Follow the plan:
Do what the coach says. Now is not the time to be adding distance, duration or intensity to your workouts. Similarly, do not add workouts like weight routines or group training. It’s been said before - do not try any new activities during race week; whether it’s yoga, pilates or weight routines.
Think race ready:
Everything you do during race week should be race ready; if possible train in your race outfit, wear your race shoes, use the same equipment, train in similar conditions as you will meet on race day. The more familiar you are with these conditions and factors the less surprises you will encounter on race day.
Rest more, train less:
Racing isn’t like a final exam. You can’t cram at the last moment and expect to get an “A”. That said, if you arrive at race week feeling like you are underprepared, look to yourself for inconsistent training in the past few months. You cannot cram for race day – adding extra miles on the bike or run to feel better prepared will only leave you tired and depleted for race day. Instead, do shorter workouts with short bursts of intensity to keep you sharp and fresh for the race.
Two days out, take five or twenty-four:
Two days out from the race you may find it helpful to completely rest. Avoid strenuous housework, touring, or activities. Focus on healthy nutrition, hydration, and relaxation all day. Allow your body to fully recover before you do one final short (ie., 45 minutes or less) swim – bike – run brick the early morning before the race.
Preview the course:
Showing up to a race without previewing the course is like driving without a map – you can’t possibly know where you are going if you don’t know the route. Keep in mind it is best not to rely on course markings or volunteers for direction. Things happen – volunteers don’t show up, signs get moved, directions are misheard. That said, preview the race course the day before. Study the map then get out there in your car to drive the bike and run courses. Note landmarks, turns, road conditions and terrain. Preview the swim area and identify buoys and landmarks for sighting. Also review the swim in/out, bike in/out, run in/out and start/finish areas.
Nail dinner the night before:
You’ve heard it before from the guy that didn’t have his best race; “I think I ate some bad sausage at dinner last night.” Don’t fall victim to food surprises or upsets on race day. Stick with what you know and eat a meal that you have practiced over and over again. Pre-race dinner should take place 12 hours prior to breakfast. Often this means eating earlier than your normal schedule yet this will allow your food more time to digest and pass through your system on race morning. Eat a wholesome, well-rounded meal. An example might be pasta, grilled chicken and light veggies. Go light on the veggies to avoid any excess fiber. Drink water with this meal and if you are racing in a warm climate the next day it might help to add a little salt. Again, practice this meal a few times before big workouts to be sure that it sits well in your stomach.
Know the no-no’s:
Now that you know what to eat before a race, let’s cover what you should not eat – the no no’s. The night before the race avoid the following; alcohol, cream sauces, oily foods, fried foods, excess fiber, sugar, excess dairy, spicy foods and anything that you have not tried in the past. While making wise food choices is often difficult the night before the race because of travel or eating out, it pays to take the time to think through your food choices. Often it is wiser to bring your own food from home or visiting a grocery store and to stay in a hotel with a kitchenette. Be sure that your pre-race meal fuels you for your best race rather than derails your race plans.
Get your gear together:
The day before the race, get your gear together. Pack your race bag with everything you will need for the race; race nutrition, extra nutrition, race numbers, timing chip, helmet, shoes, goggles. It might help to create a checklist that you keep in this bag to remind yourself of what you need on race day. Also, be sure to affix any numbers to your bike or helmet. Attach nutrition to your bike. Put your drink mix powder in your bottles so all you have to do race morning is fill them up (I would not recommend making them the night before as many products have a shelf life). Go through your bike gears to be sure you are shifting smooth. Check your tires. Clean your chain. Put the bike in the car and get all of the gear out of the way.
Prepare with a back-up plan:
Always have a back up plan – because if it can happen, it probably will – at some point – happen on race day. Keep a kit in your race bag filled with extras and supplies that you might be looking for on race day; sharpie marker, safety pins, extra elastic laces, tampons, salt tabs, scissors, black electrical tape, extra race belt, Vaseline, baby powder, sunscreen, an old watch, extra pair of socks – the list could go on of things you might need. Carry small travel sizes of these items, put them in a small toiletry bag and bring them to the race just in case.
Start your race right:
Your race morning breakfast should be the breakfast you have practiced over and over again in training. Taking the time to wake up a few hours earlier before the Saturday group ride or the Sunday long run pays off here. The longer the event, the closer you may find you can eat to the race. For long course events (half Ironman or longer), you might find it easier to eat 90 – 120 minutes prior to your wave start (note that wave start is not always the same as race start). For shorter races, running races and duathlons, you might find it easier to eat 120 – 180 minutes prior to your wave start because of the intensity of these races. Breakfast options are as individual as each athlete. What works for your friend may not work for you and it may take several attempts before you find something that works well. Here are a few ideas; oatmeal w/raisins, sports bar with a banana, bagel with peanut butter. Some athletes talk about drinking special shakes or waking up at 3 am to eat breakfast. Everyone is different so find what works with you. But above all, keep it simple. Stick with normal and convenient food; foods that can be found when traveling, easily transported and require little cooking. One last note – if you regularly drink coffee, be sure your breakfast routine includes coffee to avoid that hazy, headache feeling that may happen if you go without.
There’s nothing more stressful than arriving late for the race. With that in mind, be sure you plan enough time to wake, eat, relax, travel, park, set up transition on race morning. There is a lot to do and often very little time! Expect driving to the race area and parking always to be crowded and time consuming. Don’t be surprised if there is a very long walk from parking to transition. Do know the time transition closes and don’t expect it to be kept open late for you. Give yourself a 15 – 30 minute cushion of time in case you get caught up.
Keep a one track mind:
Set up your equipment, check it over once or twice, then get out of the way in transition to find a quiet, relaxing place to gather your thoughts. Store your bag at the side of transition away from the racks (if permitted) or give to a friend/stash in the car. Right before transition closes, check everything again to be sure it was not accidentally moved or blown away.
Get in line:
If you need to use the porta potty, don’t wait. It took me 30 minutes to get through the porta potty lines at a 2007 race. Lines move slowly and no matter how many porta potties are at the race site, it’s never enough to meet the demand of thousands of people all going in the same 30 minute window of time. Relax, breathe, and just wait. As an extra hint, consider bringing your own baby wipes/toilet paper just in case they run out.
Racing is more than just the physical work. It is a union of physical training, mental preparation and personal race strategy. The days before the race take the time to think through your race strategy. Write a timeline of events and then short descriptions of what will happen along the way. Use affirmations and key words to cue yourself for what to do. For example, swimming smooth, find my groove. Through repetition and belief, these phrases, expectations, and visualized experiences often find a way of actualizing themselves on race day.
There is so much to think about on race morning. By getting yourself as race ready as possible in the week before the race you will arrive at the line on race morning ready to let all of your training and work shine through. Prepare yourself by not only knowing what to do but also what not to do – be confident in your preparations, open yourself up to the opportunity, and look forward to your best race.