HOW TO PREPARE IN THE DAYS LEADING UP TO YOUR BIG RACE
TAKE A STEP BACK – RE-JIG, RECONSIDER, REDUCE & RE-MOTIVATE THE MIND AND BODY
The pre-race ritual is unique and individual. No one can tell you what works for you – the years of training in different locations, terrains and times of the day with different bodies, running styles and mentalities lead us all to differing end points.
How you prepare for a race will have been formed over experimental rights and wrongs with the end goal of making you feel the best you on race day.
Nonetheless, there are athletes further down the rabbit hole of racing and training that can provide further experiences of things that COULD work for you. Ultimately, keeping an open mind is important in allowing ourselves to continuously improve and develop.
“WHAT SHOULD I DO DURING RACE WEEK?”
What factors must we consider to get to the end goal? In the week leading up to your race you should consider these factors. Fatigue levels, leg turnover, nutrition and your mind.
With less than 7 days to go, all the hard work will have already been done, nothing more can be added and it’s time to begin reducing your training to give your legs chance to catch up for big day.
That being said… Begin The Week Like Any Other
FATIGUE & CADENCE
Monday runs (for most people) are usually steady miles to recover from the weekend and allow a little rest before the next session in store. In the week leading up to your race, your mind will begin to become a little erratic… Niggles you’ve not thought of in years of will begin to murmur, doubts will creep in about your abilities and changing up your runs can feel deceivingly hard work.
It’s a tough time to keep your composure, so there’s little need to change up a run that has been self designed to begin your recovery process, of which you’ve likely had implemented for years. Keep it steady, get on to your favourite course and have a play on the hills and trails and just enjoy the run for what it is. You know you’ve done all you can, run guilt free and run ‘to feel’.
In this week your intention is to bring your fatigue levels down as much as possible, but not going so far that you become sluggish and feel slow. After months of being in full training mode, think of it as shifting down a gear to begin accelerating towards your race. If you time it well, you will ‘crescendo’ into your race, ready to shift back up a gear and really put the foot down.
With this in mind, it’s good to see ‘where you’re at’. A very short tempo run as close to the beginning or the week as possible can give you an indication, and inform you how much or how little you want to run for the rest of the week. After all, in this week it’s all about sharpening both the mind and legs.
KEEP IN THE GREEN, BRIEFLY VENTURE INTO AMBER, BUT STAY OUT OF THE RED
As the week goes on, steadily reduce your mileage even more, but keep testing the legs and the cadence with quick down hills, 100m strides or whatever it is that begins to make you feel nimble on the feet. Come race day, your nervous system will have an idea of what’s in store, with the bursts of speed you’ve been introducing each day. Your fatigue levels will have drastically improved through the reduced miles – your foot is now ready to press the accelerator into race day.
In the days before the big race your mind can go into overdrive, your worry into overload and confidence levels through the floor – but these feelings often circulate our head because we’re not running. Everything always feels and seems worse when we’re not running and often the run itself is a way to bring reassurance to ourselves.
Save any and all thoughts about racing into the minutes of the day you’re actually running, because in the moment, you know you’ve got this. As soon as you stop? You’ve forgotten exactly how good you’ve felt and are straight back to worrying about how good and in shape someone else is looking on Strava.
So what thoughts should you have whilst in your last training runs?
VISUALISE EVERY AND ALL EVENTUALITIES
Of course, this must be within the realm of possibilities. If it’s your aim to break a certain time in an Ultra race but are far from the winning times, or if you’re aim is to break into the top 100 of an English Championship race, then keep your aims realistic – there’s no point in visualising things that won’t happen just yet. Save these thoughts for every other week of training other than race week, it’s good to dream big but in this week we have to keep grounded and stay realistic.
Instead, imagine every and all possibilities that can happen from the goal you’re setting. Imagine yourself running down the finish line and someone is on your tail. Imagine they’re passing you, imagine you’re passing them. Imagine struggling on hill climbs, tricky descents, getting lost, being in the lead because others have gotten lost (again, if you’re in with a chance of being around those positions). Imagine being in pain from a fall, how do you cope? Imagine you’re having the race of your life, how do you carry on the pace? Can you? Imagine you’re out of gels and you’re beginning to lag, how do you overcome and endure?
Imagine every and all eventuality to the point that, when any of these thoughts actually materialise, you’ve already lived the moment a 100 times in your head and it’ll feel like you’ve been in the situation before. You’ll now be in a position to react better and your mind will be stronger for it.
If you’ve covered all possibilities in your head in the week before, then you’ll have no shocks on the day. Having something occur on race day that you’ve not prepared for can leave you in a panic, flustered and possibly ruin your race. Keep a cool head by having everything mentally covered going into race day.
There are hundreds of diet blogs and articles out there that can steer you in the right direction of getting the right ‘carbs’ or ‘fats’ in you for race day. There’s nothing more that can be added on the ‘right’ foods or fuels topic, that’s mostly down to preference of whether you prefer pastas, rice or potatoes.
Muscles have enough glycogen in them to sustain 60-90 minutes of exercise on average, so the aim of the week is get your glycogen levels back to normal. You can’t fill your muscles with MORE glycogen, so you really shouldn’t overdo the eating in race week. You need to get to the day feeling light, agile but explosive with energy and power in the legs.
Eat well, remember that you’re no longer doing as many miles in the previous weeks and eat a good amount of carbs, veg and protein but not too much.
However, the day before race day and race day itself you can begin to think about fuelling for your race. The idea is to keep your glycogen levels topped up and never letting them dip beyond the point of no return. The day before, have a good amount of food that will fuel your run, but go easy! Try to avoid waking up feeling overly sluggish, it’s not an excuse to binge. Again, the same should be repeated in the morning with whatever works for you and makes you feel great (Frosties pun intended).
If your muscles store enough glycogen for a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise, whatever you put into yourself the day before and the morning of the race day will fuel you BEFORE your glycogen levels are tapped into.
That being said, it’s still a good idea to keep yourself topped up throughout your race if you’ll be racing for longer that the 60-90 minute.Good luck! Remember that the hard works been done and trust in your abilities and your preparation week.
Now you can enjoy your event, race some good time trails, and earn your post race refreshments (beer and cake are optional).