1. Preparation starts weeks, months and sometimes years in advance:
If you think you can just turn up on the day and push yourself to your limit you are setting yourself up for failure or injury. Remember the 5 ‘P’s: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Start with a broad outline of your goals for the event, the training you need to do and seek professional help to ensure the goal is both reasonable and your training plan is safe, effective and will deliver you to your goal.
2. Do the hard work early:
There is an old saying: “train hard, race easy”. You should never feel better than the day of a race. Why? Because you have already done all of the hard work. The high intensity, high volume work should have been done weeks and months before the event and the last few days should have been spent completing very easy sessions or resting. You can’t taper if you don’t have anything to taper from! Make sure your most challenging sessions and total volume are done well before the event itself.
3. Taper your training:
The days and even up to a few weeks before an event is not the time to flog your body into disrepair. If you have planned well the hard work should already be done. You should then be able to decrease the intensity and volume of your training and increase your recovery strategies to ensure that on the day you give your body the best chance to perform well.
4. Mental Rehearsal:
Even before I knew what this meant I was using mental rehearsal as a young athlete and I still use it today. By preparing yourself mentally for all possible outcomes you can increase your comfort levels on the day of the event as you remove the anxiety of an unexpected occurrence. A word of warning though: It’s important not to over-think and provide yourself with undue stress in your preparation. Done properly, mental rehearsal can improve your performance more than an actual training session. There is a famous study involving three groups taking basketball free throws. After some pre-testing the first group (control group) performed no practice and no mental rehearsal. The second group performed standard physical practice shots with no mental rehearsal and the third group performed mental rehearsal and no physical practice. You can read a summary of the famous study here: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/mental/visualization.html. The results showed that the physical practice group improved 24% when they were re-tested and the mental rehearsal group improved 23% without any physical practice!!
5. Increase carbohydrates slightly:
You should be increasing your carbohydrate stores in the lead up to the event. This can be done by decreasing you training level so you use up less and by increasing your intake. By having a greater storage of glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the liver and skeletal muscle) you are ensuring that the primary source of fuel is plentiful for your race.
6. Moderate Water Intake:
If the event is less than 60mins there is little evidence that additional water can improve performance however events over 90mins will almost certainly require a strategy for pre-loading or at least carefully maintaining hydration levels. This is best done by trialling your strategy in training. Weighing yourself before and after a training session can give you a great guide to how much water you need to be replacing over time. You might also need to consider additional energy in the form of food or a sports drink.
7. Never eat anything that you haven’t already trialled in training:
On race day it is common for athletes to search for an edge. Sometimes this can be in the form of trying a sports drink, supplement or food that they haven’t already tried in training. If in doubt, simply eat your normal breakfast and keep it simple. The time for experimentation is in training, not on race day.
8. Always allow yourself more time than you need:
The minutes and seconds before a race can be whittled away easily with nervous chat and last minute dashes to the bathroom or working out the course or just simply losing track of time. Always allow a little bit of extra time to warm up on race day as you never want to feel rushed.
9. Be the boss of your bowel and bladder:
Make sure you plan your meals in the days leading up to the event and particularly your last meal. Try and eat at least 2 hours before the event and it may be wise to avoid excess fibre in the diet in the lead up for two reasons. The first is that it will increase your potential need to go to the bathroom at an inappropriate time. The second is that it may actually help you to go into the race a little lighter without losing strength or energy and that always helps. Yes, it’s the ONLY time you will see me recommend a decrease in fibre in your diet!
10. Run your own race:
NEVER, EVER, EVER try and run someone else’s pace or go chasing an unrealistic goal. Plan your pacing before the event and stick to that pacing within reason. The only time to run faster than you rplanned race pace is if you are hitting your targets but are still in a completely relaxed state of mind and body and even then you should only increase your pace moderately or you will regret it! Experienced runners know that a few seconds made in the first few kilometers can turn into minutes lost at the end of a race.
Good luck runners! See you all on Saturday.