Monday, May 7, 2007

Racing Tips

Eating is equally as important to racing as it is to rest. The reasons should be obvious. No one likes stomach cramps and that oh-so-unpleasant nauseous feeling. At least I don't. Eating, more than any other area of race preparation, is a very individual aspect. You really must experiment and find what works best for you.

That said, here are a few of the guidelines I have found that work well for me: Eat a full breakfast before a race. Wake up earlier if you have to in order to have enough time to digest before early morning races. The longer the race, the more important this is (proper digestion makes you feel better, and food provides the long-burning energy). I like to have finished eating four to five hours before warming up. Consider the warm-up part of your race, from a food/digestion standpoint. After the main part of the warm-up (the jog) -- about an hour to 1½ hours before the race -- I often eat half of a PowerBar or a banana for a little extra energy to get me through the race. Either of these ought to digest quite easily. Also, I have long avoided dairy products before racing, even before I knew I was allergic to dairy. It really makes a big difference for a lot of people.

Mental Preparation
Let me share a story from early in my running career. My freshman track season in high school, all I heard from teammates was how much faster everyone, myself included, would run at the conference meet. Being an inexperienced runner, I believed it would be just as they said. Who was I to argue?!

Well, the conference meet finally rolled around, and I was quite sure that I would run my fastest times to date. It didn't happen. I ran pretty much what I had averaged all that year. Why? I didn't prepare myself properly. As silly as it may sound, I didn't understand at that time that I would run faster, not because other people were running faster, but because I had created the necessary situation for myself to perform.

Fast forward three years to my senior year. Heading back to the conference meet, to be my last race of high school, I had learned many running lessons. This time I spent two weeks visualizing every aspect of those two laps I was to run. When I found my lane assignment the week before the race, I spent much of that week practicing breaking in off the first turn and focusing in on the end of the straight. When the race finally rolled around, my mind was clear of everything but the 800m. (The nice thing about high school as opposed to college, I learned later, is that you can focus your attention on running for an entire week and not fall behind.) The first lap was truly effortless. In fact, it was only one second slower than my 400m PR, which I had just run the previous week. Unfortunately, I was not in quite the necessary shape to hold that pace, and I struggled to find the finish line. Still, I ran nearly a 2 second PR, after already having improved 6 seconds that season. Some of the improvement can surely be attributed to competition and conditioning, but the major reason was undoubtedly due to mental preparation.

Ice Baths
This item could equally well be placed under Running Tips or Injury Prevention, but I look at it primarily as Race Preparation. I haven't had the resources available for ice baths the past few years, but for several years I always took an ice bath two days before a race. Why, you ask? Trust me, you're not the first. I began the practice as an impressionable, young high school runner. Several of the really fast guys did it, so I thought I'd try it, too. Brr. It really seemed to work well for getting a lot of the soreness out of the muscles that results from high intensity training, so I stuck with it. However, I discoverd that if I took an ice bath the day before a race, I felt fairly stiff from it. I guess it takes a while to thaw out! Two days before the race seemed just about right.

So, what is an ice bath (beyond the obvious), you ask once again? It works best in a whirlpool (of the athletic training room variety -- tough to make enough ice in your own freezer) filled with enough cold water and ice so that the ice is not fully melted after sitting in it for 20 minutes! The "recommended" range is 15-20 minutes, but I always went with the higher end. Submerge yourself past your waste (please don't ask for details), and find a towel to bite down on! Some people like to use the little neoprene toe covers; probably not a bad idea. Want to really have some fun? Talk all your teammates into doing it, too, and watch the first-timers scream in ecstasy... Cool dippings.

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