Ask the Expert: How to Best Prepare for Race Day
by Tobias Puck
Your next race is coming up. Preparation is everything! But how? Tobias Puck, adidas Runners Hamburg coach, shares with you how it’s done. As a running and athletic coach, a physiotherapist and osteopath, he knows what it takes to peak at the right time. Several Olympic athletes rely on his experience and expertise. So how should one prepare for a race? Here is what the expert has to say:
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One week before the race
Last week’s workouts were pretty hard and you’ve basically finished your training. Now it is time to give your body the chance to recover and repair. And the best way to do that is sleep. Try to go to bed every night at the same time and get eight to ten hours of sleep.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet, especially now. Make sure to get plenty of carbs in the last four days before the race to fill up your glycogen stores. Of course, I’m not talking about chocolate and ice cream, but complex long-chain carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, potatoes and rice). You should eat the last big meal 12-15 hours before the race. Most marathons have a pre-race pasta party. The main thing is to avoid hard-to-digest foods or anything new or different to what you usually eat the night before the race.
Since you will be consuming lots of carbohydrates, you have to drink plenty of fluids because carbohydrates bind with water in the body. Adequate hydration also boosts your recovery. A well-hydrated system keeps your fascia supple and reduces the risk of minor injuries or soreness.
You have trained hard and are ready to peak. Take extra special care of yourself in the last week(s). If you go for a run in the rain, make sure to wrap yourself up in warm clothes afterward to avoid catching a cold. The last week is not a good time to go on a long hike or bicycle tour. It’s better to kick back, put your legs up and listen to your body. If you don’t feel like going for an easy 40-minute run, then skip it. It’s very easy to do too much at this stage.
Make sure to run the day before the race to loosen up. 20 minutes of easy running followed by four strides is a good appetizer. Any more would be too much and might leave you feeling tired or sore the next day.
Learn to visualize. All professional athletes do it. You can picture yourself performing specific movements perfectly in your mind’s eye. You can often see skiers going through the course in their head before the race and visualizing every movement they will make. You can also use this technique in your running. Imagine certain situations like your legs getting heavy and how you will overcome the problem by running tall and keeping your stride short and quick. Or you are running neck and neck toward the finish line and by lengthening your stride, you pull ahead of your opponent and cross the line first. It is sometimes easier to deal with situations if you have experienced them once before. Running really does take place in your mind. Now it’s just time to do it on the road.
If your training routine has been going well, then the rule is: don’t change anything! Small changes in your diet or your morning routine can have disastrous consequences during the race.
On race day
You should eat breakfast three to four hours before the race. I like to eat oatmeal with bananas, apples, nuts and a touch of cinnamon. It tastes good, gets me going and provides me with energy for the race. Now really isn’t the time to try anything new, just eat the same as you have been in training.
Only use gels that you have already tried out during training and that agree with your stomach. You always hear people talking about certain gels that are hard on the stomach. You should take a gel about 10-15 minutes before the start of the race. Your body needs about 30-40 minutes to absorb the carbohydrates and give you a small boost of energy. Therefore, after the start, you should take a gel every 40 minutes. Try to always take it shortly before a water station because water makes it easier to swallow. More experienced runners can take it without water. One small trick is to let the gel sit in your mouth for a while. The carbohydrates are absorbed by the mucous membrane of your mouth and thus the energy enters your system quicker. It’s not so easy to run with gel in your mouth, so extra marshmallowy gel chips were developed. Just bite one in two, hold a piece in each cheek and in about two minutes, your muscles should receive a small burst of energy.
Don’t dress too warm. You will be running at a higher heart rate than normal, which means your body will be warmer, too. There is nothing worse during a race than to be dressed too warm. Dress for how you will feel 3 miles or 5km into the race, don’t dress for the start line.
Before the start
If it’s cool outside, take along an old shirt, long sleeve t-shirt or sweater. Make sure it’s something you won’t miss if it’s gone. You can leave it on until the start and when it’s time, simply throw it to the side. A less stylish option is to wear a trash bag with holes for your head and arms. The main thing is to stay warm until the start.
After the race
Especially when it’s cold outside, remember to pack an extra shirt and pants to stay warm after the race. Nothing is worse than having to spend the next few days in bed with sore muscles because of a cold. You don’t want to miss the chance to bask in your coworkers’ praise. But you can’t do that if you can’t hobble up and down the stairs to the office. 😉
If you don’t want to attach the chip to your shoelaces, you can get a velcro strap for your ankle. This helps you avoid hot spots on the arch of your foot, which can occur if your laces are pulled too tight because of the chip.
Attach the number either with safety pins or a race number belt. The belt is elastic and easily snaps around your waist. It doesn’t hide the community or running club logo on your top and you can make it as tight or loose as you like. And the best thing is that it doesn’t make holes in your shirt or damage any threads. If you do attach it to your shirt, make sure it’s on your stomach and not so high up the safety pins rub on your nipples. That’s going to hurt.
Never wear brand-new shoes, nor really old ones. The best thing is to wear the pair you used for speed work during your training and ones that you are sure won’t give you blisters.
Plan how you will get to the start line and plan to be at the race location at least an hour before the race. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time for everything: check in your bag, go to the toilet again, a short warm-up followed by two strides and finally make your way to your starting group.
Get your body ready for the race by warming up. Once you hand everything in, take 15 minutes and slowly get your blood pumping. Your heart doesn’t like it when it has to go from 0 to 100. If you warm up ahead of time, it won’t be caught by surprise and it will be ready to provide your muscles with a steady supply of oxygen for the entire race. If your pulse is too low at the start, your heart will have to beat very fast at the beginning to get up to speed. This will make it hard to find your target heart rate and that will make you nervous.
If you follow Tobias’s tips, basically nothing can go wrong. Would you like to run with him and his Hamburg adidas Runners community or join a group in another city? Whether you have small goals or big ambitions, adidas Runners can help you push your limits and have a lot of fun doing it – see for yourself!