, electrolyte tablets, spare food)
- Taper well: Tapering is about getting your body and mind ready for the race. Any running you do should be greatly reduced in volume (keep some intensity), and you should have more rest days (more on the specifics of tapering another time). You will probably find it difficult and frustrating but try to embrace the time and don’t compensation for the lack of running by redecorating the house, signing up for overtime or taking up a new sport. Ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to sleep each night and increase your fluid intake in the week before to ensure that your body is probably hydrated – don’t leave this until the last day. Eat well – whilst it is a good idea to increase the balance of carbohydrates in your diet un the final few days, it is not necessary to stuff your face with pasta and pizza the night before – this is likely to just leave you feeling bloated. Remember that you won’t need to increase your calorie intake significantly as you will be exercising less so your calorie needs will reduce.
- Don’t let the taper demons get inside your head: Finally, ask any runner about the final week before a big target race and they will tell you about the range of phantom injuries, non-existent illnesses and raging self-doubt which will emerge during taper week. This condition has various terms such as maranoia and ultrachondria! Obviously don’t ignore a genuine issue, but be aware that your mind will play tricks on you – don’t sabotage your own success because your convinced that you have a race-ending injury. Trust your body and your training.
Hopefully this will help you to feel 100% prepared on race day so that all of that training will pay off. As a final thought, decide how you’ll celebrate after your race and make sure you do it whether or not you reach those goals. The achievement is in all the work that you’ve put in as well as the outcome of the race. Well done athletes!