About Me

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I'm a 24-year-old student scientist, budget gourmet, novice cyclist, long-distance girlfriend, and avid amateur runner. I always said I couldn't have a blog because I didn't have anything worth blogging about. Turns out, I may have been wrong...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Race Day Tips!

Reader beware, the following images may shock or perturb, but I feel the need to explain the tardiness of this mid-week post.  Here is a sample of what I've been staring at, in lieu of blogs, for the past three days:

Spurious indeed.

Midterm completed, I have queued a 65-video Lady Gaga Youtube playlist and am now buckling down to finish this post.

First things first...

A mystery has been solved!

Last night, upon arriving home and wheeling my bicycle inside, I was suddenly overcome by a nagging sense that something was different in my apartment.  Reaching to flip the hall light switch, I stopped short when I saw this:

Um, disgusting.  What the @#$% substance is that?  Was I profusely bleeding this morning when I left the house?  No.  So... where did this gory drip come from???

I gave my front door a shove, which typically shuts and latches it sufficiently for me to merely reach over and turn the deadbolt, securing myself indoors.  Instead, the door made a "smack" sound against the doorframe and halted, partially open.  I had to apply my full body weight in order to align the door and lock it up.  What is going on??  Somebody has been in my apartment!

Then, I remembered that two months ago I had submitted a service request to my leasing office.  High winds and leaf blowers near my front door were causing leaves and dirt to blow through cracks into my front hall.  I had requested that new weather stripping be installed under my door.  Wow, looks like someone finally got around to it.


Guess my door was historically red?  Nice work, awesome job.  I hope you sought appropriate medical attention.  Try not to hurt yourself next time, and, if you do, please please try not to spray blood all over my living quarters.  Ugh, major pet peeve: sloppy (and months late!) maintenance work.  Needless to say, mystery solved, I hurriedly scrubbed my light switch clean.  With bleach.  Moving on...

Apparently, I take requests.  Emily H, this one's for you :)

Well, blognation, it's finally race week!  Incidentally, for this half-marathoner, that also means it's taper week - a week of reduced mileage and rest so my legs are nice and fresh for the big day.  This week, my training plan calls for only two 3-mile runs, but the idea is to run them fairly quickly (slightly > race pace) so that the ol' legs remember what it's like to run.  The two days directly prior to race day will be active rest days (bike around a little, make sure I move, but generally take it easy).

Tapering is one important part of race prep, but there's a lot more than mileage to think about in the days, hours, and minutes preceding a big race!!

And if it's your first (or maybe even your fiftieth) race, you probably have some questions, so here's my best effort to answer the big ones.

What should I eat?

You might have heard about "carbo-loading" - that, for instance, endurance athletes eat mountains of pasta the night before a race.  But, why do they do it and does it really help?

Well, during a race, it's nice if your leg muscles have the greatest amount of glycogen at their disposal so that they can power through the entire distance.  Muscles get that glycogen when it's converted from glucose, which comes from carbohydrates! 

So, during the last 1-2 days before a race, it is important to bump up your carb intake.  I recommend whole grains, but any carbs will do.  The night before, treat yourself to a nice pasta dinner - bigger portions are OK as long as they won't make you feel uncomfortable or queasy and thus unable to sleep that night (it's hard enough to sleep knowing what's in store the next morning, trust me!).

The morning of the race, fuel as you normally would for your long runs.  You should have a 300-500 calorie meal consisting of mostly slow carbs, some fast carbs, and a little protein (see this post for examples) about 1-2 hours before the starting gun.  Don't try crazy, new foods if you can help it - stick with what you know works for your tummy.  If you eat this meal greater than 2 hours before the race, bring a nutrition bar with you to the start and eat it while you're checking your bag and warming up.

If you're racing for 90 minutes or longer (such as in a half-marathon), it is highly advisable that you pack energy supplements on your person for mid-race consumption.  Gels and chews can fit in the stash pocket of your running shorts/pants - if your garments aren't equipped with hidden storage, consider wearing a running belt, which is like an acceptable fanny pack.  Take those supplements before you feel like you need them (for instance, one gel every 5 miles).

