Hi everyone! I thought I might tell you a bit about me before writing this post, just so you can get a feel for whose words you’re reading and that they’re not just words off a page.
I’m 16 years old and, like Ellie, love all things running. I recently started my blog (https://fruitsandroutes.wordpress.com) to share my nutritious recipes with you as well as tips on how to run, race and train your best.
Anyway, back on topic. Race day tactics. Now, I’m by no means an expert on this, but I’ve got a fair few races under my belt and have tested out different techniques to see what works best for me, and hopefully will help you.
So first of all, I thought it might be useful to discuss some pre-race tactics to help you deal with those pesky pre-race nerves. I usually get these really badly at the beginning of a track/ cross country season, but over the course of the season they get less and less as I get used to putting my body under the stress of these races and it learns to deal with the adrenaline that courses through it before, during and after them. However, they can really impact your performance on the day if you don’t know how to manage them effectively, and they will always crop up for me before bigger, more important races. So how do I deal with them?
- Visualising: this is extremely helpful, and probably the most crucial step (for me) in reducing my race nerves. Anywhere between the week and the night before a big race I will find myself visualising it, however it works best if you’ve looked at or run the course before as you can anticipate where and when the difficulties will lie, and mentally prepare yourself for the struggle of overcoming them. It is essential to remember to include the pain that you will be feeling during the race in your visualisation, otherwise you’ll prepare your body for a pain-free experience that does NOT exist and this could be detrimental to your race. As long as you remember this, this will prove an incredibly useful coping-mechanism as it enables you to focus and get into the right mindset without stressing about the race, mentally preparing you for what’s to come.
- Positivity: nerves often arise from a fear of the unknown. With races, a thousand fears will race through your mind, including the common fear of coming last. If you channel this negativity into positive energy and repeatedly remind yourself that so long as you’ve trained hard the rewards will pay off, then you’ll begin to convince yourself that, and eventually quell those fears.
Now, as the post is actually entitled race day tactics (not race week), I’m going to write about what tactics I’ve found to be the most helpful whilst preparing for and actually running the race. Like with exams, no matter how hard you train, if you don’t have good technique, there’s only so far you can go.
- Aim for a negative split: you probably know what this is, but if you don’t, then in brief it’s when you run the second half of your race (or run) quicker than the first. Why is this beneficial? Well, perhaps it may seem counterproductive to start off slightly slower than usual, but from experience just holding back that little bit will give you a real psychological boost when those who set off too quickly start to lag and you overtake them, motivating you to run faster and push that extra bit. Furthermore, it allows you to end the race on a high, which is always a good thing as you’ll finish the race with a positive vibe surrounding the entire race, rather than finishing weak and feeling demoralised. This could really help you in the run up to your next race, especially if it’s soon.
- Run your own race: as a runner, you’ve doubtless heard this phrase countless times before, but do you understand the full impact of the message? Often when we hear these catch phrases we just roll our eyes and think ‘here we go again’, but the message that they hold is key; don’t let others affect how you race, but instead run for yourself. As the cross-country season wears on, you’ll probably start to recognise people and categorise them as people who beat you, and people who you should beat. This can be detrimental to your race because if you find yourself behind someone you usually beat, the rest of the race will have you set on overtaking them, and if you don’t, you’ll feel as though you didn’t push yourself hard enough even if they were simply having an amazing race, or your time was actually very close to a PB. So stop thinking about others, and start thinking about yourself! It’s ok to be a little bit selfish when it comes to running ☺
- Arrive in plenty of time so that you can walk the course, warm up and stretch properly (as well as sort out all the admin i.e. buying your race number/ registering etc): Obvious, but often over-looked, is the importance of arriving reasonably early to a race. You may not enjoy the waiting around, and I’m not encouraging going 3 hours before your race time because this can actually increase your nerves, but if you make sure you’re at the venue at least 1 hour before the event, you’ll have plenty of time – stress free – to walk part of the course, assess the conditions, warm up and stretch. Don’t let poorly warmed up legs be the downfall of your race!
- Fuel and hydrate: you want to make sure that you have built up enough glycogen stores in your muscles to fuel you throughout your race, otherwise you’ll be left feeling empty and unable to push yourself despite your best efforts. I always try to have a substantial breakfast of porridge with a green tea to give me a caffeine kick and wake me up, which provide me with the right energy to perform optimally. Make sure you leave at least 3 hours between a big meal and your race though as you don’t want it to weigh you down – timing is key. I also eat an energy bar (I love Nakd/ Trek bars!) 1.5 hours before my race, to top up my levels just before. Ensure you stay hydrated by taking constant, small sips throughout the morning before your race, (my sports coach recommends about 5-10ml of water/ kg of body weight 3-4 hours before your race), leaving you plenty of time to go to the toilet and empty yourself of any excess water weight which you won’t want to be carrying whilst running (trust me, I’ve had this once before and I spent the entire race thinking about whether it would be acceptable to stop and pee in a bush)
(My favourite pre-race breakfast – oats! The toppings vary and often don’t look nearly as nice as this).
Finally, just remember to enjoy it! However cheesy that sounds, the day you lose sight of the joy of running is the day that you’ll no longer be able to perform your best. A happy runner is a motivated runner who in turn is more likely to succeed.
I hope you’ve found this post useful, and if you want to check out Ellie’s post for this week then head on over to my blog (link at the top) where her post will be.