The perfect half marathon Race Weekend
Guarantee a great performance at The Vitality Big Half by following this simple step-by-step guide to the perfect race weekend...
It’s Friday, six in the evening. Your boss has said goodbye, stepped into the lift, and headed off to do whatever bosses do for weekends – clean the whips, practise sarcastic put-downs, perhaps. You close the time-wasting website you’ve been browsing since lunchtime, switch off your computer, begin your commute home and start looking forward to Sunday. Because, of course, Sunday is Race Day. To help you achieve your Sunday best at the inaugual Vitality Big Half, follow this step-by-step guide.
Friday 18:00/ Home time
The words ‘relaxing commute’ are rarely uttered, particularly if you work in the middle of a large city. Relaxation is the key to the perfect race, so you might as well start now. If you usually run or cycle home, take the evening off. Any exercise you do now won’t improve your race performance, but it could prove detrimental – at best it’ll tire you out, at worst you might pull something on the trot home. Commute by train or car? Try to bag a seat by catching an earlier, less-crowded train or leave the office early to avoid the busy traffic.
19:00/ Make a plan
Once you arrive home, you might be tempted to slump in front of the television and put your feet up before tucking into your evening meal. Save the television until later, though, and think about your race. Dr Victor Thompson, a sports psychologist (www.sportspsychologist.com), feels that the Friday before a Sunday race is the perfect time to plan. “Sitting down and planning for both the lead-up to the race and the race itself is a great idea,” he says. “It will help increase your confidence and the likelihood that you’ll hit your race goals. It will also improve your focus: many races have been blown by what the runner’s done on the day before their race.”
Write down a plan of action. Thompson suggests that you leave nothing to chance and double check and note down your travel plans. If you’re cadging a lift with a running partner or arranging to catch the train with them, give them a quick call to confirm details. You can also use this time to pack your non-race bag and write a list of all the things you’ll need to pack into your race-day bag.
19:30/ Make another plan
Now is the time to finalise your race plan and goal. “Whether your goal is to set a PB, have fun or simply finish, it’s well worth reminding yourself of it and ensuring that it’s still realistic,” says Thompson. “Thinking about your goal now will boost your motivation, give your race purpose, shape your race strategy and, eventually, help you to evaluate your race performance.” If you’re aiming for a specific race time, work out your target mile or kilometre splits. Choose even splits or a slightly faster second half. Keep the plan safe and copy it onto your forearm when you arrive at Silverstone.
20:00/ Dinner time
For many of us, Friday night is curry/pizza/beer/more beer night. You might think that indulging on the Friday before a Sunday race will give you adequate time to flush out the toxins. Sure, some people can neck eight pints and a plate of vindaloo and still run on Sunday. Few of them will set PBs or finish with a smile, though. If you really must have a tipple, just have a couple and follow each alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic drink. Then, before you go to bed, drink at least half a litre of water. As for food, if you know a mild curry won’t ruin your insides, then go ahead, but even 36 hours before the gun goes it’s best to stick to a tried-and-tested high-carb, stomach-friendly meal.
21:00/ Time to relax
Go on, you deserve it. Chill out in front of the television – maybe watch an inspirational running film. Not too inspirational, though, you really don’t want too much adrenaline pumping around your body as you need to sleep tight.
22:00/ Sleepy head
A good’s night sleep will be vital tonight. A study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that it’s the sleep you get two nights before a race that matters. The study found that athletes’ VO2 max (an indicator of aerobic fitness) wasn’t adversely affected after one sleepless night; it was lowest two days after sleep deprivation.
Don’t stay up late either: “Have as much sleep as you can before midnight and aim to be in bed by 22:30,” says Dr Roger Henderson, a GP and marathon runner. “Even if you’re nervous or excited you are still resting and any sleep you manage before midnight will be crucial to your recovery time.” Try to perfect your sleep routine in the fortnight before the race so that you stand a better chance of feeling rested when you wake up.
Saturday 08:00/ Wakey, wakey
Ideally, the day before the race should be a day of relaxation. Don’t set your alarm, instead try to wake up naturally. Don’t jump straight out of bed either, give yourself 30 minutes to ease into the day. Relax with the paper and a glass or two of water or juice – this will allow you to wake up fully and help you to stay hydrated.
08:30/ Eat breakfast, but hold the Joe
Don’t skip breakfast – although you’ll be relaxing today, you still need energy so have a good first meal. If you’re still feeling a little sleepy you might be tempted to brew a strong coffee. Henderson says that you should try to stay away from the bean, though. “Try to avoid too much caffeine,” he advises. “This can be tough if you are a coffee addict, but it may give you more natural energy and prevent post-caffeine slumps.”
