Preparation for Race Day (Part III): Race Day Guide

Updated: Oct 3, 2019


So, race day is upon us. Maybe you’ve worked tirelessly, trained well and are feeling well prepared. Hopefully you are not filled with doom and gloom. If you’re still weeks away then find further information in our ‘Preparation for Race Day’ series, Part I: Fuels and Nutrition, and Part II: Two Weeks and Counting.

The final blog post in the series will give you guidance on how to maximise your abilities and potential in the final 24 hours, knock minutes off your PB or simply ensure you can keep on going the full duration.

Within this blog you will probably interpret a recurrent theme, and for me it is the golden rule of race day: Don’t do anything out of the ordinary! Sounds obvious but so relevant to each of us as well tuned individuals. The most famous error for this is Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne seeing Gary Lineker bathing in warm water pre-match to loosen his muscles. Thinking it would also help him, Gascoigne, in true Gazza style, decided to fill the bath up with scalding water. Safe to say he famously had one of the worse 45 minutes of his career whilst also looking a bit of a plum!

The night before

Food intakeis regarded essential for energy. But the wrong types and incorrect qualities might not be carbo-loading, but perhaps carbo-unloading whilst in the race. Eat sensible portions of a normal and balanced meal. Nothing too big nor trying to run on a light stomach or you may get sick. Look back at your longer runs and how you managed before and reflect what went well. By now I am sure we don’t need to go over food groups. If so, visit https://www.ldnphysio.co.uk/single-post/2018/01/07/The-LDN-Preparations-for-Race-Day-Fuels

‘Interesting’ reminders from previous posts: White and refined carbs can be beneficial as they have less fibre and ultimately may give you less hassle and urgency for number 2s during the race.

Hydrationis key, but don’t over do it as you won’t be able to sleep; constantly getting up in the night to pee. Avoid diuretics such as alcohol or caffeine the night before as these will make you wee, make you more dehydrated and possibly keep your brain more active whilst trying to drop off.

Check the weather

We love it in Britain. No day is complete without a full analysis and breakdown of the weather. This may have a huge impact on your preparation and race day performance.

  • Temperature: Have you ran in these conditions before? If so, how did you find it? Higher temperatures are responsible for slower times and less people finishing the race. Believe it or not the peak temperature for race performance is between 6-7 degrees Celsius for men and women (that’s really cold).An interesting bit of research below shows you how much an increase in temperature reduces your speed over the race.

That’s a whopping 12-17% loss in speed if you compare your cold London Marathon training to race day when it was 23 degrees in 2018. If you are aiming for 4 hours then expect to make that 4 hours 42 minutes adjusted to a mid-20 degrees race. Workings out below:

  • Humidity: The higher humidity the higher your heart rate may be. Therefore, you may need to drop 5-10% effort in very high humidity races if you have not trained in these conditions. Again, increased humidity showed more people dropping out, likely due to increased cardiovascular effort and more dehydration.

  • Rain: Depending on what you are wearing I would opt for a light weight manufactured material and avoid cotton which often absorbs the rain water and makes your clothes heavier. Consider any areas of chaffing and rubbing to be extra Vaseline’d up in this case. However, I am sure you’ve trained in the rain, so you may have a few of your own top tips.

Sleep

If you read our previous blogs you would have seen that it is important to adjust your body clock so it is ready to wake up 3-4 hours before the race. You still want your normal hours of quality sleep (this should be 7-9 hours). If your race starts at 08:00 and you need to eat and digest breakfast by 5 then slowly change your patterns of sleep so you are progressively waking an hour earlier until you feel that waking at 04:30 is no biggy. Not really the advice anyone wants to hear but it will make the world of difference. Without alert cognitive function you can forget your body performing the way you want it to. This may be even more important to think about considering the night before the big race you’re unlikely to get much sleep.

To ensure you get the best nights sleep reduce all external stressors like planning on how to get there, parking, check-in time and anything else that may play on your mind. Otherwise your mind won’t just wander off in it rambling way before you fall under.

Saying that, one of my race day top bits of reassurance is not to worry if you don’t really get much sleep. Top athletes may hardly sleep or not at all and they will still be there at the starting line pushing their best. However, take a few tips from above and you might just be okay.

See ‘Caffeine’ below if not sold!

Breakfast

Again, eat moderate amount. Leave 3 hours minimum for the initial digestion of your food and likely passing into your small intestines and for you to feel less ‘sloshing’ around when you are running.

  • Lots of chewing to help the enzymes in your mouth start the digestive process.

  • Take your time as rushing increases the amount of air we swallow. I needn’t say anymore regarding that.

  • Again, stick with what you know. White breads are fine. High energy and calorie in-take per weight of what you are consuming is key.

  • Finally, serve yourself a nice glass of which ever electrolyte-Sports branded drink you like. Straight down the hatch!

Caffeine

A recent systemic review of the effects of caffeine on endurance athletes found that endurance performance, power and improved positions in time trials were all positive for those who took a moderate dose of caffeine.

A moderate does in the research is quantified as 3-6 mg/kg. So for an 80kg male I would recommend that caffeine intake should be from 240-480mg.