This is very important: The day, night, and morning before your race, hydrate like there's no tomorrow!  Carry water around with you the day before, taking frequent gulps.  Drink some agua before you go to bed.  When you wake up, have another glass.  When the starting gun is half an hour away, make your last pre-race portapotty trip, and slow down on the hydration.  Bring a disposable bottle to the start, and take a sip every ~15 minutes.  Toss the bottle before you go to line up.

If you want to carry fluids with you during the race, that's your choice, but remember that liquids are extra weight.  Races usually provide numerous aid stations with wonderful volunteers that hand out little cups of water and/or fluid replacement drinks (e.g. Powerade).  I cannot drink out of a cup while running, so I usually walk for a couple seconds after grabbing one and toss back as much liquid as possible.  More often that not, I get the drink all over my face and shirt, but that's part of the experience - no time to worry about neatness when there's a race to run!

The interminable question: What should I wear?

Well, your perfect race outfit is pretty much a function of the weather and your personal preferences.  It's safe to estimate that, while running, your body will perceive an air temperature that is 20F higher than the actual climate.  So, if it's 55F or warmer outside, you definitely don't need more than shorts and a tank or tee.  As the outdoor temp becomes incrementally colder, add the proportional length and layers to your gear.

Remember, your race may start in the freezing, wee hours of the morning, but it might be closer to noon when you finish - the temperature can change drastically as the sun rises in the sky.  I tend to dress for the warmer temperature and just suck it up for the first few miles - but that's because I'd much rather be too cold than too hot while running.  If you're worried about mid-race temperature changes, wear a layer on top that you can remove as needed, and either tie around your waist or discard on the side of the course.  No, you won't get that shirt back, so it better not be your favorite DriFit zip-up.

Races (well-organized races, that is) usually have a bag check at the start.  You can wear sweats to the starting line, then drop them into a baggie with your bib number on it and stow them until you cross the finish.  I also suggest bringing a pair of flip-flops (mine have amazing arch support) if you plan on hanging out at the finish for a while after you're done.  Feet swell after that many miles.

What else should I bring?

As few valuables as possible.  Keep a credit card and ID on your personage (stash pocket).  Your car key, too, if applicable.  Your cell is probably too heavy to carry (unless you have a sweet running belt), so bag check it at your own risk (or keep it locked safely in a car). 

Check the race's website for rules about wearing your iPod - some races prohibit the use of headphones for safety purposes.  If you do wear music, keep the volume no higher than "medium."  You need to be able to hear all instructions called to you by race officials and warnings called by other runners (e.g. "On your left!"), as well as to avoid any possible hazards coming your way (some courses may not be closed to vehicle traffic).

If the forecast calls for rain, plastic-baggie your electronics.  I like to wear a hat with a visor and just any moisture-wicking long-sleeve shirt when I run in the rain, but there are other water-repellent options for runners - think about what foul weather gear works for you.

What's a good race morning schedule?

Yep, you need to wake up ridiculously early on the morning of your race.  I like to wake up an hour and a half before I need to leave for the starting line.  That way, I have time to wake up, dress, and eat without feeling rushed.  Larger races often involve complicated parking/shuttling procedures, so make sure you take that timing into account.   It's advisable to arrive at the starting line between a half-hour and an hour before your race starts to give you the opportunity to explore the lay of the land (find your pace group, if applicable, and scope out meeting spots with your race buddies), check your bag, and use the portajohns (there will be a line).  Listen carefully for announcements from the race officials - you will probably move into starting position five to ten minutes before actual start.

I'm nervous about waking up so early... What if I can't sleep the night before?

Don't worry.  It's more important that you are getting full nights' rest the week before your race.  You'll have enough adrenaline on race morning to keep you going. 

Try to get to bed extra early.  Before hitting the hay, set at least two alarms, five or so minutes apart.  That way, you can rest easy knowing you won't accidentally sleep through your wakeup call.  Lay out your race outfit with all the bells and whistles attached - pin your race bib onto your shirt (make sure you try it on so it's properly positioned), and strap your timing chip to your shoe (it goes on the laces near the toe, not near the bow).  Charge your iPod.  Pack your supplements, water bottles, and bag check bag.  Now, all you need to do the next morning is dress, chow down, and make it out the door on schedule.

