This feature was published in Singapore last week. The editor asked for a light-hearted guide to preparing for your first race. Hopefully, it will also be a useful reminder for more experienced runners.
Writing the feature made me think back to my first race. A new blog post will be following shortly.
Taking part in your first race, whatever the distance, is really exciting. Whether you are racing for charity, fun or fitness, there is no better feeling than crossing the finish line and feeling pleased with yourself at a job well done.
After putting in the training miles, a race is a great chance to get out there and show what you can do. Whatever distance you run, be it a 5k, 10k or half marathon, it’s important that you prepare for race day. Here are our top tips for before, during and after the race.
BEFORE THE EVENT
Control the nerves
Everyone gets nervous before a race. It’s perfectly normal. You’ve been preparing for something for so long, so you’re bound to feel a little anxious. Try to relax and control your nerves. Think about crossing the finish line and how good you will feel. I always worry about coming last. I’ve been overtaken by people dressed as rhinos, superheroes and bears. I was even overtaken by a pot noodle when I did my sprint finish at the London Marathon, but I haven’t been last yet. The chances are you won’t be last either, and even if you were bringing up the rear, you’ll definitely get the biggest cheer.
Prepare your race kit
Get everything ready the night before you race. This includes trainers and kit, race number, food and drinks. This will prevent any last minute panic when you can’t find your running socks or sports bra – I’m talking from experience here. Pin your race number to your vest before you put it on. It’s easier to get the number straight and prevents any nasty pin injuries.
Eat foods that work for you
When it comes to food everyone is different and has their opinion on the best way to fuel for a race. Make sure that the foods you eat leading up to the race, and on race morning, are foods that you normally eat. Don’t try anything new and risk upsetting your stomach. I once read that the British athlete Jo Pavey eats tuna sandwiches before her races. That wouldn’t work for me. Instead I have porridge, sometimes followed by wholemeal toast and jam, depending on the race distance. The night before a race, I have pasta and vegetables with a chocolate pot for pudding. That seems to work for me, but everyone is different. I have a friend who won’t eat anything other than chicken jalfrezi the evening before a race and she’s an international runner.
Don’t do anything new
The week before the race it’s important not to change anything. Run in the same shoes and kit, and stick to your same routine. I once ran a marathon in a new pair of shorts. I’d never run in them before. After three miles when I realised they didn’t fit, I seriously regretted it. I spent the rest of the race trying to get comfortable.
Taking water before the race is important. However, thirty minutes before you race, don’t drink too much otherwise there’s a chance you’ll need the toilet when the race is about to start. Instead try to stay hydrated throughout the day.
It seems obvious, but all of my training group have been late or missed a race at some point. It happened to me a few weeks ago when I got stuck in traffic and was twenty minutes late for a half marathon. Give yourself time to warm up and prepare. As I discovered, a two mile sprint to the start of the race is not the best preparation.
Don’t set off too fast
There’s a real risk of getting caught up in the moment, setting off at World record pace and then quickly realising that you can’t keep it up. It’s much better to set off slower, get into your stride and then finish feeling strong.
When it gets tough, pick out your soundtrack or remember your reason for running
If you’re struggling during the race, it sometimes helps to think of a song. I don’t mean break out into song mid-way through the race, but if you think of an upbeat tune this can help you pick up the pace. Sometimes I have a song, other times I think of the reason I’m running – for a medal, in memory of someone, or for a charity.
AFTER THE RACE
Walking and stretching can help the recovery process. It will bring your heart rate back to normal and help reduce any muscle stiffness.
Eating and drinking after a race is an important part of the recovery process. I never really want to eat but try to have a protein recovery drink and a sandwich, biscuit or chocolate. You’ll still be burning calories for a long time after the race, so it’s a good time to allow yourself a treat. Well, that’s what I do.
As soon as you stop running, your body temperate drops. This is particularly bad for me in the UK weather, but even in hot weather I always make sure I have dry clothes to change into.
THE FOLLOWING DAY
You may not feel like it but doing some exercise the next day really helps your muscles to recover. Going for a recovery jog helps to reduce the stiffness.
My race day tips are all things that I’ve picked up over the years, usually learning lessons the hard way. It’s fair to say there have been times when things have not quite gone to plan, but it is all part of the excitement. The best advice is to enjoy the day and have fun. Good luck.