Body weight in kg x 3 = minimum amount of caffeine to improve performance

Body weight in kg x 6 = top end amount of caffeine to improve performance

But again, if you know you are sensitive to caffeine and don’t regularly drink strong coffees then I wouldn’t sudden do this on race day. Hopefully this is something you have experiments with beforehand.

Tablets are by far the easiest way to know how much you’re taking.

Caffeine takes approximately 30-60 minutes to get into your blood stream so think about when you are able to take it.

Power nap!

Get to the race early, register, have a light warm up and stretch before putting your head down for a power nap. Caffeine right before you decide to go down into power nap mode can help you snap out of post-nap drowsiness and will give you the boost needed as explained above. Make sure you get warmed up again post-nap, which is in more detail below.

Napping for 15-20 minutes can help:

  • Restore wakefulness

  • Reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep (in case you didn’t sleep well)

  • Improve physical and cognitive performance

  • Reduce stress via relaxation and reduce mental fatigue, after all there’s a long road ahead

Shoes + Equipment

I am going to keep this very simple. Don’t change them. Even if they look a little battered and bruised, as long as they are holding up and are water-tight I would persist with them. Think about rewarding yourself with a new pair once you’ve completed the race. As far as other equipment, there are lots of gizmos and gadgets that I am not really interested in as we are talking sports performance. A simple stop-watch to record your pace at each checkpoint is all I use.

Warm-up

Again, nothing out of the ordinary and something gradual and progressive. Warm-ups are designed to increase muscle temperature and blow flow, raise the cardiovascular system so you breathe more and your heart rate increases and to help you gain mental and physical readiness.

Stretch first or last? Well definitely not stretch first but probably something like low intensity warm-up (walk to jog), dynamic stretching then low to moderate intensity warm-up (jogging, half lunges, calf raises).

Muscles are stretched best when they are warmer as stretching cold muscles is believed by some as possibly leading to injuries.

By now you should have a good stretching routine and have learnt many varieties. If not, you’ve left it too late and just continue with what you have been doing. If you are reading this prior to your race day then contact us for a full masterclass on running strengthening and stretching in our Physiotherapy and Coaching clinics and www.ldnphysio.co.uk

Pacing yourself

Taking into account your preparation, expected race time, level of physique, racing history and the external factors (such as temperature and weather) you should be able to draw on your experience at what speed you want to set off on.

Many big marathons will have markers of where to stand as per your expected finishing time. This ensures that slower and faster racers are not in each others way and everyone has an enjoyable experience. Conversely, some of the smaller marathons do not have this luxury and therefore I can only encourage you do start off expecting a low speed with thousands of people around you.

Start slower than you may expect, find the pace that suits you in which you are able to breathe and hold a light conversation if necessary. You should also be ache and pain free at this stage and with LDN Physiotherapy and Coaching clinics you should be symptom free throughout the entire race.

Carry-ons

The list is not exhaustive but should probable cover

  • Any medical information should you become unwell

  • Inhalers, sprays, things you know you need

  • Electrolyte gels to suck on at set points along the way

  • Dry socks and blister pack

  • Pocket pack of tissues

  • Plastic bag to put your phone in

  • Back up safety pins

  • Vaseline

There may be more little bits you decide you want to take instead that you have become accustom to taking on long runs. Please continue! My list is purely based on my experience and that of the athletes we see. It is surprising what a blister, chaffing and lack of loo paper can have on your time. Enter Paula Radcliffe meme here!

Cool down

Immediately after a race you may be tempted to get into an ice bathor do something else fancy that you have seen athletes do on TV. I can tell you from my experience working at the World Athletics Championships, London 2017 that most of the athletes regard the cool down (not freeze down) as one of the most important parts and they spend a good amount of time slowly lowering the bodies temperature again. The Nigerian female 4x400m team (who finished their best-ever in 5thplace at the London Championships) assured me that in championships they continue walking around the track as long as possible because otherwise they are forced to stand still talking to journalists and start to ‘stiffen up’. Speaking to many leading sports coaches at the London Stadium and Warm-up track - ice baths are for AFTER the cool down only.

So why cool down? A cool-down is you ensuring the blood flow is maintained to return your muscles, cardiovascular system and body to as close as it can be to pre-race state. This is not possible if you just stop. As painful as it is to keep on moving after you finish 26.2 miles, it might be worth-while considering the benefits you your body afterwards. 20 minutes minimum from fast walking to light strolling.

Stretching after you finish? It may feel like you need to, however, stretching an irritable muscle is never fun. You may irritate it further and heightened pain responses through sensitizing your tissues. Instead start stretching 4-6 hours afterwards and gradually involve all muscle groups over a number of minutes prior to foam rolling.

The level of DOMS and aching will be proportionate to how prepared you are physically and how much you pushed your body through. Expect a hot race at a slower pace to potentially let you off a little lighter. Don't hesitate to book a Sports Massage session with us to help you recover.

And that’s it. Congratulation on getting to race day, it is by far the most enjoyable part and the crowds and fellow runners certainly keep you going. Give yourself a good 2-3 days rest afterwards and slowly get back into the gym and running soon after. Then set your next goal to continue being a Stronger. Fitter. LDNer.

Jonny Sumner


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