Pre-race preparation

For those of you who enjoy racing it can be a challenge to know how to prepare correctly in order to perform at your best.  After all the hard work you’ve put into training in the months leading up to an event, it would be a shame if it all came unstuck in the final days before the race.  The golden rule for pre-race preparation is not to try anything new on race day!  It is important to test out any new techniques on a training session well before race day just in case what you are trying has a negative impact on your performance.  Everyone is different and what suits one athlete may upset another so you may have to try a few different approaches before you find a routine that leaves you feeling primed and ready when you line up on the start line.   The following is a list of things to think about when preparing for your next big event.

Tapering: 

Tapering is the process of gradually reducing the volume and intensity of training in the lead up to a race.  Tapering gives your body a chance to recover from all the hard training you’ve done and makes sure your muscles are in tip top condition on race day.  As you might expect, the amount and duration of tapering required depends largely on the distance of the event you’re competing in with a couple of days being sufficient for a 5km race while a marathon may require 2-3 weeks.  A lot of athletes will find that they feel lazy and out of sorts when they cut back on training but tapering is important so it can help to throw in some extra low-impact activities such as swimming or gentle exercise bike to keep you feeling active.

Nutrition:

Pre-race nutrition is a huge topic so I will include just a few of the important things to keep in mind.  Just like tapering, the role of nutrition in your race preparation depends largely on the distance of the race.

If you’re running something shorter such as a 5km race then:

  • You don’t need to worry about carbohydrate loading
  • The most important thing is to eat something that won’t upset your stomach on race day
  • Some studies have shown that dairy products can increase the risk of cramp and advise athletes to avoid dairy on race day.
  • There is a lot of evidence for the benefits of caffeine before exercise showing that caffeine can enhance endurance and reduce perceived exertion, however caffeine is a diuretic and can cause dehydration so be sure to drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine if you know it upsets your stomach.

If you’re running a longer distance event such as a half marathon or longer then:

  • Prepare your glycogen stores by eating plenty of carbohydrates in the days prior to the event, including a light pasta meal the night before
  • On the day, complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal toast or a banana will help make sure you have enough energy to get through the race
  • If your race is going to take longer than 90 minutes consider consuming some energy during the race such as an energy gel or jelly beans – it is very important to test this out in training as eating during a race can cause cramp and nausea.

Fluids: 

Dehydration can heavily impact your performance and it is important to make sure you’re adequately hydrated prior to your race.  Hydrating the day before is paramount because come race day you don’t want to be ducking off to the loo every 5 minutes because you’ve drunk too much water.  Although it may sound a little odd, an excellent guide to your hydration state is the colour of your urine, if your urine is clear like water then you are well hydrated but if it is yellow in colour then you could be dehydrated and should drink some more water.

Warm-Up: 

Warming up is where individual preferences become very important.  Much research has been devoted to determining the most effective method of warming up – static stretching, jogging, dynamic stretching etc.    In general a 10-15 minute jog, a few stretches of the major muscle groups and a few strides or run-throughs should be sufficient to get the blood flowing and your body ready to race.

Psychology: 

Some athletes get very nervous prior to a race and while a few nerves can bring out a great performance, too much anxiety can have a detrimental effect on your race.  There are a few techniques commonly used to help reduce pre-race jitters including being well prepared, sticking to a routine on race morning, visualisation of your race plan or listening to music.  Nerves are natural prior to a big race so it is important to learn to manage them and not let them bring you down.

In summary, after months of hard training it can be your pre-race preparation that determines whether you have a fantastic race or not.  Keeping in mind a few simple principals including tapering, nutrition, hydration, warming-up and most importantly sticking to a tested routine can help ensure your body is in tip-top condition when you line up on the start line.