10 Tips for the Final Week before a Race
1 – Don’t overtrain:
You can harm your race prospects far more by succumbing to anxiety and over-training in the final week, than taking it easy and “tapering”.
If you have been training hard the weeks in the lead-up to a race, you can afford to do your normal training for the Monday to Wednesday, before easing off (assuming the race is on a Sunday). In fact, your Monday to Wednesday routine could be slightly lower than normal, to ensure that your body is still at peak condition, but not over-fatigued.
If your training has been poorer than expected, by all means train hard through to Wednesday, before easing off.
2 – Taper:
Tapering is the skill of allowing your body to recuperate from heavy training and build up its reserves. Assuming the race is on the Sunday, you should have a lighter-than-normal session on Thursday. Friday should be a rest day. And on Saturday, simply go for a 20-30 minute jog, very slowly, simply to keep your muscles in shape. The whole point of this period is to recover and ensure you get to the race with maximum energy stored.
3 – Sort your kit the night before:
The evening before the race, sort out your kit into your bag:
(i) race-number, race pack, safety pins;
(ii) race kit (vests, shorts, socks etc.) and your shoes (warm-up trainers and race shoes if you have a special pair);
(iii) warm-up kit suitable to the expected weather, which you can then deposit in a bag;
(iv) towel, soap, and change of clothes for afterwards;
(v) water for before and after, and something nutritious to eat straight after the race;
(vi) race directions (map for the start; and key facilities – the toilets, the registration desk, the finish, the car-park or train station/bus-stop; and where you can deposit your bag).
Reduce any panic on the day of the race, by getting everything arranged beforehand.
4 – Know the plan for tomorrow:
Be sure you know the full plan for tomorrow, including back-up plans (the car won’t start, the train is cancelled, your mate fails to pick you up). And know where you are going to leave your bags, where the registration point is, and that you have a map to the start/finish area.
5 – Set your alarm and get a good night’s rest:
Get a good night’s rest. If you are nervous you may not sleep, but don’t let that concern you – it’s the rest that counts. But make sure that your alarm-clock is set correctly.
6 – Visualise:
Think about the race and how you are going to approach it.
(i) Reflect on lessons you’ve learnt when things have not gone to plan; avoid those mistakes again.
(ii) Remember those moments, training sessions or races when it’s gone well and you’ve felt like you’re flying. Visualise what that felt like.
(iii) Do you have any strategies – people you plan to follow or target; split-times?
(iv) Think about some key split-times, such as the first km/mile; a point one third into the race; the half-way point. Remember those splits and try and ensure that you hit them spot-on. If you’ve shot off too fast, reign yourself in. If you were blocked in or started too slowly, gently put the pedal down.
7 – Eat sensibly:
Don’t eat or drink anything out of the ordinary. In fact it’s best, the night before a race, to have a simple and straightforward meal at home.
On the day of the race, you should eat what is normal for you, and do not eat closer to the race than you would do normally for a hard session. Better less and earlier than more and later, if you tend to suffer from digestive problems.
Don’t eat for a good two hours before a race. Carbohydrates (pasta, brown bread, wholegrain rice; or cereals for breakfast) are good, as well as lots of greens and fruit. Unless you’re racing for longer than an hour, you don’t really need special sports drinks or supplements; and most races provide drink-stations.
8 – Do a proper warm-up:
Get to the start a good hour before the race. Go through a warm-up routine that you have hopefully practised in the lead-up. You should certainly consider:
(i) going to the loo well before the queues start.
(ii) jogging around the course – perhaps the opening mile and the final mile, envisaging the course, paying attention to wind direction (so you can shelter, where possible); checking for dangerous kerbs, bends or narrows where you or others could trip; mentally visualising the final half-mile and the way you intend to finish the race.
(iii) doing a series of loosening exercises for different parts of your body; and finish off with a series of strides to get used to running at race pace (e.g. 10 x 60m at race pace, feeling comfortable and getting your heart up to near race-pace heart-rate).
(iv) visiting the loo again, if you need to. And dumping your race pack at an agreed spot.
(v) heading to the start, not too early so that your muscles freeze up, but not too late that you are out of position or rushed.
9 – Get to the right part of the start-line:
Make sure you are in the right position for a runner of your pace. Target someone who you know runs at your intended pace. And if the organisers have marker for target-times, follow their advice – you’re only cheating your fellow runners (and one day that will be you who will be annoyed).
Do not get too near the front, for you; you will start off too fast and blow up – which is very annoying for other runners around you, as you start stopping just as they want to push on.
Equally, don’t be so bashful that you are so far behind where you should be that you spend the whole race slaloming around competitors. You waste all your energy and brainpower on this, and this will destroy your race.
10 – Don’t panic:
The first mile is always difficult – finding your spot, getting into a rhythm. But that is only a small part of the whole race. A safe, steady-to-fast start is what you should be aiming for – watching not to trip yourself or someone else; once you’ve got some space you can focus on your own rhythm.
As soon as you have some clear road, start focusing on (i) your own rhythm, getting your heart-rate and pace right; (ii) the split-times that you had memorised in advance. Based on both of those (i.e. your own feel, against external times) act accordingly.
Remember: occasionally, mile-markers are wrongly placed. Or someone you are targeting is either having an off-day or is having a flyer. So, you will have to think on your feet and make canny decisions. So keep concentrating.