There are many reasons to run, one of which is that our runs (or walks or hikes) often prove that we can do more than we thought we could.
There is nothing more revealing than setting ourselves up for a specific challenge with a date circled on the calendar. Signing up for a race is the perfect way to step up your workouts. Men and women race for a variety of reasons: Events help us break through goals, explore new terrain and allow us to support causes that mean everything to us.
Regardless of why you have decided to push yourself, when race day comes, you need to be ready to run. Our race-day strategies have you covered.
Trust the process. You have put the miles in … literally! And you are ready. The days leading up to race day are the perfect time to reflect on your progress and training journal or tracking data and to be proud of the hard work completed and victories already achieved. Your training has prepared you for the race, and you’re ready to run the distance.
Know the course and the terrain. Research the course and the race-day experience online, or better yet, run (or walk) sections of it before race day. The more comfortable and familiar you are with any terrain changes, the more mentally prepared you can be.
Expect the unexpected. It will happen: Something will likely occur that was not part of your training plan. It’s OK. You can handle it, whatever it may be. Simply manage your attention and focus on what is within your control, breathe through it and take one step forward at a time. The only way to race and manage the miles ahead is step by step and breath by breath.
Pre-race meals (the night before and the morning of the race) only serve to top off your energy stores. Your race-ready nutrition hopefully was created over the course of the last few months and not just a week. If you’re running a longer race, most experts advise that you plan for carb loading (as it’s traditionally called), with small and gradual increases in carb intake beginning three or four days before the race.
If your race is a longer distance, then you will need to refuel or rehydrate—especially whenever you’re running longer than an hour. Schedule your first replenishment at the 45-minute mark and continue every 20 to 30 minutes thereafter.
Stick with your plan. Race day isn’t the ideal time or setting to try a new running technique or shoes or anything, really, that you don’t already know feels good on you. Maintain the familiar and trust the strategies and techniques you practiced in your training runs, including fuel, fluids, clothing and gear.
Pace yourself, or as runners say, don’t fly and die! You’ll be excited, but be really deliberate in resisting the temptation to start the race too fast. Instead, mentally break the race down in thirds.
- Your first one-third is intended to get you into a rhythm. Focus on your heart rate, your breath and the sound of your feet hitting the pavement.
- The second one-third is your mind game, when you need to pull your mind into focus and think through technique and focus on the sensations of running. This is a great time to integrate any mental mantras or coaching tips you have practiced in training.
- In your last one-third, run with your heart—the emotional aspect of your heart. Remember your big reason for running and that running is your birthright—truly, you can do anything in your life, if you commit to it and do the work.
It bears repeating: If you are new to racing, don’t start too fast and don’t try anything new that you have yet to test in training. Take the first mile out of the gate slowly, and integrate walk breaks as needed. Your big goal is to finish the race and enjoy the run. Your training will come to life on the course, and there will be many more races to follow.
Hydrate early and often. Your body can give you mixed signals, and the thirst mechanism tends to lag behind your actual hydration status. If you are thirsty, then it is likely that dehydration has already occurred.
Be aware of hydration opportunities ahead. In most courses, water stations are strategically placed at approximately 1-mile increments, depending on the race. Make it a ritual to hit each water station even if only for a refreshing sip—it gives you a quick pick-me-up.
Take it all in. Of course, your focus is on the finish line, but notice the journey, the people next to you, the nature surrounding you. And most important, don’t forget to smile and celebrate fully and tell the world about your news once you’ve crossed the finish line and achieved your goal. It’s a human race, after all.
From Half Mile to Hooked
By Emily Abbate
I didn’t make my high-school junior varsity volleyball team 13 years ago because I couldn’t run a mile in less than 10 minutes. To be really honest, I could hardly run a mile, period. Which makes the fact that I ran my first marathon, 26.2 miles worth of miles, four years ago in 9:17/mile splits pretty humbling.
I know what you’re thinking: How? How did the girl that could barely run a mile learn how to run 26.2 of them and run them well?
Well, it wasn’t easy. After battling with my weight between high school and college, it was actually learning to love running that helped me lose the pounds and value myself. The summer I started pounding pavement in 2007, I clocked what I thought was a mile every day in just less than 14 minutes. Slow? Sure. Even slower when I realized that “mile” was actually a half mile. But I could’ve cared less. I was learning to love something that previously I absolutely dreaded.
Soon enough, that half mile became a whole mile. Then my mile runs multiplied. Two miles became a 5K. In 2008, I harnessed my inner badass to run my first half marathon and was immediately hooked. Hooked to that feeling of empowerment. Hooked to that feeling of accomplishment. Hooked to the person I was becoming. It took five years of half marathons to convince myself that I was ready for the next step. I distinctly remember clicking the sign-up button while sitting in my dimly lit office midafternoon on the phone with my father, freaking out. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I, the girl who once weighed more than 200 pounds, would run a marathon.
The training was, well, grueling. My weekday mornings all started with 3- to 5-mile runs. And weekends, well, they were now completely dedicated to running, too. If it was a Friday night, I was in bed early because I liked to get up with the sun to check off my longer runs. Come Saturday night, I was so spent from waking up early that I wasn’t much company. I just kept thinking: The end goal is worth all these miles. All these early mornings. All this high-opportunity cost.
Race day, I was a ball of nerves. At the time, I lived about an hour from my chosen event, which meant a whole lot of preparation had to take place to assure that I got to the starting line as smoothly as possible. The ingredients for my go-to pre-run breakfast of a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich laid out on the counter, waiting to be prepared. My entire race bag, filled with raspberry Clif Shot Energy Gels and extra layers, packed and ready. Of course, my outfit—planned weeks ahead of time—laid out, complete with my favorite SPIbelt and customized long sleeve. I distinctly remember sitting the entire car ride to the race in silence. The voice inside my head rambling: Was I really going to do this? Would I actually finish? What happened if I started to walk?
The thing about the marathon itself is that even though you’re out there for hours on end, a lot of it in retrospect is a blur. Now having run five marathons, I’m familiar with this concept of “running blackout,” or being so absorbed in the task at hand that it’s kind of hard to recall the specifics. But when it comes to that October day, I remember certain parts, like the halfway point where all of my races up until this point had finished. I remember people along the course handing out oranges and getting to the point at mile 19 when I had an obscene side cramp and a weird craving for Bud Light. I remember briefly pacing with an old college friend of mine at mile 20. But most of all, I remember that last mile. I remember seeing three of my closest friends holding a sign they made for me, screeching with joy. I remember that wave of emotion that hit me as I saw the finish line, only to look to my left and see both my parents standing there in awe. I remember the tears and the gradual slowing of my pace as a race volunteer put that medal around my neck.
We popped champagne in the street as onlookers watched from a nearby bar. Surrounded by my friends and family, I was the happiest I’d ever been, laughing, recalling those small moments. Although my legs were slightly chafed and they felt like concrete, my heart was bursting. My hands still quivering, I looked over at both my parents, smiling. That’s when it really hit me: In that moment, I was a champion. I had done what really felt impossible. That was the moment I realized that forever I’d be a marathoner.
Photo credit: leekris, Adobe Stock