The start of your race is coming closer and closer. You’ve been training for this moment for months and now you find yourself in the middle of the crowd waiting for the race to start. Whether you’re running your first marathon, half-marathon, 10K or 8K, the emotions that come with being a part of a race event are huge! It is easy to get swept away by the buzz of the race weekend.
These six tips will help you feel grounded and centered and help your first race experience to be a smooth and pleasant one!
1. Get to know the route beforehand
One thing to ensure your race goes smoothly is familiarizing yourself with the route. It’s not a surprise that a lot of race winners are locals. Knowing the route and studying the long stretches of straight road, downhills and uphills, sharp turns or unusual features of the course makes it easier to mentally prepare for what’s ahead of us. For the race event, you want to eliminate as much of the surprise factor as possible, and a lot of it is out of your hands. That’s why taking time to study the route and the terrain can soothe the nerves during the run. The body will be more prepared for the difficult parts, and you’ll know when to relax and gather more energy during easier parts. Print out the map of the route months before the event and take your time to study it thoroughly. You’ll thank yourself later!
2. Stick to what you know
The best advice for any race is simple. Stick to what you know. Some coaches will advise practicing for two last weeks with no new and surprising additions to your routine. That means sticking to the foods you’re used to eating, gels or electrolytes you’ve been training with, and trusting your gear. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is trying out a new pair of shoes or shorts, just to find out they ruin your race experience. Similarly, don’t try any gels, energy bars or electrolytes that are handed out at the race if your body is not familiar with them. The last thing you want on the way is feeling sick.
Train for a few weeks with accessories and foods you’re happy with and stick to that plan the last days before the race. Wait with trying a new restaurant or a new running app until after your race. Familiarity is key and being able to rely on your gear can help you feel calm during the emotional times.
3. Don’t get sucked into the Expo
Most major events come with an Expo, which can be fun and energizing, but it’s also a lot of distraction. Just a few days before your race, be mindful of how and when you choose to invest your energy. The Expos can be informational, but a lot of what is going on there has an objective to get you to buy stuff, gear, snacks and accessories. You might feel like you need it right now, but you’re best to wait. Get to know yourself, your own needs and boundaries and find a perfect balance in approaching the Expo. You can come in with a friend who will help you stay grounded or set up a timer for a certain amount of time you want to spend browsing around. Smile, breathe and enjoy the company of other runners, but know that your gathered energy is extremely valuable just before the race.
4. Start slow
Experienced runners know the value of starting slow and letting your body relax into your desired pace. It could be so easy to just start sprinting away, especially when you’re surrounded by people who are going fast around you. It’s okay. Let them pass you. Starting too fast can have a drastic effect on your form later on during the race. Many coaches advise you to practice your starting pace weeks before the race. Get to know your comfortable, slower pace to start with and pick up as you go. Give your body some time to adjust to the race event.
For most of us, the buzz of running among other athletes is enough to make the heartbeat rise. It was the case for me. During my first marathon, my heart rate just before the race was 20 beats per minute higher than normal. Thanks to my heart rate monitor I was able to watch it when I started, making sure I’m not going too fast. When you respect your body and gradually pick up the pace, you’ll feel more refreshed and energized during the race.
5. Figure out a hydration and fueling plan
For a lot of long runs, fueling and hydrating are crucial things to pay attention to. During your run, you’ll pass the water and electrolyte stations, but it’s good to have a plan beforehand. Find out what works good for your body and practice it for a few weeks. If you choose to run with a hydro pack, learn how it’s best to use it. Set up a schedule for fueling with gels and electrolytes. For months before my first marathon, I had been improvising with different ways to stay hydrated and fuel well.
Finding out what works for you and knowing you don’t always have to rely on the water stations is a great idea. See what kind of fueling your body likes best. Practice drinking as you run and get your guts used to the hydration plan. Whatever it is, don’t go into a race thinking that you’ll figure it out as you go. Plan and see how smooth and steady any race can be.
Smiling sends the information to our bodies that we’re safe and relaxed. When you run, remember to smile. You’ve worked hard for this and you’re making your dreams come true. There’s no need to feel uptight about it. Smile at the volunteers that are working hard to help you and at the people along the route who are cheering you on. Smile at other people, runners that you pass along the way. You’re all in this together. And, lastly, there’s nothing more beautiful than crossing the finish line with a big smile and tears of joy. Enjoy the run, smile, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Also by Ula: These 5 Untranslatable Words Can Change The Way You Look At The World
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Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis via Unsplash