Whether you are running your first 5 K or your 20th marathon, everyone’s goal is to run their best race possible. Most of your ability to perform well is determined by how hard you trained in the months leading up to the race. But when it comes down to within the last week before your race, you’ve done all the training that you can do. Trying to get an extra day of training in isn’t going to help and actually might increase your risk of injury. But if you still have the pre-race jitters and can’t get it out of your head that you need to be doing something, there are still things you can do to help you on your race day.
1. Get Proper Amounts of Sleep
During your sleeping phase is when your body rebuilds a majority of its muscle that was broken down by training. This muscle regeneration is crucial to your performance during the race because no one wants to run 26.2 miles with a strain in their hammy. Also, sleep is a time for many other processes to start happening in your body. When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain can’t process all of your thoughts from that day, including details such as what your race strategy is going to be. Come race time, you might forget everything that you had thought about the day before if you don’t get an adequate amount of sleep. But studies show it is not just the night before the race that affects your performance. Even missing sleep from a couple days before your race can have an impact. So try and aim for around 7 hours for 3 or 4 days before your race
2. Visualize your Race
This one may sound weird because if you are running a marathon, its going to be hard to visualize a full 3 hours of running. Luckily, visualizing your whole race isn’t necessary. Just try and visualize the start of the race when the gun goes off and you cross the starting line, the middle of your race when you are keeping a consistent pace, and the end of the race when you pushed through all of the exhaustion and broke through the ribbon at the finish line. Some people might think that this is a stupid idea and that it isn’t helpful, but I have an example of when it worked for me.
One day during my Bold Warrior training, we were practicing our rope climb. I was able to get up once just from pure force, but the second time I tried to get up, my muscles kept giving out. I was told that I needed to use my legs more to help me up and was shown what it looked like, but I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. I tried over and over again and worked at it till we were already an hour past our training time, yet I still couldn’t get it. But then I took a 2 minute break, walked away, and just visualized myself performing the exact leg motions I needed to and saw myself touching the top. Then I walked back over and got to the top on my next try. That day, I tried climbing up that rope at least 50 times and failed each and every attempt, until I visualized myself.
So next time you have a race coming up, just try visualizing yourself running and see if it helps.
This one is a pretty obvious one, but also the most important. Your muscles are over 70% water and when you sweat, which you will during your race, you are losing high volumes of fluid. Dehydration is a big reason people start to get cramps during a race. You don’t want to be on the final leg of your first race and end up getting a major calve cramp and not be able to finish. But it isn’t just the water that is important. When you sweat, you are also losing electrolytes, such as sodium, which are vital for proper cell function. Gatorade is a good source of electrolytes but it also has a high amount of sugar, which is helpful if you are running a long race but unnecessary if you are running shorter distances. So if your race is around the distance of a 5 K, then you can buy a Gatorade and pour half of it into another bottle and then refill it with water. Now you have the electrolytes and water you need without all of the added sugar. Also, hydration, like sleep, is not just important for the night before, but also for the days leading up to your race. So make sure you are drinking more water than normal for 2-3 days before the big day.
Your nutrition is like the gas in your car. You are only going to get out of it what you put in. For a car, if you put in cheap gas, you aren’t going to get as good MPG as you would for the more expensive stuff. Same with you what eat. What you consume is either going to help you get across that finish line or give you a major side stitch right during the middle of the race. So you want to fill up with higher quality foods. But what are these “quality” foods? Well the issue with this question it that it doesn’t have a definitive answer. It is all based on you and your specific needs. What one person consumes before a race is going to differ from other people. The one rule is to keep it consistent. You don’t want to eat something new before a race because you don’t know how it is going to affect you. The problem now is that if this is your first race, then you aren’t going to know how certain things affect you. But this is why you train. Training isn’t just for preparing your legs and cardiovascular system, but also to test out new routines. It is your time to experiment with different food combinations to see what gives you the most energy. And though getting a side stitch or running out of energy during a practice run still isn’t fun, it is much better than it happening during the actual race.
Just like sleep and hydration, the way you eat a the days before your race will also affect your performance. But unlike the day of the race, you don’t need to limit what you eat. In fact, you want to eat more than you normally do. More carbs that is. This is where the strategy of Carbohydrate Loading comes in. Carbohydrate Loading is simply increasing your daily intake of carbohydrates in order to increase the amount of glycogen stored in your muscle. To read more about Carbohydrate Loading, visit The Carbohydrate Loading Strategy.
If you have a race coming up in the near future, there are 4 things you need to start focusing on in order to maximize your performance: Sleep, Visualization, Hydration, and nutrition. If you focus on these 4 things, you will set yourself up to run the best race of your life.