Get Race Ready

By Matt Forsman A.K.A. Marathon Matt, April 21, 2016

Training on a regular basis is no easy feat. It requires patience. It requires commitment to log the miles for days, weeks, and months. All of this work typically culminates with a race.

You've got one shot at it. There are many factors involved with having a positive experience on race day. Today, we're breaking down a few tips for insuring race day goes smoothly.

-KNOW THE COURSE!

This is a big one. Not all races are created equal. Some are hillier than others. Some courses include road and trail.

It's critically important to have a handle on the course you're tackling on race day. Most races worth their snuff publish course maps, elevation charts, and other details relevant to navigating effectively on race day.

Use the information the race publishes to formulate an effective strategy for race day. If the course has lots of hills, it may not be realistic to run a consistent pace throughout. Identify areas of the course that appear to be challenging.

Independent of leveraging any useful information published online, get out on the actual course itself if at all possible. If you're tackling a road race, try to drive the course beforehand or better yet RUN part of the course.

Doing a little due diligence around the course can pay huge dividends on race day.

-Do Nothing New.

As race day approaches, it's not unusual to reflect on your training. Questions, doubts, and fears can bubble to the surface. Did I run enough? Did I miss too many runs/workouts? Am I really ready for this? These questions are totally natural, but can lead to some behavior that can derail your race.

The urge to try something new that you 'think' will help your cause tends to come up. Resist this urge. Stick to what has worked well for you during your training cycle.

Introducing new food, new shoes, or anything else 'new' is a risky proposition that often backfires. If you want a positive experience on race day, stick to what is tried and true. Do nothing new.

-Get in the right head space.

Where the mind goes, the body will follow. In the days leading up to race day, it is natural for voices of doubt to creep in. Try to silence these voices. Tell these voices that you've done a LOT of great work to prepare for race day. You're well trained. You're tough. You're ready.

Do what you need to do to get into a positive head space for race day. Maybe this means watching some movies that inspire you. Maybe it means listening to some of your favorite power songs. Maybe it means simply relaxing a bit more in the days leading up to your race.

Whether it's watching inspiring movies, listening to your power songs, or decompressing a few days before your race, do what you need to do to get into the right head space.

-Relax.

Personal and professional stressors can DEFINITELY impact your ability to perform. With this in mind, do what you can to minimize any/all stressors leading up to race day.

Most races take place on Sundays. Use Saturday as an opportunity to relax. Don't spend a lot of time on your feet. Avoid stress as much as you can.

Try using the mantra 'focus and relax' as you prepare for race day. You want to be focused on the task at hand, but simultaneously stay as relaxed as possible.

-Dial it in.

There are a ton of details to iron out before race day. You've got to get your race bib. You need to identify your wardrobe. If you're going to be running for more than an hour, you likely need to nail down what you'll be eating during the race to stay properly fueled.

Don't let these details overwhelm you. Treat them as a mini-project. Put together a checklist of everything you need to get dialed in before you toe the line.

Cross these items off one by one as race day approaches. Make sure that by the time you go to sleep the night before your race that no item is left uncrossed. Dial it in.

-Work out the kinks.

The reality is you break your body down when you run. You incur micro-tears in muscle fiber. Things tighten up and contract.

If you're doing regular self massage/foam rolling, that's great. But, getting a quality, professional sport massage a couple days out from race day can definitely help position you for a positive performance on race day.

The benefits of sports massage are numerous. Massage can help release tension, break down adhesions, and help improve range of motion. All of this can help you have a better performance on race day. So, work out the kinks with a quality sports massage.

-Set appropriate goals for race day.

If you're running your very first marathon, qualifying for Boston (or the Olympics) may not be a realistic goal. This is particularly the case if the pace you've been running during your training is not in line with what is required for either of the aforementioned goals. You want to set appropriate, realistic goals.

Try to set goals that are in line with what you've done during training. Certainly, taper and race day adrenaline 'may' help you run a bit faster, but it's not going to turn you into an Olympian.

It's best to have 2-3 goals in mind for race day. A stretch goal, an intermediate goal, and a baseline goal. All of these goals should generally align with your training. 

If you can comfortably run 10:00/mile for ten miles, it's not unreasonable to think you could do the same or a bit faster for a half marathon. Conversely, if can barely manage 10:00/mile for five miles, it's not reasonable to think you can manage this pace for a half marathon.

Race goals should be appropriate and realistic.

-Start conservatively.

The best races are commonly associated with consistent pacing from start to finish. This being said, I always encourage my runners to go out a bit slower than their target pace for the first mile or so. There are a few reasons for this.

Starting conservatively makes it easier to NOT get swept away by the race day adrenaline and sea of humanity around you. You want to run 'your' race, not someone else's. A slower start makes it easier to run your race.

While it's our hope that the stars align on race day, there's no guarantee that they will. You might not feel great on race day. It might not be possible to run the pace you originally had in mind, for whatever reason. Running a bit slower in the beginning gives you an opportunity to gauge how you're feeling, how your target pace feels, and adjust accordingly if necessary.

Lastly, a more conservative start can potentially help you finish strong. If you've paced properly, you might have a little extra left at the end of the race. You want to be in a position to finish strong as opposed to dragging yourself across the finish line running on fumes. A conservative start can help position you for a strong finish.

-Listen to the messages your body sends you.

This is a message I repeat to my runners constantly. The best runners on the planet tend to be highly 'associative'. This means they are actively associating with the act of running the entire time they're out there.

The best runners are tuned into the position of their arms, their turnover/cadence, their breathing, and everything in between. This kind of body awareness enables one to make subtle adjustments whenever necessary. If your body is happy, maybe you can pick up the pace a bit. If your breathing is labored, maybe it's time to reign it in a bit.

Listen to the messages your body sends you and respond accordingly.

-Unleash Hell!

Anger is a very powerful emotion. It can be a very destructive emotion. But, if used effectively, it can actually help you in the latter stages of a race.

Anger often triggers a surge of adrenaline. If you've ever experienced a surge of adrenaline, you know it heightens your senses and gives you additional energy.

Did you get cut off in traffic earlier in the week? Did you get passed over for a promotion? Has it just generally been a crappy week?

Channel this frustration and anger into the final stretch of your race and leverage it for something positive!

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