Most of the hard work in preparation for a race is not done in the last few weeks, days and hours before the start. The hard work is done in the months and years of consistent training that has come before. You don’t want to waste all your training efforts by doing something silly just before the race, so here are some of the things I’d recommend doing prior to a race to get the most out of your training…
Tapering allows your body to rest, repair and be healthy and strong for race day. The length of your taper should vary with race distance: for up to 10km run or sprint distance triathlons, I’d recommend tapering for about 5 days; for a half marathon or OD triathlon, I’d recommend 7-10 days’ taper; for a marathon or half iron distance triathlon, taper for 12-14 days and for a full iron distance triathlon 14-18 days’ taper.
During your taper period make sure you’re dropping distance and not intensity.
This is similar to tapering, but we should take it a step further. If you’re combining a race with a holiday, save the “on-your-feet-sightseeing” until after the race. Try to get a few early nights – not the night before the race, nobody sleeps well the night before – ideally for at least 4 nights before the race, go to bed a hour or two earlier than usual and/ or take day time naps.
Obviously we should try to eat well all the time, but pay particular attention to this in the run up to a race.
Be conservative and cautious, don’t try new things. I have a friend who missed out on a Kona slot because of food poisoning from street food in Malaysia a couple of days before an Ironman race… happens all the time and it’s so easy to avoid!
Eat plenty - don’t try to lose weight just before a race. It’s too late and will just make you feel weak or tired if you are not sufficiently fuelled for your race. Of course don’t make yourself feel bad by eating too much either.
Some people still advocate carb-loading before a race. I find just eating healthy with plenty of green, leafy vegetables works best for me.
Water: drink plenty of it in the weeks and days leading up to the race including electrolyte (not with carbs) drinks.
Alcohol: Ideally none, but if you absolutely must, then keep it conservative and drink extra water and electrolytes to compensate.
I find visualisation really helps.
Mentally going through what you need to do to get yourself to the start, through the race and any transitions, past landmarks and milestones and having a strong finish really helps. It’s almost as good as a “real” rehearsal.
Know where you’re going
Stressing about finding the start line is not a great thing to be wasting your energy with on race morning. Getting lost and not making it to the start with enough time to spare is also not good. Make sure you know where you’re going to get to the start.
Also, once you’re at the race, knowing where the running/ swimming/ cycling/ skiing/ paddling/ whatever course goes, where the hills are, where the turnarounds or any tricky bits are will mean that you can put more energy into propelling yourself forwards as fast as possible and less energy in worrying about which direction the finish line is in.
Cut your toenails!
Grooming is important - especially toenails! Make sure they are as short as they can be. I prefer to cut mine a couple of days before, so if I have left any sharp bits (or done anything else weird with them) I can sort it out before the race starts.
Especially if your race is a long one, you want to eat a good breakfast before you start. You also need to eat it with plenty of time for it to “go down” before you start. Sleeping in an extra half an hour is unlikely to make a significant difference to your performance, but going into a race hungry probably will. Eating breakfast also tends to wake up your digestive system so not only will it give you a higher chance of being able to go to the loo before your race, it’ll also mean that your stomach won’t react wildly to the first thing you eat during the race.
Get dressed properly
Spending a little extra time getting dressed might save you a lot of time (and pain!) during the race. Make sure you have:
· No creases in your socks, or other twists in your kit (bra straps etc)
· Done your shoes up properly: tight enough but not too tight and so that they won’t come undone
· Lube in all the places it needs to be
· Sun cream in all the places it needs to be
There are a few extra things to do before a multisport race. Your visualisation should include transition, knowing where you’re going includes the routes in and out of transitions, and getting dressed may be a bit more complicated!
Setting up your transitions and then doing them well is a whole new blog post…