09:30/ Hair of the dog
We realise that some of you may have ignored our Friday night booze embargo – maybe it was actually your boss’s leaving drinks. If you feel a little heavy-headed then rehydrate with sports drinks and water. Again forget the coffee, the traditional favourite for beating booze-induced headaches will only dehydrate you further. Whether your head throbs or not, fill a water bottle, carry it around with you wherever you go and drink regularly.
11:00/ Stop! Don't shop
The cupboards may be bare, or there might be a fantastic offer on underwear at Marks & Spencers, but today is not the day for traipsing around the supermarket or shopping centre. “Put your feet up as much as you can and do as little as possible,” says Henderson. “Save your energy for the race.”
12:00/ Snack attack
You want to keep your energy levels topped up today. “You should spend the day grazing on light carbohydrate-rich snacks,” suggests running coach Nick Anderson. It’s the perfect time for a toasted bagel with peanut butter or jam – and another swig from your water bottle.
12:15/ Urine luck
Whenever you visit the toilet, check the colour of your urine to ensure that you’re well hydrated. If you’re drinking enough then it will be almost completely clear. If it’s the colour of Irn Bru, you might need to drink a little more water.
12:30/ Check it out
Study the race route so you know what to expect when the gun goes off – check out the course map. “Familiarise yourself with the locations of the drinks stations,” says Thompson. Once you’ve worked out the lie of the land, return to your race goals and make sure that they’re still do-able. “If you’ve gained some new insights into the race then modify your goals accordingly,” says Thompson.
15:00/ Damn, more relaxation
Just as the morning was all about taking it easy, so the afternoon should be too. It’s the perfect time to finish the novel you’ve been struggling through, or catch the latest Will Ferrell comedy. Basically, find something to do that won’t stretch you physically or mentally.
18:00/ Eat up
Now you need a tried-and-tested pre-run supper. “The best pre-race meal should contain plenty of carbohydrate and some protein,” says Henderson. Pasta topped with meat sauce is always an excellent pre-race choice. If the meat is turkey, even better – turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that aids sleep.
For a real power meal, enjoy your pasta with a high-protein salad – mix the greens with vegetables, chickpeas, cheese, chopped ham or tofu for a salad that’ll keep you fuelled overnight and ensure that you don’t wake up starving in the morning. If you find yourself feeling hungry later on, have another small carbohydrate snack.
19:00/ Get a head start
“Run the race in your mind,” says Henderson. “Performance visualisation is a powerful tool and one that can make the difference between a personal best and an average performance. Visualise where you may have trouble in the race and project yourself coming through these sections and feeling stronger again. Think of how you feel when you are running well and imagine how good you’ll feel finishing the race.”
20:00/ Final checks, and relax some more
Grab the notes you made last night and pack your Race Day bag. Tick off your checklist and then, as you did last night, relax. And definitely don’t be tempted to have a little drink to help you unwind.
22:00/ Just do it
It’s time for bed again and we know that sometimes the excitement before a race can manifest itself in unusual ways – don’t worry though, if you had a good snooze last night you can indulge. “The old adage that avoiding sex before a race helps you run faster is misleading,” says Henderson. “There is evidence that many athletes actually perform better the day after having sex. This may be because they feel less tense and still have the endorphin-like chemicals released at climax flowing around.” Just make sure you’re asleep by midnight.
Sunday 06:00(ish)/ Up and at 'em
Ideally, try to get up two hours before you need to leave for the race. Start with a shower and drink 500-750ml of water to replace any fluids you lost overnight.
06:15/ You're a tiger
You spent some time visualising success last night, and you should do the same this morning. Again, go through your perfect race scenario, put on your favourite up-tempo music and, basically, transform yourself into a happy runner.
06:30-06:45/ Breakfast of champions
It’s vital every day, but breakfast is absolutely essential on race day. You will have burnt 400-600kcal overnight. Try to eat at least two hours before the race starts (at 9:00). Your meal should be high in carbohydrate, modest in protein and low in fat. As you’re likely to be racing for more than 75 minutes, you’ll eat into your glycogen stores, so beef up your pre-race eating. Aim for 400 to 800kcal from high-carbohydrate sources. Try two or three pancakes spread with jam, some sports drink and half an energy bar. Eat your breakfast while checking the travel news.
07:00/ Hit the road
Give yourself plenty of time to reach the start. Runners are advised to use London bridge station and to avoi using your cars. Public transport is by fa the best way to arrive at the start. This will give you time to get to the right area, visit the loo, drop off your kit bag, visit the loo, warm up, visit the loo…
8:00/ Down in one
Now is the perfect time to drink 250ml to 450ml of energy drink.