What happens at the starting line?

 As I mentioned, there will be an enormous line at the job johnnies at the start, and you should definitely join it.  Perhaps I emphasize these issues too much here, but needing to use the restroom while running is one of the most uncomfortable situations ever.  Just saying.

Then, you should line up at the start in an order approximately corresponding to your projected race pace.  Unless you can run a 6 min/mi half-marathon split, do not stand in the front of the crowd - you will be in the way and likely get trampled.  Similarly, if you keep around an 8-min pace, don't start all the way at the back - you will be held up for the first several miles by the slower runners in front of you. 

For we mortals in the middle of the pack, there is basically no way that we will cross the starting line at full stride.  There's usually quite a bottle-neck effect for the first several hundred yards, and you'll probably be jogging at best, but, hopefully, the amorphous blob of runners will thin out quickly. 

Remember, your official time doesn't start until your timing chip crosses the starting line.  If you have to wait a minute or two to move up, don't fear, just relax and get pumped as you amble towards the gate.  That's the beauty of electronic chip timing!

Any other tips?  You betcha!

Set a race goal!

Before your race, consider what you want to accomplish during those miles.  Your race goal could be a particular finish time (although it totally doesn't have to be).  Given my spotty training performance this go-round, I'm not trying to break my half-marathon PR of 1:51 - but I'd really like to finish in under two hours (that means a ~9min average split).  A perfectly admirable goal is to finish the race strongly!  If that means incorporating a few walk breaks, so be it!  Another good goal would be to actually run the entire distance, regardless of pace.  Alternately, your goal could be sticking to your race plan.  Which reminds me...

Make a race plan!

A race plan is a blueprint for how you want the race to go.  For instance, you might have particular split times that you want to keep for each mile of the race.  You definitely want to concentrate on starting out easy - you can always speed up, but you don't want to crash after the first couple miles!  For sure, plan ahead of time when you will take your gels/supplements.

Again, this is a point of personal preference, but, after keeping my strong and steady pace for the first 3/4 of a race, I like to go all-out (balls to the wall? Do people even say that anymore?) for the last quarter, completely draining my tank by the time I cross the finish.  For this weekend's half marathon, that means my race plan includes a tempo increase at mile 10! And, legs willing, I will sprint it out down the chute to the finish line!

Mind over matter!

Racing is as much about mental endurance as physical.

Let's be honest, two hours in your own head can be a bore-fest.  Instead, make each mile different, make each mile a new game - think, for this mile, I'll try to read as many other runners' shirts as possible; for this mile, I'll count how many footsteps I take; for this mile, I'll try to remember all the words to "I Will Survive;" etc, etc.

If you find yourself mentally struggling, even thinking about quitting, remind yourself that you've followed your training plan, so your body can definitely handle the distance!  Rather than focusing on how much your legs hurt or how hard it feels to breathe, think about trying to keep your spine nice and straight, or your core engaged, or your arms pumping.  

And, at every mile marker, congratulate yourself!  (If you have a race buddy, high-five at every mile!)  You are really running this race!  You are doing something amazing, something that most people couldn't even fathom attempting!  It's what you've been training so hard for!  You are an awesome, strong, kick-ass runner!  The race will be over before you know it.

And then I bet you'll be jonesing for your next one :)

Today's question: What's your race goal or race plan?  How do you usually prepare for a race weekend?


Anonymous said...

Laura, thank you so much for this post! It definitely just made me feel better about race day. Glad you're taking requests :)

Laura said...

You are very welcome, my friend! I know you are going to rock this race :)

Stephanie said...

I absolutely love your blog! So glad you commented on mine so that I could find you! I love informative type posts and LOVE that you're a runner.

Great tips! I'm actually training for my first half now! :)

Jin said...

This was a great post. I know so because I found myself reading it multiple times since you've posted it, to get my race day tips from what to eat to what to wear. I just read it again now to make sure I had all my gear and clothes in check. Thanks, see you in the morning!