The good news about less-than-stellar races (like The Hottest Half last Sunday) is that they really fire you up and make you want to prove yourself (to yourself, of course!). I have to say, after a summer of running just for fun, I may have been bitten by the race bug again … I’m itching to put some halves on the calendar for this Fall and Winter, and try to beat my 1:39 PR! Here I go to scout out some races ….
Before I do that, though, I also mentioned that Sunday’s post was supposed to be called “7 Things I Do the Day Before a Race” (before I rambled on). Even though the race wasn’t perfect for me, I do NOT think it was due to flawed preparation the day before … in fact, I’ve followed these tips several times before and had success in races the next day. So, here you go! Enjoy!
- Move your legs … but not too much. For races I’m taking seriously, I generally like to run a short 3-4 miles two days before the race, and take the day before off, with some walking/ stretching/ foam rolling included to get the blood flowing. While you don’t want to wear yourself out or cause any soreness, a bit of movement (even stretching) helps avoid stiffness and “heavy legs” on the morning of the race. Because this was more of a fun race for me, I ran 5 miles on Friday morning, did some yoga Friday afternoon at home, and walked to and from the gym on Saturday, where I read a magazine on the elliptical – not the best workout in the books, but exactly what I needed pre-race!
- Hydrate. I pay extra attention to making sure I’m getting a lot of water on the day before a race, especially when it’s a hot one like this one! I recommend staying away from too many dehydrating drinks (caffeine, soda, alcohol), but you should do what’s right for you. I almost never stray away from my regular cup of morning coffee, and there are several elite runners (like Olympian Deena Kastor) who even enjoy wine the night before a race. There’s even growing evidence that a bit of alcohol may help, and may dehydrate you less than originally thought. So as long as it works for you, go for it! But then be sure to drink water as well!
- Eat clean and familiar foods. It’s important to fuel your body with foods that you know you tolerate well on the day before a race. DO NOT try anything new, or anything that has upset your stomach in the past. It’s a myth that you MUST carb-load with a huge bowl of pasta the night before a race … there are several reasons why I don’t do this myself. First, I don’t eat big bowls of pasta on a regular basis, so I’m not sure how my system will react … and that’s a fairly heavy meal to have sitting in your stomach if it doesn’t settle well with you! Second, your body is remarkably good at holding on to enough glycogen (the fuel you get from eating carbs) without overloading yourself with pasta. As long as your carb intake is normal (or slightly higher than normal) for you, your muscles and liver can store up to 2,000 calories of carbs (depending on your body size and unique body chemistry). If you’re resting a bit more than usual the week before, eating a nutritious breakfast before the race, and even fueling during the race, you’ll top off your glycogen storage, and be just fine for a half marathon (or shorter). All that said, below is what I ate Saturday, the day before the race. It’s higher in carbs than usual, but not out of this world, and most importantly, it’s full of foods that I know work for me!
- I went with my standard breakfast (plain Greek yogurt, chia seeds, pumpkin, stevia, cinnamon) with blueberries, puffed millet, and a sprinkle of trail mix.
- After my workout, I had a lunch of a green (well, really more like purple) smoothie. It had ½ a frozen banana, ½ a cucumber, ½ cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, ½ cup of frozen mixed berries, ¾ scoop of Vega Mixed Berry protein powder, a big handful of spinach, and some ice and water. I topped it with some store-brand Chex and a spoonful of almond butter. (Want my blueprint for building the perfect, filling smoothie? Check out my webinar!)
- For an afternoon snack, I had a rice cake with a smear of almond butter and jelly (just like a kid!), some frozen grapes, and an (unpictured) handful of trail mix.
- For dinner, I had roasted sweet potato slices (always my carb-of-choice the day before a race … I love them, they’re full of nutrients, and they’re easy on my stomach), a lean turkey burger, and some veggies (most people recommend that you limit high fiber foods before a race, but I can’t stay too far away from my veggies!). Of course, there was lots of ketchup and mustard involved … lots of added sugar (and salt) like I explain in this post, but sooo worth it!
- For dessert, I had a chocolate VitaTop with some powdered peanut butter, blueberries, and unsweetened almond milk. Yum! I also had a few unpictured ginger chews throughout the day to settle my stomach.
- Remind yourself of your goals, and don’t change them! I’m notorious for getting excited the night before a race, and thinking I could go just a liiiitle bit faster than planned. This very rarely works out, though! You trained for several weeks for a certain pace, so don’t mess up your goals by starting too quickly. I try to remind myself to NOT go any faster than planned until the second half (or last quarter) of the race, if I’m still feeling good.
- Rest. Even though you can’t “catch up” on sleep, now is the time to take a nap if you can, relax as much as possible during the day, and go to bed early! Most races come with an early morning wake-up call, and many runners struggle to sleep well the night before a race (darn pre-race nerves!), so rest up during the day before your race. If you don’t sleep too well at night, don’t panic – the sleep the night before has a much smaller effect on your performance than the quality of sleep you’ve gotten over the past week or so. I took a quick, 30-minute nap AND was in bed by 10:30pm on Saturday!
- Compress. Another very important thing I do to rest my legs is wear compression socks, from the time I hop out of the shower after my workout the day before the race, to the time I get dressed on race morning. I also slip them on after the shower post-race and sleep with them another night! Compression socks help increase your circulation, decrease lactic acid buildup, and generally promote recovery. Research on the effectiveness is mixed, but I swear they work for me! Good news for you guys … I’ll have more information (and a *giveaway*!) about compression gear sometime in the next week or so.(Please note several embarrassing things in this photo … my just-hopped-out-of-the-shower-and-still-unbrushed hair, my ridiculous pink socks with rolled-up pants, and best yet, my gray fluffy dog slippers that I definitely wear around the house).
- Plan everything. If you’re waking up at 4:45am like I did, your brain is likely not working as well as usual! I ensure that I won’t forget anything by laying out my clothes for the race, extra clothes for before and after, water, my Garmin and iPod, fuel (I didn’t actually eat this during the race, but I like to have it in case), and anything else I’ll need for the run (if you already have your packet/ race number/ timing chip, don’t forget that!). Also, plan exactly how you’ll get to the race, and allow yourself extra time – a race is a perfect time to give yourself tons of cushion. You never know how parking may turn out, if you’ll need to hit the port-o-potty a few extra times, if the packet pick-up line will be extra long, or if you’ll get lost on the way, so by all means, leave early!
So tell me in the comments … what tips do you have for the day before a race? Do you have any races coming up? If you’re interested in hearing more, check out my episode on one of my favorite podcasts- Rogue Running!