The race season is here! It’s that time of year when up and down the country runners get to see the effects of months of training, nutrition and planning. Whether you’re running a 5k or a Marathon, you’ll still be lining up with other competitors on the start line.
It’s exciting but to really enjoy the day you should take some easy steps to organise and prepare in the 24 hours before the guns goes. You don’t want a last-minute problem to derail months of planning - we’ve never forgotten to pack our running shoes, for instance, but some have and it’s not a good feeling!
24 hours to go…
‘Preparation is vital,’ says former professional triathlete Tom Sturdy. ‘The day before the event you should make a checklist of everything you need to take with you and get it all together. Check your running shoes are in good condition – but not brand new, as they should be the shoes you’re used to running in – and be sure your phone is fully charged.’
What you eat the day before is also important, and don’t make the mistake of trying to take on too much. ‘Have small meals every two to four hours and stick to foods you know,’ says nutritionist Anita Bean. ‘The aim is to top up your glycogen stores, stay hydrated and avoid any pitfalls that might jeopordise your performance.’
12 hours to go…
The final thing to do is rest. And although you may find it hard to sleep as the nerves kick in, this isn’t necessarily a problem. ‘The night before a race, it’s common for runners to suffer mild insomnia,’ says Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic marathon champion.
‘Luckily, it’s not the night before the race that’s crucial for a good night’s sleep, but the night before that.’
This is borne out by Dutch research that found one night of poor sleep doesn’t affect athletic performance – only our perception of how well we perform.
3 hours to go…
Just don’t oversleep, because you’ll have an early start. ‘On the morning of the race I always feel sick so I have something easy to digest about three hours before the start,’ says Sturdy. ‘That’s usually bread and jam with a banana.’
Hydration is also crucial. ‘Drink 350-500ml of water between two and four hours before the race, then another 125–250ml about 45 minutes before the start,’ says Bean.
Then make sure you arrive early. This isn’t just to reserve your place at the head of the field. ‘Leave plenty of time for registration because you don’t want to be stressing,’ says Sturdy. ‘Plus the queues for the toilets can stretch forever.’
20 minutes to go…
Finally, you need to warm up before the gun goes. Just don’t stretch. ‘People used to stretch before exercise but research has found that this can actually decrease power output,’ says sports therapist Ian Holmes, who has worked with athletes including ultra-distance runners Mark Kleanthous and Abi Gooch. ‘I prefer a dynamic warm-up, which in this case means running.’
That might sound strange before a marathon, but a 15-minute jog, incorporating some lunges, will loosen your joints and get your muscles firing. ‘I’m usually sweating a little on the start line,’ says Sturdy. ‘Everyone’s different, but at least some warm-up is important.’
That done, and running shoes on – you did pack them, right – and you really are ready to race. Good luck!
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your GP before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.