No matter the distance or terrain, your first race or event will sit in the back of your mind for weeks beforehand.
That knot in your stomach.
That thing that keeps you awake, counting through your kit list...
Here at Pete Bland Sports, we want to throw a few top tips your way that will help ease those pre-race nerves and make the day go as smoothly as possible.
What you eat before, during and after a race is very important. This isn’t just on the day either, in the days leading up to the event, avoid any rich or fatty foods that may upset your stomach. Go for simple meals that you know your stomach gets on with. Lots of fruit and veg means you’ll have lots of anti-oxidants floating around which will aid with recovery.
Keep well hydrated in the days running up to the event and maybe give alcohol a miss, this will help your performance on race day, even just from a psychological perspective.
If it is a long race (Marathon etc), many people increase their carb intake in the days running up to the event. Carb-loading is only effective for a few days beforehand; just eating two pizzas the night before won’t do it (trust us!).
Race day breakfast needs to be simple and filling but not heavy. Make sure you give yourself enough time to digest it and even if you don’t feel like eating, try and get something down, you’ll be grateful later!
Try and have a small snack before the race (again, leaving enough time for digestion) to help your blood-sugar.
Drinking a half a litre or so of electrolyte or energy drink in the run up to your race, while travelling there and then warming up, will keep you hydrated for the duration of most races.
Many races have water or feed stations, use them if you need to (it can mean you have to carry less). Stopping for 30sec may actually improve your overall time. Don’t over eat or drink though, your body can only process 750ml of fluid an hour, any more and it’ll slosh around uncomfortably and eating too much may cause stomach cramps.
During longer races, you may need something to keep you going. Stick to what you know, now is not the time to try a different flavour of gel or bar. Go for simple, easily edible foods in small nibbles. Trial what you plan to eat and experiment with gels, drinks and bars in your training runs.
Post-race, it is important to eat and hydrate as quickly as possible. Powdered drinks are often the easiest way to do this. Mix up a recovery drink as quickly as possible to aid your recovery. Bananas are a great recovery food as is a nice cheese sandwich. Try to drink plenty of water before your celebratory pint.
It’s a good idea to make sure you can actually run the distance you are racing. Advice varies when it comes to Marathon and above but you should be running at least 80% of the distance in training.
Work in speed sessions to your training; running at, close to or above your hoped for race pace in your intervals. This will condition your body to running at that pace.
Experiment with progression runs where you increase your pace every kilometre or mile (or other given distance) until your last one is at, close to or above race pace. This, again, will condition your body to a strong finish in the final mile.
Tapering: You’ll hear this term, especially around longer events such as marathons. It means reducing your training load in the days or even week before an event. Basically, if the race is on Saturday, don’t do a hard session on Thursday. What can help is a couple of easy leg-loosening runs in the days leading up to the event. Not only does this keep things ticking over, it also acts as a systems check that everything still works!
Work out a warm up routine that actually works. Don’t start doing random stretches because you’ve seen others doing them. You may see some runners performing elaborate stretching regimes before setting off but the truth is most recent research points to post-run stretching holding more benefit. Static stretching before a run, while your muscles are still cold and stiff, has very little benefit and can even lead to injury. Dynamic stretching (swinging your legs around etc) before a run can help but you still need to warm up before doing this, a gentle jog is a much better option. Stretching after your run however, when your muscles are warmed up, can help improve mobility and recovery.
Get to bed early, not just the night before your race but in the days leading up to it.
Study the race route and profile, look for the ups and downs and make sure you feel confident over such terrain.
Recce it if you can. This means going out and actually checking the course, running it (or part of it) if you can. This way you will know what’s coming, removing some of the fear of the unknown.
Don’t get intimidated by other runners. They may all look like muscle and sinew held together by lycra but they are just normal people like you, probably just as nervous. And if they’re not as nervous, they were once, we’ve all been there.
If you are running a fell race, check out our FRA Kit Requirements article to make sure you have everything you need.
Whatever you decide to use on race day, make sure you have used it before. Test your kit and know how to use it all. This includes your clothing; don’t let your race be ruined by a chafing pair of shorts.
Plan ahead and pop an extra long-sleeve or pair of 3 quarters in your bag in case the weather changes. It will give your more choice on the day.
A pair of tracksuit bottoms and a warm top will help with your warm up and cool down, make sure you can get the trousers on and off easily (you don’t want to miss the start, sat in a tangled heap!)
Make sure whatever you are going to wear doesn’t end up in the washing machine the night before the race. Plan ahead and don’t use your race shorts in that week’s runs.
Once you have decided what kit you are using and what you need to take, lay it all out on the living room floor and tick it all off as you put it into your kit bag. Use a written list if it makes you feel better. This will make anything you have forgotten obvious. Once it’s in the kit bag, don’t take anything out. Close it and put it by the door. If you’re worried you’ve forgotten anything, refer to the list rather than unpacking the bag.
Make sure your laces are done properly, tight but not too tight. Tuck the loops under the laces down the front of the shoe, this will stop them wiggling around and coming loose.
Think about what you actually need to run the distance. Don’t get carried away with gizmos. Ditch the mobile, leave your car keys somewhere safe and do you really need 16 energy gels?
Other than that...
Don’t fret too much, it’s your first race and it’s only you that puts the pressure on, everybody else is running their own race. Try and stay calm and enjoy the day!