I HAVEN’T DONE ENOUGH
Often elite athletes will feel that they haven’t done all they wanted to before a race – it’s not just you. However, races don’t work like English exams – there’s no use trying to cram right up until the last minute. There’s a point at which you need to say that you’ve done all you can do, then back off for your taper. A taper means reducing the intensity and the duration of your training (usually over the last two weeks, depending on the length of your race), finishing with very light sessions so that you are well-rested for your race.
You’re probably never fully recovered and rested during your running program, so if you taper properly and for enough time, you might surprise yourself! Here’s another trick elite athletes use: they mark the date of their race, then work backward (i.e. starting with the time allowed for the taper) to work out exactly what training they can fit in. Then – and this is the important part – they trust their training schedule. If you did all the scheduled training, you can have faith in your body to pull through on the day.
Just remember to continue stretching (both dynamic stretching and static stretching) throughout your training runs, incorporating cool-downs, warm-ups, and cross-training when you can. Setting yourself up for success is possible and doable.
I’M TOO SLOW AT THE START
It’s very common for people to fear being left behind early in the race, so they sprint off at a pace that’s unsuitable and they “blow up”. I know I learnt very early that I am best when I start at my own, slower pace, then build up my speed when I hit my rhythm. Others work best the other way around. The important thing is to ignore other competitors and stick to the pace off the line that will work best for your body over the course of the race. Take note of your split times in training so that you know what pace is good for you in the early stages, and identify where in your race you expect to pick up the pace.
I WON’T PACE MYSELF PROPERLY AND I’LL BURN OUT
This is the opposite of the other common fear mentioned above: “I’m Too Slow at the Start.” This is an understandable worry to have, especially during longer races like half-marathons and full marathons. Adrenaline and excitement can often be high during the start of a race, leading to an initial burst of energy and heart rate.
The key is to stick to your training plan and warm-ups. If you’ve practiced with split times at certain distance markers, do your best to stay as close as possible to those times, especially when marathon training.
As mentioned above, don’t worry about the other racers. Focus on yourself and have faith in your fitness level and the training you’ve done. As the race continues, you’ll find your groove, and it will be easier to keep a steady pace.
For some longer races, designated race pacers run with the competitors to help you finish at a certain time. Pacers allow you to focus solely on running instead of worrying about pacing. They often offer words of encouragement throughout the race as well, which can help boost morale, especially if you are a new runner. If you feel like following a pacer would help you, you always have that option, and you can join them for as long or as little as you’d like.
I’M TOO NERVOUS TO EAT/DRINK BEFORE THE RACE
If you start being nervous about being nervous, then guess what – you’ll probably be nervous. The good thing is, you’re not alone. Sports dietitians often identify ‘nervous tummies’ and have special pre-race foods for their athletes. Eat your biggest meal 24 hours before your race, well ahead of the worst of the nerves kicking in, then have simple, easy-to-digest foods in small, regular snacks before the race, stopping two hours before the start.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT
Sometimes you can only ever really know what to expect until you experience it. You can also reduce this anxiety by taking full advantage of the inter-webs and Facebook world. Read comments, descriptions and race reports to learn about what you will experience, look up recorded times for races, watch videos of the race, do flyovers with Google Earth (unless the race is indoors or in wilderness!), and best of all, go see races live (or volunteer to help out) and interact with others who have done your target race. And so what if you don’t know everything to expect? Instead of seeing this as a negative, look forward to experiencing something new and being stimulated by the mystery!
I’M AFRAID OF FAILURE / WALKING / COMING LAST
First up, for the aspiring runners and triathletes, I’ve never heard of a race where you get disqualified for walk breaks. As a trail runner, walking is just something we all do; it’s just that some people do it less than others – depending on the terrain and slope, the energy saved by walking compared to the speed gained by running can mean that walking is the more efficient option for crossing the finish line.
Are you afraid of failure in general? You have to realise that you can’t PB at every race and that you will have positives to take out of every race, and you need to appreciate all your accomplishments in the given circumstances. If you see early on that things aren’t going quite as expected for plan A, it’s important that you have a plan B and C. Transfer your targets, don’t just snap your arrows. And what’s the big deal if you finish last? You can’t control how well the other competitors do, and besides, sometimes the last finisher gets the biggest reception. As the fitspiration says, “Last is just the slowest winner."