8:35/ Warm up
To prepare your body for the effort you’re about to ask of it, make sure you warm up. Keep an outer layer of clothing on for as long as you can – packing an old T-shirt you don’t mind dumping is a great idea. The shorter the race, the more important the warm up. Jog easily for 10 minutes, then spend five to 10 minutes gently stretching and finish with some strides.
08:45/ Nervous ticks
It’s normal to suffer from nerves. “An increased heart rate and butterflies in the stomach are completely normal,” says sports psychologist Dr Jill Owen. “Remind yourself that they’re not a sign of weakness but just indications that your body is preparing for action. Owen suggests a simple routine to shake off the jitters. “Take 10 breaths to instantly induce a feeling of calm. Briefly tense and relax each muscle to release any tension.”
08:50/ Line up
Unless you’re planning to finish The Big Half with the leaders, don’t stand too close to the front. Stand in the pen that corresponds to your target half marathon goal – it’ll be better for you and you won’t get in the way of faster runners. Wherever you stand, though, don’t worry about the people around you. “Keep focused on your own goals,” says Owen, “and don’t let yourself become distracted and worried about how fit, fast and psyched up the other runners look.”
08:58/ The final countdown
As you jog to the start line, think only positive thoughts. “Tell yourself that you’re feeling good, ready to race, confident and excited,” says Thompson. “Try to remember some of your previous great races and draw on those.”
09:00/ Remember your plan...
…and stick to it. Unless your cunning plan was to run as fast as you could for the first mile and then hang on, don’t go off too fast. This is the best way to ruin a race. If you’ve worked out your mile splits, then stick to them. If you’ve planned to eat an energy gel after 30 minutes, then do it. Remember what John ‘Hannibal’ Smith used to say in The A Team: “I love it when a plan comes together!”
Okay, plans don’t always come together. If you have gone off too quickly, then all is not lost. Ease down for half a mile or so and try to relax and return to your planned pace. If you have to, take a walk break but make sure that you limit yourself to, say, just a minute of walking.
09:20/ Drink up
Walking through a drinks station will ensure that you take on board enough fluid. If you have not practised with the brand of sports drink being handed out on the course, then this isn’t the time to experiment. Stick to the nutrition strategy you’ve rehearsed in training.
09:23/ This is fun, right!
“Keep focused on your goal,” says Thompson, “and remember to enjoy yourself.” He has a very good point: most of us run because we enjoy it. Even if you’re having a bad day, try to have fun. A bad race isn’t the end of the world, there’ll be plenty more. So slow down, relax and try to see the funny side of your stitch.
10:00-12:00/ Hurry up
If you’ve run to plan, then as the end of the race approaches you will be able to turn up the gas a little. Maybe even a lot. Aim to up your game from mile 10 onwards. Use the crowds and the bands around the course to spur you on.
10:05-12:30/ Finish up
You’ve done it, so give yourself a big pat on the back. “No matter how the race went, congratulate yourself for giving it your best shot,” says Thompson. “If it didn’t go well, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
10:06-12:45/ Baggage reclaim
Keep moving – if you stop suddenly the blood that’s been pumping around your body during the race can pool in your lower limbs and cause feelings of giddiness. Jog – or walk – over to the baggage pick up and pull on some warm, fresh clothes as soon as possible.
10:30-13:00/ Refuel's gold
Over the next 30 minutes, aim to drink 500ml of water or sports drink – you’ll find both in your finisher bag, along with a variety of nutrition goodies. You should also eat a high carbohydrate snack – aim for something that provides around 1g of carbohydrate for every kilogram that you weigh.
A carb/protein recovery drink is a good option too – it’ll rehydrate you, replenish your glycogen stores and help to repair any muscle damage you sustained during the race. Keep snacking on high-carb/low-fat food and sipping non-alcoholic drinks until your evening meal.
16:00-18:00/ Get stuffed
Feel free to enjoy a carbohydrate-heavy blow out on the evening after The Big Half. If you want your meal to help you recover try some seafood – clams, mussels, prawns – with whole-wheat pasta. The zinc in the seafood can help to boost your immune system, which will have been weakened by your race effort, and help to repair muscle damage.
19:00/ Be boring
Don’t arrange to meet your fans in the pub afterwards. “You may want to celebrate, or even drown your sorrows, after your race,” says Henderson, “The sensible option is to have a warm bath and have an early night. If you are dehydrated, alcohol can make this worse so celebrate properly a day or two later when you can enjoy it more.”
This feature was originally published by www.runnersworld.co.uk. Discover more great features on every aspect of running and refresh your training with a subscription to Runner’s World magazine. Visit www.runnersworld.co.uk for more details.