the day before the race
You’ve been training for weeks; maybe months, and now game day is finally here! So how can you ensure that all of your training doesn’t go to waste, and that you’ll be performing at your best level tomorrow? Whether you’re going for a marathon, half marathon, 15k, 10k, or 5k, the 24 hours leading up to your race are some of the most important. Here are six easy rules you have to remember to follow the day before a race!
1.Keep your feet up.
It’s extremely important for your body to be fully rested today. Hopefully you’ve been running or cross-training at least every other day in the weeks or months leading up to tomorrow. If you exercised yesterday or the day before, your muscles are actually still growing and repairing as you read this!
This is where the phrase “muscles are built in the kitchen, not in the gym” comes from. In the gym, muscles are worked out and torn down, and there may be temporary “hypertrophy” (“excessive growth”), but it is the protein you consume later that will actually be used to grow muscle in the 48-72 hours after you work out.
You want to be sure your muscles are back in shape by the morning of your race, so eat plenty of carbs and protein after each time you exercise, and then give them a rest– especially the 48 hours before you race. So, if your race is on Sunday, the last time you worked out should have been Friday. It’s important to avoid tiring yourself out in general- you won’t lose any fitness by taking the day off. If your packet pick-up is the day before your race, don’t spend a lot of time walking around. Too much time at the expo could even give you pre-race anxiety. If you do need to walk around, however, wear comfortable shoes, like the ones you plan to run in, and if you do start feeling anxious, you can consider taking a very slow, easy, 20-minute run today, if you think it will help you relax. Just be careful that you don’t work out enough to be sore the next day!
Another important rule: trim your toenails! It may sound silly but if your nails are too long it can actually really hurt your feet during the race.
2. Eat lots of carbs.
In the days leading up to your race, your diet should be composed of 60-70% carbohydrates. Stored carbs are the first source of energy our body utilizes during exercise, because it is most accessible. If your body runs out of carbs, it will begin to burn protein instead, you will feel more fatigued, and your ability to build muscle will be very weak. Keep in mind your body will likely run out of carbs after about an hour of intense exercise. That is why it is so important to refuel during a long race.
Remember that in order to efficiently use carbs for energy we also need an adequate supply of other nutrients like protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water!
Your diet should also be fairly regulated by now; do not try any exotic foods in the days before the run. If you are fighting the urge to the bathroom during the race, it is not only distracting but also greatly depletes your energy!
Make sure you are eating a normal amount. Do not overload your body as it can take over a day for your body to process large amounts of food, and you could end up digesting during the race (it’s best to digest while you are at rest). On the day of the race, eat a good breakfast with plenty of carbs, protein, and amino acids. If your race is very early, like mine is tomorrow, eat a lighter breakfast, at least 1-2 hours before the start time.
3. Stay hydrated.
Did you know that thirst is the first symptom of dehydration? That means if you feel thirsty for a drink of water, you aren’t drinking enough. Water is critical for our performance on the course for many reasons. Water digests food and dissolves nutrients so that we can absorb them, provides a medium in which metabolism (the production of energy) takes place, carries waste out of our bodies, and regulates our body temperature! Make sure you are drinking 64oz of water per day leading up to the race- that’s about 8 glasses! It sounds like a lot, but remember: you shouldn’t feel thirsty… And your urine should be almost clear! Remembering this rule during the few days before your race will also help to ensure you aren’t thirsty in the hours before your race; you don’t want to be drinking too much water right before you run, or you will need to use the bathroom, and deplete your energy as I mentioned.
Finally, don’t drink Gatorade or similar sports drinks until you have already been running the race for about an hour. The electrolytes in these drinks are great to refuel, and the sodium is important too- but only during and after your race. If you intake too much sodium pre-marathon, you will feel bloated and dehydrated. Dehydration can cause a 12-15% dip in performance. It also means less oxygen, and is the source of cramping during a run.
4. Stretch your entire body.
Unlike what we used to believe, we now know that you shouldn’t over-stretch immediately before a long run. So, to stay limber, stretch it out the day before. This should be a whole-body stretch. Stretch your calves, thighs, shins, abs, back, arms, and groin. Just be careful not to overdo it! Attending a yoga class might be fun, but it could push you too hard and leave you tired and sore the next morning, so choose wisely.
5. Prep your gear and head to bed early.
You don’t want to be rushed tomorrow morning- it could cause anxiety, and you could forget something important. Instead, save yourself the trouble and get ready tonight. Stay relaxed, and get out your gear for tomorrow: lay your running clothes out along with your bib and safety pins, whatever race fuel you’ve been practicing with, and any other necessary gear (sunscreen, heart rate monitor, chafing prevention, etc.). Plan what your breakfast will be in the morning and ensure that you have all of the ingredients. Take a good look at the map of the course you’ll be running. Then set your alarm and go to sleep at a decent hour.
6. Think positive.
Whatever you do, don’t start to doubt yourself now! You’ve been preparing for this day and now all that work is about to pay off. Remain relaxed. Don’t talk yourself down; talk yourself up. Repeat phrases like “I am so ready for this,” and “I have never been stronger.” Visualize yourself achieving your goal: running across the finish line with everyone around you cheering you on. Believe in yourself and you will accomplish what you’ve been fighting for!
Thanks for reading! Please don’t hesitate to add your questions or comments. Remember, these rules are also great to follow with year-round exercise. Even when your performance may not be as critical, the way you treat your body always will be!