THERE IS BAD WEATHER ON MY RACE DAY
Unfortunately, the weather can be unpredictable and change until the start of the race. It is important to check the forecast online or on your phone to ensure you are best prepared for whatever weather is in store. Races typically won’t stop for wind, rain, and cold temperatures, so it’s best to plan your outfit and mentality accordingly.
If you are unlucky enough to have rain in the forecast, don’t let that prevent you from going into the race with a positive attitude and good energy. It will help to wear shoes with a strong grip, and if it is cool enough, a light waterproof jacket can help. A hat will also aid in increasing your visibility, and if you bring your phone or watch with you, make sure it is protected if it is not waterproof.
Just be sure to pay attention to how the weather may impact your safety. It is important to stay injury-free, and one way to prevent injury is to ensure you have a good grip on your running surface and remain visible.
For pants, 2XU offers a great option to protect you from the rain while still experiencing the benefits of compression with the Ignition Shield compression tights. There are men’s and women’s options. There is also the Light Speed collection, which includes a variety of quick-drying clothing options.
Even if it is cold or rainy and it can be tempting to bundle up, a good rule of thumb is to only wear one or two layers. Once you begin moving, your natural body heat will help keep you warm, and the bad weather won’t seem as scary anymore. Trust your training and be confident that you have prepared for your race as best you can.
I AM WORRIED ABOUT RACING IN FRONT OF EVERYONE
One of the great things about races is that while yes, it is a race and there are winners, most people participating are in it to accomplish their dreams and ambitions. Running, swimming, and cycling races are a place for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and abilities to pursue whatever individual goals they are working towards.
Some people race to win, others race to beat their previous PR, and others race to finish. All are equally valid and can lead to immense feelings of personal accomplishment. So don’t let the fear of others’ judgment and opinions hold you back.
The spirit of racing is about achieving your own goals, not comparing yourself to others. And I think you’ll find most people, if not everyone, in the crowd, will cheer you on throughout the entirety of your racing journey.
I’LL EAT THE WRONG THING BEFORE THE RACE
Proper eating is essential to success in any race, so knowing what foods will best support you is helpful. While training, your diet should consist primarily of carbohydrates; the remaining portion should be high in protein and unsaturated fats.
Your biggest meal should come the day before the race. Eat something high in carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta, and lean protein, such as fish or chicken. Fruit and vegetables can also be added for a well-balanced meal.
After, refrain from eating another large meal before the starting line. Instead, snack on smaller items high in carbs and low in fat and fiber, such as bread, bagels, bananas, or peanut butter. You can continue snacking incrementally up until two hours before the race. This time ensures the body can fully digest the food before the race begins.
I DON’T KNOW IF I SHOULD EAT/DRINK DURING THE RACE
For ground races, and running in particular, there are often stations throughout the race that offer water or some kind of drink that is high in electrolytes. Some supporters may offer their own baskets of sugar-high small foods like gummy bears or bananas. You also have the option to bring a drink or small energy-boosting food and secure them to yourself so you can access them whenever you need to.
Eating during a race can greatly increase your energy and give you enough boost to keep going, particularly for longer races when needed. The best foods to eat are energy bars, energy gels, or bananas.
If you are going to eat, take small bites throughout the race; don’t eat too much at once. This will prevent internal discomfort and ensure you have a supply of energy for the whole race. Food is not needed for short races but can greatly help your performance in longer races.
For medium to longer races, hydration is necessary for survival. During a race, you lose an immense amount of water through sweat and heavy breathing, and you need to make sure you don’t become dehydrated, especially if you’re running in hot weather. Filling your water bottle with fluids high in electrolytes, such as sports drinks, can also help increase performance and provide the body with extra energy.
Whether you decide to rely on race-provided water stations or bring your own food/drink is up to you. The main benefits of relying on race stations are that the extra weight does not burden you, and you don’t have to worry about keeping track of any drink bottles.
The main benefit of bringing your own is you can decide which products you bring, preferably ones you’ve practiced with, and you can always access them. You will also still have access to race stations if needed. But you can decide whatever option best fits your racing needs.