Little things you do on race day quickly add up and can dramatically improve your finish time.
The key to a fast race is to be bold on the day. But you also need to be realistic. What you DON’T want is to ‘die’ before the race is over! That is runners’ talk for someone who went out too fast and ends up walking to the finish. You also don’t want to feel that you could have gone much better. This is often a result of being too conservative on race day and treating the race as a training run.
To avoid either of these outcomes you need to have confidence in your predicted finish time (backed up with evidence from time trails and shorter races) and stick to the required pace. Focus on what you are doing. It will be tough, but remember: races are best enjoyed afterwards.
Race day gear
Don’t overdress at the start. Depending on the season, wear what you normally wear for your long runs – generally a pair of shorts/tights and a singlet will be fine. You may be slightly chilly at the start, but you will soon warm up along the way. Use a cheap long sleeve shirt and gloves to stay warm at the start. Discard these items before you take off, or drop it at an appropriate spot along the way.
Race numbers and chips
Pin your race number to the front your singlet. If you have it before the race, pin it to your singlet the night before the race. One less thing to worry about on the morning of the race. Or use a race belt – then you don’t need pins.
If the race you are in has supplied a separate chip – make sure you follow the instructions on how to attach it. If you are not sure you’ve done it right, check on the morning of the race to see what other runners have done.
The warm up
If you intend on going out hard, it may be advisable to warm up prior to the race. If you are just there to get to the finish, you can use the first few kilometres of the race to warm up. Make sure you are warmed up before you increase to your race pace – the warm up will prevent injury during the run.
To warm up, jog slowly for about 10-15 minutes – during this time run a bit faster for about 5-10 minutes. You don’t want to get fatigued or use up your stored energy. Do not stretch before the race unless you have warmed up. You can also do some strides at race pace just before you head to the start line. You’ll see people on race day doing this – it looks absolutely stupid, but as with most drills, it works.
The fastest runners get to go first. Seeding in a race can be voluntary or via qualifying times. Either go to the area that has your predicted finish time, or check out the other runners and find a spot you think will suit you. Don’t be over zealous in your seeding – you will soon regret it if you stood too far up or down in the field. Select a spot towards the middle of the street, this way you will not fall over spectators or trip on pavements or over rubbish bins when there are lots of people around you. But watch out for cat-eyes on the road, you will readily trip over those too.
Running in groups (called clustering) results in better performance than running alone. You can fall in with the group’s pacing/cadence and use the group dynamics of a shared goal to stay motivated. On your own you will have to work much harder. You can join in a pace group - most bigger events have these.
Running the tangent
Remember that races are measured over the shortest route the runners can take. You are cheating yourself if you do not cut the corners as the course was measured. You are cheating if you are doing a road race and you cut over the grass on corners! Stay on the road. Keep as close as possible to the inside edge of the road on all turns. As you go around the corner, assume a straight line route to the inside of the next turn. If you run down the centre of the road, each right angle turn will cost you a few seconds in your finish time and it makes the distance you will have to run longer.
Using water stops, aid stations and checkpoints
If there are aid stations, use them. In the longer races, being hydrated and nourished is more important than the few seconds you shave off by not stopping for a drink or something to eat. Dehydration over the longer races can significantly affect your performance. Hydrate before the start of the race. Drink around 200mL of water or energy drink within a half hour before the start.
On road races, there’s no need to carry a backpack with your own water. Aim to run as light as possible. That said, on races with large numbers of competitors, it may be difficult to reach the water table, and you need to watch out you don’t slip on cups and other litter. Under those conditions, it may be handy to have some water to get you through the first 5km, and then use the aid stations after that.
In races longer than 45 minutes, start drinking fluids at the first aid station. Collect 1 or more cups at each aid station, drink some of it and pour any extra water over your head and shoulders if it’s a hot day. Aim to drink at least 200mL of water for every 15 - 20 minutes of exercise. In hot or high altitude conditions, you will need more fluids. Think about how much you are sweating. Use energy drinks, if that’s your thing. If you are taking energy gels, make sure you know how much water is required with each gel, and take those just before an aid station so you can get the required amount of fluid it. If you have powdered nutrition, carry it in a collapsible drink bottle and fill it with water when you need it.
A 10 minute toilet break can cost you your race, so work out a strategy on what you will do on race day with regards to toilet stops. Talk to other runners to find out what they do to get some tips. For example, some runners take Imodium, while others switch to a liquid diet for 1-2 days prior to their race. Regardless what you decide to do – if anything, stick to the Golden Rule of ‘Never do something on race day that you have not trialed during your training runs’.
Immediately After the Race
Get some warm clothes on, your body will start to cool down and everything will grind to a halt if you don’t continue to move a bit. Resist the temptation to stand of the finish line and wait for your mates, FIRST set into action YOUR OWN recovery, THEN go back to support your running buddies. Get a massage, if possible.
Drink lots of fluids with electrolytes. If you do not go to the toilet for a wee for 6 hours or more after your race, you may be severely dehydrated and experiencing renal shutdown, contact a doctor.