How to avoid the most common prerace gaffes.
From the October 2010 issue of Runner's World
This month, thousands of runners will toe the line with mixed emotions. Some will be looking down at a brand-new pair of running shoes because they forgot to pack their tried-and-true trainers. Others will be kicking themselves for running too hard during their taper, or for hanging out too long at the expo—in flip-flops. The good news: If you follow our expert advice on how to avoid common prerace blunders, you won't sabotage all your hard work come race day.
NOT BEING PREPARED
AVOID IT: Make a detailed packing list and a race-weekend schedule.
"A week before the race, begin a 'pack pile,'" says Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., assistant professor of athletic coaching education at West Virginia University. "This reduces last-minute chaos and the likelihood of forgetting something." To take the preparation process seriously, Dieffenbach suggests pretending your boss is running your race, and you're responsible for getting him to the starting line. Would you pack his shoes in his checked bag, or would you insist he wear them en route? Would you let him wander around hunting for a restaurant without a two-hour wait, or would you book a reservation?
NOT RESTING ENOUGH
AVOID IT: Taper smart: Reduce mileage by 60 percent during race week
You're at the peak of fitness. It's no wonder you're desperate to pound the pavement at warp speed. "Resist that temptation," says Christine Hinton, a coach in Crofton, Maryland. "Workouts break you down. Rest builds strength." Reducing mileage and intensity lets your muscles recover; it also restores depleted levels of fuel. Do your last long run three weeks before race day, and gradually cut back each week until you've nixed 60 percent of your peak training mileage in the final week before the race.
RESTING TOO MUCH
AVOID IT: Remind your legs they're speedy with strides while tapering
Okay, we just told you to chillax. But that doesn't mean parking yourself on the couch. "Too little activity during your taper or tapering too long can make you mentally and physically rusty," Hinton says. If you normally run five days per week, you can continue this pattern during the taper—just reduce the length of each run. Hinton recommends peppering your race-week runs with four to eight strides (speedy bursts for 10 to 30 seconds). Recover fully between each one.
AVOID IT: Watch an in-room movie
You traveled to a new city and loved ones are in town to cheer you on. Hold the party until you've crossed the finish line. You don't want to wake up on race morning with achy legs, swollen feet, or excess fatigue from socializing and sightseeing. Set a curfew—such as home by 9 p.m. and lights off by 10 p.m. And no wandering around (and around) the expo.
AVOID IT: Channel your inner Yoda
Rookies and veterans alike endure nerves and excitement before the gun goes off. You can deal with this surge of emotions if you've practiced going to a Zen place during your training, says Lucinda Seares-Monica, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Freehold, New Jersey. Close your eyes and practice deep breathing for five minutes every morning. Whether or not you meditated during training, taking deep breaths at the starting line will help you through prerace highs and lows.