Although the majority of races are over for the season there is still time to get in a 5k, 10k, half or full marathon this fall! Here are my top tips for getting to the finish line in one piece!
As a rule of thumb, plan to arrive onsite of the race at least 90 minutes before the gun goes off. This will give you plenty of time to find the porta-potties (maybe before massive line forms), bag drop tent and the start line. The key here is to avoid being RUSHED. This will also give you time to spare if the parking happens to be non-existent or unexpected road closures add extra time to your commute. If everything goes as planned, at the 60 minute mark, consider getting your shoes laced up, race bib pinned on (including timing chip if it’s separate) and start your warm-up.
With the cooler temperatures of fall, spending a little extra time in your warm up is going to not only help you run a faster race, but also reduce your risk of an injury. Regardless of your fitness level going into the race, do not attempt to “save energy” by skipping your pre-race warm-up jog. This pre-race jog is crucial to increase blood flow (and oxygen) to your legs (and body) by increasing your heart rate. Even for warmer races, where your body feels warm before you start moving, the warm-up jog should still be done.
Often, the first few minutes of the warm-up jog (or just running in general) can feel crappy because your body hasn’t adjusted for the increased intensity. For aerobic activities (low intensity activities), our bodies use oxygen to produce ATP (energy), which is then used by our muscles to perform movements. However, there is not enough oxygen immediately available to our muscles to produce enough energy for us to comfortably run, which makes running feel hard. Once we have been running for a few minutes, our heart rate increases, which means blood flow throughout our body is increasing. Since oxygen is carried in our blood, increased blood flow means oxygen to our muscles increases and as a result, running suddenly feels easier.
Following your 10-15 minutes of warm up jogging, you can begin your dynamic warm up (active stretches and running drills) and strides/ excels (short, fast bursts of running). You can find some examples of active stretches in my post Dynamic Warm-up for Runners. Plan to be completely finished with your warm-up no more than about 5 minutes before the start of your race. Otherwise, you risk your body cooling down before your start and cancelling out all the benefits of the work you just put in.
In terms of injury prevention, your body is much more susceptible to muscle/ ligament sprains and strains when not properly warmed up, especially in cooler weather. Imagine taking an elastic band from the freezer and immediately trying to stretch it to its full length – it is likely going to rip! However, if you warm up that elastic band to room temperature, it is likely going to stretch much further without having any issues of damage – the same goes for the muscles in your body.
Think layers, layers and more LAYERS. Its easy to take off layers as you warm up, however it is a good idea to be fairly hot for the duration of the warm up, only taking off layers in the last few minutes before the race. Keep an eye on the bag drop tent and the traffic surrounding it to give yourself an idea of how long it’s going to take to check your things, and try to drop your things off right at the last minute. Starting the race over heated will eliminate the need to cary extra clothes during the race.
Always follow the golden rule for race day nutrition: never ever EVER try anything new on race day – EVER. If you haven’t been experimenting with different foods prior to the race, aim to eat the exact same things you have been eating for the past few days, so as not to shock your body with new foods. If you have some time to experiment, common go-to foods include oatmeal, french toast, bananas and coffee and common foods to avoid include boiled/ poached/ fried eggs, apples and anything high in fibre (i.e whole wheat toast). In addition, too much sugar pre-race can cause a blood sugar spike resulting and a mid race energy crash (i.e. skip the energy gels and bars pre-race and opt for whole foods). However, each person is going to tolerate different foods in different ways, so its important to find foods that work for you and stick to them!
Whether its your 1st or 100th race, these basic principles apply to not only running races but also triathlons and other endurance events. As you do more races, you will develop your own systems and pre-race rituals that will help you run your best race. If you start to feel overly stressed and anxious, remember to check in with yourself and go though your “why’s” (why did you sign up, why are you running in the first place) to give yourself some extra motivation and inspiration when you get to the start-line