The Anxious Runner’s Guide to Race Prep

IF YOU’RE PREPARING for your first big race, the number of things to remember on the eve of the event may seem overwhelming. We were all there once – and if many races later you still get nervous or anxious that’s OK too! But fear not, I’m happy to share my love of lists (oh, I do love a list) and personal experiences along with a few professional tips and shortcuts to provide you with this guide for the day before a big race. I hope it will help to reduce your stress levels and make your race preparations feel less daunting and even something to look forward to. Try not to panic and just remember why you’re running in the first place; you chose to do this!

1. Check race and travel details

If you haven’t done this already, I would suggest reading the information in your race pack first thing. It’s one thing to have to come up with a plan B with 24 hours to go, but quite another getting hideously stressed on race morning, when you realize the trains aren’t running after all. Check the start time as well as the time you’re expected to drop off your bag and be at the start line. Also check public transport timetables, distance to race start from your stop or station, location of parking, whether you’ll need money to park, and times of any road closures. In short, make sure you know how you’re going to get to the race on time – and how you’re getting home afterwards.

This also goes for the race expo, if there is one. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time to pick up your race bib if getting it on race morning is not an option.

2. Check the weather forecast

The weather – surely the arch nemesis of any runner. I can’t think of a state or country where it isn’t an issue at least some of the time. But the day before, the forecast should be relatively accurate and guide you in the selection of weather-appropriate race kit for the day. As a rule of thumb for cooler weather, take your training kit and remove a layer. If you think you’ll need long tights, wear ¾ length. If you were going for ¾ length tights, you’ll be fine in shorts. If you’re thinking long sleeves, wear short. Races are more crowded than a solo training run, and you’re likely to run faster too – remember that even if you feel cold on the start line, you will get warm quite quickly. Physiologically speaking, wearing too much and overheating is far worse than feeling a bit cold. For temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you should be fine in a t-shirt or vest and shorts.

Throw accessories such as a baseball cap (for rain), sunglasses or gloves in your bag too, so you have them if needed. And don’t forget dry, warm clothes to get changed into after the race. Just an extra layer may be enough, but if you’re expecting to get very wet make sure you pack a full change of clothes, including shoes and socks.

3. Eat, drink, stretch, rest

There’s no need to obsess over this one – just make sure you eat well, stay hydrated and let your legs get some rest. I always spend a good 20-30 minutes stretching on the day before a race, paying particular attention to any muscles that may have been feeling tight in training. There’s no benefit in static stretching just before the race – save the stretches for afterwards – but stretching on the day before gives you a way to do some form of physical preparation and get your mind focused too. (Some runners like to go for a very easy, very short jog the day before a race, but this is more down to personal preference than anything else.) Foam rolling is also an excellent idea.

In terms of eating and drinking, you need to top up the glycogen stores in your muscles with plentiful carbohydrates. Ideally you should think about this throughout your last taper week, getting a few more of your daily calories from carbs than you normally do. On the day before, a good pre-race dinner might be based around rice, pasta or sweet potatoes – just avoid anything that might upset your stomach such as spicy or fatty foods. Keep drinking water or have a sports drink to avoid going into the race dehydrated, but again, there’s no reason to go overboard with this.

4. Get your stuff ready

Ah, the gear bag. How much you take to the race with you depends on how far you need to travel, what facilities are available, the weather and to a degree, your race distance. The bare minimum you need to get ready is all your race kit, with your bib pinned to your vest or t-shirt. If you have a timing chip for your shoes, you may wish to tie that in place as well. If you need any maps or an address for your GPS, now is the time to make sure you have those at hand. And if you want to use any kind of technology on the day, check that it’s fully charged.

As a guideline only, the following is what I packed for a recent half marathon (other than clothes for warming up and running in): a bottle of water, electrolyte tablets, race fuel (stick to what your body knows!), a pre-race banana, a post-race protein bar, music player and headphones, sunglasses, compression socks for recovery, cash for parking/transport/food, phone, my beloved Garmin, band-aids, and a running belt – not forgetting to put the designated tag on my gear bag!

5. Find meaningful ways to occupy your mind

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed (or downright terrified) about your race, try finding ways to keep yourself busy. It’s absolutely fine to feel a bit jittery, but you don’t want to get so stressed you can’t sleep or worse still, are unable to enjoy the excitement of the build-up and the race. Don’t spend hours obsessing over your gear! Try to avoid physical exhaustion and injury, but by all means get on with your day as you normally would. If you find yourself getting very anxious, try listening to music, watching a movie or reading. Or focus your mind on the task ahead by stretching, meditating or reading the race information one more time – then trust that you’ve got everything covered.

However, it’s OK to…

6. Get slightly obsessed over a minor detail

As much as you try to stay calm and composed, I’d like to think it’s perfectly normal to go slightly insane just hours before a big race. I can be a bit of a control freak, so the focus of my insanity tends to be an element of the race I can’t control – typically the weather. Before our first half marathon, my running buddies and I were expecting a freezing cold race day (yes, we checked the forecast a dozen times) and got more obsessed than is healthy about what we should wear for the race. Long tights definitely, but would we freeze in t-shirts? I got so worried about this that I came up with what I still think of as, frankly, an inspired solution – disposable arm warmers made out of an old pair of leggings. Slightly ridiculous, yes, but it kept my mind occupied (if not exactly in a meaningful way).

7. Double-check race details

Do one last check before bedtime – make sure you haven’t missed any important information about where you need to be and at what time. Incidentally, a 10K race I used to do every year is run on the morning that Daylight Savings Time ends and the clocks go back. I think this is a bit mean, though the worst case scenario is turning up an hour early. The start of Daylight Savings is a bit riskier, however, as you could potentially miss your race. If you’re racing on a Sunday in late March or October, you may want to check this – you have been warned!

8. Set your alarm and get a good night’s sleep

Stop obsessing. You will be fine. Have confidence in the training you’ve done, trust your preparations and try to enjoy the anticipation as well as the race itself. Remember to allow yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to rush on race morning, and set your alarm. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try relaxation techniques or just give in, get up and check your kit one more time. Then relax.

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