The running experts share 10 essential tips to ensure your last 24 hours deliver you confidently to the start line.
The last few days before your big running race, and your fate is sealed.
Any fitness gains you make now are most likely going to be marginal. It’s the final workouts, meals, mental preparations and logistical plans in the 24-hour window before your race, that will help transform all that hard graft into a fantastic performance.
In fact, what you do now could make or break how well you perform.
Tom Cragg, UK Head Coach at Running with Us – the experts in endurance coaching – understands the importance of those final hours, even when you’re wracked with nerves!
From behaving like a cow, to summoning your inner hero, Tom has 10 fun, but essential guidelines, to help you relax and ensure your final countdown places you in the best possible form, so you can enjoy your race.
1. Perfect practice
These final hours are about routine. What have you done the day before your best long runs? Stick with what you know.
Try this: Keep a training diary noting down your nutrition, hydration, rest and training patterns before goal races and long runs. Check the correlation with your best performances….and replicate! Get your kit ready early and know you logistics for the race start.
2. Shake it out
A combination of nerves and cutting back your training can leave your legs feeling quite rusty on race day. Maintain some frequency in your running in race week, to keep your legs ticking over.
Try this: Consider a very short, easy 20 minute run 24 hours before the race. The more experienced might even add 2-3 sets of ‘strides’ picking up your pace to about 80% of maximum for around 80 metres.
3. Tame the beast inside
We all manage our nerves and excitement differently. Some of us internalise and reflect; some of us are bouncing off the walls and telling everyone! Your job in the final 24 hours is to manage your emotions and save some adrenaline for race day.
Try this: Warn your family, friends or racing partners that you might be a little irrational and that you will be looking for a bit of time and space in those final 24 hours to be with your own thoughts, and race plan. Even if you’re a talker, do take some time to be with your own thoughts that will help you focus – the race is about you, after all.
4. Horizontal gains
Caught up in the excitement and fever of a new city, or a race expo, it’s very easy to spend hours and hours on your feet the day before a race. Imagine your legs after a full day of Christmas shopping, and genuinely ask yourself if you want that feeling come race day!
Try this: If you possibly can get yourself to the race expo on a Thursday or Friday. Failing that, get in and out on the Saturday so there’s time to put your feet up as much as possible. Relax and leave the sightseeing to your family…you’re the elite athlete for the next 24 hours…or so…
5. Affirm yourself
The gremlin will be firmly climbing up your back to sit on your shoulder today, but you must ignore it. Have you done enough training? Are you being too ambitious on your race plan? The bloke on the train said he was taking one gel and you have planned for five!!! Ignore them, be confident in your plan. It’s time to get your mind ready for your peak performance.
Try this: Look back over your training dairy and remind yourself of those top 3-4 sessions or races that you nailed. We all miss training at times and sessions don’t always go to plan. Remind yourself of what you HAVE in the bank, not what you’ve missed. You’re as ready as you ever will be.
6. Load the tank
Get your nutrition right in those final 24 hours. We cannot stress this enough. If you under eat now through distraction or nerves, and dig an energy hole, it’s game over tomorrow before you start.
Try this: After taking in 10-12g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight over the last 2 days, the final 24 hours is about maintenance. Snack and graze throughout the day and don’t go more than 3 hours without topping up with something small. Don’t leave yourself empty and stuff yourself with pasta in the evening – you’ll feel heavy and bloated tomorrow. Snacking on HIGH5 Energy Bars or sipping Energy Source are perfect options – not too much fibre and not too heavy.
7. Dream of success
Here’s some news you might already know….this might not be the best night of sleep of your life. Nerves, perhaps a hotel bed, and new city or race route can all add up to the night before the race sometimes feeling a little broken. Don’t worry!
Try this: Focus on getting a bit more sleep during the week in the build up. If you’re struggling to sleep the night before the race, stay in bed with your feet up resting…don’t get tempted to move about…
8. Be more cow
When the alarm goes on race morning it can be tempting to sit bolt upright and then attempt to do everything at a million miles an hour. Then you end up cramming in a minimal breakfast in the naïve hope of not getting any digestive discomfort in the race……slow down! The secret here is to graze.
Try this: Set the alarm early enough to allow you to get to the start with at least 60 mins to spare, travel and eat your normal pre-long run breakfast. Crucially, aim to eat well, but grazing slowly over about 20-30 minutes rather than cramming it in quickly. Take a snack with your such as a HIGH5 Energy Bar and sip on Energy Source until about 45-60 minutes before the gun goes.
9. Sip don’t gulp
Getting your hydration right in the final 24 hours is critical to race success. Too many runners start their race already a little dehydrated, and either have to gulp down fluid in the race, or see their performance drop as a result. Instead, consciously think about your hydration strategy.
Try this: Aim for 2-3 litres of fluids the day before the race, ideally water with electrolytes such as HIGH5 Zero. Avoid alcohol until after your race and aim to sip throughout the day. Don’t leave it to last minute and gulp it all down before bed.
10. Your inner Clint Eastwood
As you make your way to the start, the hard work is done. Your mental approach from now is what will make or break your race. It’s time to find your inner Clint Eastwood, your Lara Croft, ride confidently into the village, and get the job done. You’re ready!
Try this: Find a bubble and shield yourself from the negative voices of other runners, their training and their race day plans. Write your splits on your hand or use a pace band. Have 2-3 key affirmations, and remember to dedicate some of those final miles to someone special in your life. Now bring it home!
About the authors:
Running with Us offers bespoke endurance coaching, training camps, sports consultancy, as well as personal and group training to runners, cyclists and triathletes. Experts in endurance coaching, the team has over 40 years’ coaching experience, they have been coaching editors for both Runner’s World and Men’s and Women’s Running Magazines, and coaching consultants to the UK’s foremost online running community – The Running Bug (www.therunningbug.co.uk). For more information visit www.runningwithus.com