Got a race coming up? Besides training for it, here’s what you need to do in the lead-up, to guarantee tip-top performance and an awesome experience.
After those weeks of training, you’ll want to make sure things go as smoothly as possible on race day. Andrew Cheong, head coach and cofounder of SSTAR.fitness, shares the top do’s and don’t’s before your big day.
1. Be prepared
Check that you have all the right gear. It’s best to make a simple checklist and go through it. Here are some of the common things I tend to remind runners: Have you attached the timing chip to your shoes? Is your race bib pinned to the front of your top (not the back)? Have you applied Vaseline or some form of lubricant to the chafing-prone areas? Remember to apply sunscreen for morning races.
2. Eat a proper pre-race meal
The longer the race, the more critical it is to store energy, especially carbs, in your body. If it’s a morning race, wake up earlier for a light breakfast. Go easy on high-fibre fruits, and choose easily digestible carbs that are not oily.
(Also read: 5 Best Foods Runners Should Add to Their Diet)
3. Taper the right way
If you had gone through a few months of consistent and rigorous training, cut back on your training volume one to three weeks before the race. The longer the race, and the harder you trained, the longer should be your taper. This tapering period helps you recharge and get fitter in a process called supercompensation. Remember, we don’t actually get stronger because of training; we get stronger when training is paired with enough rest.
4. Rest well before the race
Aim to catch 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep the night before your race. If you’re one of those who get nervous and find it hard to fall asleep, rest easy. Studies have shown that if you’ve had a few nights of quality sleep before the race, a restless night before race day is unlikely to affect your performance. That fact alone should calm you down and help you sleep better!
5. Arrive early
Regardless of the number of participants, it’s always a good idea to arrive at your race venue early and visit the porta-loos before getting stuck in long queues. For races with big crowds, you may spend some time depositing your bags and queuing, so always plan for unforeseen delays.
6. Know your fitness level
If you have been training consistently and have logged your training data, use that to plan and estimate your fitness level and race goal. That will help you determine your race strategy. Most runners start out too fast without realising, and end up slowing down midway, or struggling at the end. Knowing your fitness level will help you avoid such undesirable situations.
(Also read: How to Avoid Muscle Cramps While Running)
1. Don’t panic if things go wrong
The longer the race, the higher the chances that something unexpected may happen. The weather could change, some hydration stations may run out of water, bottlenecks may emerge, or you may face unexpected uphills and blind corners. The best thing to do is to stay calm and keep on running. Expect the unexpected, so you wouldn’t be in too much of a shock when these situations hit you.
2 . Don’t skip the hydration stations
It’s best to drink before you feel thirsty, because when you feel that way, you are already dehydrated. Generally, I would recommend that you drink at most of the hydration stations. Skip one and the next one could be too far ahead.
3. Don’t drink only water
Too much water is not a good thing, as it could result in a dangerous condition called hyponatremia where your body is too low on electrolytes. Ideally, drink a combination of isotonic drinks and water, or eat something salty during or after the race.
4. Don’t try new stuff
Try to avoid wearing that brand new pair of shoes, running top or any gear on race day. Training sessions are dress rehearsals for race day, so use them to try new gear, see if they fit, and iron out all the kinks. This includes gels, drinks and anything that you plan to consume.
I have done more than 30 marathons and countless other races. While I do my best to get prepared for every race, there will always be something in each one that I can learn from. I savour the tough races, because these teach me so much more than the easy ones. May you look forward to every race and enjoy the learning experience.
About the author
Andrew Cheong is the founder and Head Coach of SSTAR.fitness, an endurance sports coaching service. Since 2010, Andrew has been dedicated to training runners of all abilities, for races ranging from 5km to the Marathon and beyond. He has a Diploma in Sports Science, is a certified Distance Running Coach by the Road Running Clubs of America, a qualified FISAF personal trainer, an IAAF Track and Field Certified and a Mental Toughness Coach. Andrew has completed more than 30 marathons and Ironman races. He and his wife were the first Singaporean couple to be awarded the Abbott Six Star World Marathon Major recipient in 2017.