Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 16, 2015
As we move into spring, road race season has come into full gear. Distance running is a great form of cardiovascular exercise and is available at distances from the mile to the marathon – and everything in between! Perhaps you are even training for the big event, our own Boston Marathon.
When thinking about race day, it is important to keep some basic principles in mind. By being well-prepared, your event is assured to be more fun and successful. Below are some tips.
Hydration and Nutrition
Ensuring good hydration and nutritional intake before and during your event is a key to success. It’s important to practice a nutritional routine well in advance of race day. Avoid last minute changes, including new nutritional products. Sometimes, your nerves and excitement can make your stomach a bit sensitive, so better to stick with a familiar routine. The practice of carbohydrate loading, familiar to most distance runners, can be effective for races greater than one hour in duration. This is because your body begins to use carbohydrate energy stores from various sources, including your muscles and liver, during long-distance events. The more you have stored up, the more your body has to use. Contrary to popular belief, carb loading should start two to three days prior to your race in order to be most effective. Avoid binge eating a lot of pasta or other heavy food the night before your event. This does not significantly increase your energy stores, and can result in bloating and abdominal discomfort. The morning of your race, be sure not to skip breakfast! The best foods to eat are those that are high in complex carbohydrates and protein. Some good options are oatmeal, or peanut butter on whole wheat toast.
Weather and Climate
As we all know, weather can be very unpredictable. Race day can be warm, cold, dry, rainy, and – well, you name it. Additionally, the temperatures on race morning can be quite chilly and then warm up over the course of the event. If the weather is cold, it is good to wear several layers that can be taken off as the temperature rises and as you start to run. A hat and gloves can be particularly helpful to keep your core temperature warmer as you wait at the start line. Some runners choose to wear disposable layers, which can then be shed and left behind (guilt-free!) over the course of the event. If you do dispose your clothes, be sure to leave them somewhere safe, where other runners won’t trip and get injured. Regardless of the weather, it’s always important to do a warm-up prior to your race. Keeping your muscles loose and warm can help to prevent injuries once the gun goes off.
Avoiding race day stress is important. Most road races are large events with hundreds, even thousands of runners. It is important to know your logistical plan well in advance so that there are no surprises. Where do you catch the bus, and what time does it leave? What is your start time and group number? Where will you meet your family and friends after the event is finished? Additionally, regardless of how much you plan, sometimes emergencies happen. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency contact number on you in case you are unconscious and cannot answer questions. Many runners will write this on the back of their bib so that it is easy to find.
Finishing the race is a big goal, and something you have worked hard for! Just as important as nutrition, weather, and race logistics is your mental preparation. Once you have put in the training, race day should be fun and exciting. The night before your event, try to relax and focus on the day ahead. You may be amongst friends and family, but don’t let other people’s routines change your plan. You might be anxious the night before your race, so try to wind down early, even by 7 or 8pm, to get ready to sleep. If you are experiencing insomnia, avoid medications that may cause morning drowsiness. Melatonin is a good, gentle sleeping aid option.
With these tips in mind, your race day will be fun and stress free. Let the excitement of race day carry you forward!