Thunder Bay, ON, Canada

©2017 by UpRiver Running

Have Your Best Race Day

May 11, 2018

By Nick Whitbread

On race day we all want to do well. That can mean different things to each of us. Feeling good on the starting line, running hard and finish knowing we left it all out there are all signs of a great race day. Race day is the culmination of all the training and effort you put in throughout the season. 
When you stand at the start line you can't do anymore than you already have, you just relax and have fun and let your training shine, aka running till you puke, kidding... maybe not. 

There are few better feelings in running than finishing a race and knowing you were able to give it everything you had. As races approach it's easy to get nervous and sometimes we all do dumb things. Maybe it's Your first race and You aren't sure how to approach the day. Here are a few tips We hope might help

Part 1. Sleep

Sleep, get some. Sleep is where we get our "gains". Training creates the stress and during sleep is when we absorb, repair and build ourselves up. No sleep = No gains. Quality and quantity count. We are all different and have different needs. This is one we have to figure out ourselves. There was a study done (which I couldn't find online, so this is from memory, sorry) where athletes who were sleeping 7 hours or less were asked to increase their sleep by 2 hours to 9 hours a night and the effect it had on their performance after a given period of time was greater than the average increase in performance from the illegal blood doping method known as EPO. So sleep don't cheat. It's important to get the appropriate amount sleep. If you aren't getting enough sleep try to build more into your life. If you have trouble doing that get more sleep a week or two before your race. You can't just catch up in one night.

What if you have trouble sleeping or don't get good quality, uninterrupted sleep? This is a million dollar question that could take a long time to answer. In My experience routine is king. When you go to bed and rise at a similar time each day your body develops a rhythm and so getting to bed and into a deep sleep can be more easily achieved. I use the bedtime app on My phone. It's counterintuitive as our phones are possibly the greatest reason we might not be sleeping well. I find it does help. The app lets me know an hour before bed that I should start my getting to bed routine. My routine would involve the following. 

Powering down or putting away all electronics. We are moving towards sleep we want to reduce stimuli. Stareing at bright moving screens of light are not helping to do that. I like to start turning the lights in the house (or van) off. If you have dimmers on your lights those are great too. In a perfect world we'd all sleep when it gets dark and ruse with the sun. Most animals naturally sleep when it gets dark, so it only makes sense to start reducing our exposure to artificial light as we move towards sleep. 

Take a warm shower. A warm shower can help to jumpstart your parasympathetic nervous system. Your body's natural "Rest and Digest" function. Also the feeling of being fresh and clean can also aid in good quality sleep. 

Reducing our exposure to loud noises is another way to reduce stimuli as we head towards sleep. If you usually listen to death metal late and night, maybe try something a little more calming.

What and when we eat can have a large impact on our ability to fall asleep as well as the quality of sleep we receive. In My experience I sleep better if I stop eating 2-3 hours before I go to sleep. This can be a challenge if I haven't planned My eating well that day or I slept in. My diet is almost completely void of refined sugar, even so eating too much sugary fruit late in the evening will stop me from being able to fall asleep. The same goes for caffeine. I create a cut off time and try not to eat anything past that time but especially anything containing sugar or caffeine. 

We all know too that sleeping on a full stomach can be challenging and uncomfortable. Our body is trying to repair itself, we don't need to make it do overtime with digestion on top of that. 

Water consumption and dehydration can also affect our sleep. Not drinking for 8 hours while we are asleep means we are usually dehydrated when we wake up, hence the bags under our eyes. Staying hydrated during the day and tapering off water consumption along with food can help us sleep better, stay hydrated longer and not need to get up to pee in the night 

The place that we sleep also is best if it is dark, quiet and devoid of stimuli. A messy bedroom makes for a messy mind before bed. The less you can have in your bedroom, the less opportunity for distraction. Less stuff, more calm. Try to look at your bedroom as a sleeping sanctuary. TV, Computer, Phone, work, none of these things are going to contribute to a good nights sleep so best they exist outside the bedroom. 

Connection is something that might not come immediately to mind when we think of sleep. If we have a partner, in bed before sleep is the perfect time to connect and appreciate what you have together. This does not mean brining up gripes or creating a shopping list for the next day. It's about connecting. Feeling loved and cared for and appreciated are nice things to experience that can relax us before sleep. Other types of connection in the bedroom can also help sleep too 🙂

I think if you ask most people they would tell you reluctantly that they don't get enough sleep. Just like eating vegetables its something we all know is good for us but we don't always do. Often we blame our busy lives for not getting enough sleep. A good exercise is to log your day in 15 Minute increments. Make a note of what you do for each 15 Minute block. No doubt You can find 30 minutes to an hour of time that is being wasted or being used less productively (a-hem Facebook) to get another hour of sleep. If Your work or family schedule doesn't permit this try adding a nap during the day instead. It all adds up.

When we get more good quality sleep we are more productive in our lives, training and in our races. Spending more time in bed can actually give you more time when your are awake. You think more clearly, make better decisions and get more done. So the first step to having a great race day is getting more sleep so that your training pays off and You are ready to perform. 

A tip from experience. If the night before the race, you get nervous and are having trouble sleeping throw away the clock and your phone. I find that if you are unable to sleep the night before a race it is only made worse by actually knowing how little sleep you had. I have started races knowing I only had an hour and a half of sleep and started races having similar amount but not knowing exactly how much and the latter has always served me better.