Preparation is Key to Success
As I prepare for Sydney's Stadium Stomp this weekend I will be thinking about how I can best reserve energy while keeping light on my feet. I have 6300 steps to meander around Sydney’s premier sporting stadiums so I need to be in top shape - mind and body.
When preparing for an event there seems to be quite a few methods. A few are listed below....
The "She'll be Right" Method is for people who have a regular training schedule and believe that they will accomplish anything....even if it is an event or race that they have not specifically trained for. This method is also referred to as the "Just Gonna Wing It" and carb up the night before which is their only preparation they need.
The "Go Hard or Go Home" Method is for those who are constantly training for the specific event....maybe a little over training...???
Then there is my personal method, the "Keep Balanced" Method where you continue with your regular training routine but alter one or two sessions to cater specifically for the event you have entered.
Working alongside the "Keep Balanced" Method, let's consider a general guideline of how to prepare for that upcoming event or race.
After you have signed up for an event or race, consider the time frame between sign-up and event day. Training schedules should commence around the 6-8 week mark prior to the event, including the taper week the week before event day.
6-8 weeks prior
Go easy and get into a rhythm and pace you feel comfortable. Start with 1-2 'specific' training days with your normal training schedule, including rest day/s.
4-5 weeks prior
Introduce something different (hills, stairs, different terrain) and, if possible, train at different times of the day. This will allow you to acclimatise to different conditions – cold mornings, hot lunchtimes and warm evenings. Do not avoid the rain or wind – you don’t know what the conditions on the day will be so train is all types of weather.
Increase your distance to ½ or even ¾ of the distance of the event. This can be once a week with shorter interval-style training in between.
2-3 weeks prior
You should be in a good flow now with your distance, now have a look at your speed. Aim to shed off a few minutes within these few weeks and on the day, there is a good chance a few more minutes will be off the clock due to the adrenalin pumping through the blood.
1 week prior
For many people the decreased training during this taper week can be quite unnerving and they’ll want to get every last bit of training in. However the purpose of the taper is to allow the body to recuperate, rebuild and be fresh for the event day. Believe or not, the body needs rest which is why we should never train 7 days a week. Your body will love you for it and results are proven to show if the body has been given a chance to rest.
3 days prior
Eat Smart! It’s commonly said “I’ll be carbing up tonight before the race tomorrow” which is all fine and good, but it’s better to keep your normal dietary plan with an increase of carbohydrates 3 days before so they can be stored in the body. This does not mean increased calories so don’t change what you currently do, alter your plate in a healthy nutritional way.
During the last 3 days prior to an endurance run or event, it is wise to increase your carbohydrate intake to 70-80% of your total daily calorie intake.
Day 1: The first day of the carb-load should consist mainly of complex carbs. By loading up on complex carbs the first day, your body has time for them to be processed and voided well before race day.
Day 2: Taper off the complex carbs and switch over to simple carbs. Be careful though - avoid loading up on heaps of fruit if you're not used to eating lots of fruit. Also avoid loading up on simple carbs that contain a lot of saturated fat (cookies, doughnuts, pastries). The extra fat will slow down digestion and make you feel sluggish.
Day 3: Continue with the simple carbs. Eat your last major meal 12 to 15 hours prior to the race. This meal should be comprised of easily digestible foods that will pass through your system before the race. This is the time for the big plate of regular pasta. Avoid heavy cream sauces and stick with basic marinara sauce. Don't forget to finish eating 2 hours prior to hitting the pillow.
Here's how the Balanced Plate method works:
Visualise a typical lunch or dinner plate. Half or 2/3 of your plate should be carbohydrates (Remember: Veggies are carbs too).
Nutrient-rich carbohydrates are foods that have been minimally processed or are not processed at all. Therefore, they contain greater amounts of their naturally present nutrients. A wide variety of foods fit into the nutrient-rich carbohydrate category such as:
Beans and legumes
Starchy vegetables and any leafy greens
When you consume carbohydrates, your body converts them to glycogen, which is then stored in the muscles for energy. For every gram of glycogen stored, you gain approximately 2.7 grams of water. This water retention occurs because your kidneys hold on to sodium (ie. salt) in response to carbohydrate consumption. Your body reacts to the higher sodium levels by storing more water to keep the sodium-blood concentration at a healthy level. So, to make sure you get complete carb storage, drink four to eight glasses of water each day. You may gain a small amount of additional weight during this carb-loading phase, but most of this extra weight is water and will help keep you well hydrated during the race. Plus, you'll sweat out those extra kilos during the event.
Which brings me to Hydration!
I’m more of a build-up hyrdrater whereby I drink throughout the day and evening so my body is constantly hydrated. When I do a workout, teach a gym class or participate in an event, my body is already hydrated enough to perform my best without the need to stop and take a sip every 5-10 minutes.
You don’t want to over-hydrate either. The day before, drinking 120-240 grams per waking hour works well. This, of course, does not include alcohol which is to be avoided, it will dehydrate your body.
Get some shut eye
Ensure you are in bed early, giving yourself at least 8 hours sleep. Read a book prior to turning the light off to calm the sensory nervous system which will assist in a good night’s sleep.
Drink approximately 500ml of water 2 hours prior to allow time for it to pass through your system and the excess be voided prior the starting bell. You don't want to be looking for a toilet half way through your event!
Have a small amount of food 1-2 hours prior. Some people cannot eat solids prior to training, let alone a major event. Blending solids into liquid form may be an alternate and this gives your body ‘fuel’ to burn off during the event. You do not want to feel sluggish or bloated so ensure that you do not try something new on the day *
I prefer to eat a banana for the potassium and natural fructose kick. This ensures that I’m not flushing out precious electrolytes that I'll need during the race.
*Practice: Eating before a race can be a tricky thing. Test different foods for your carb-loading phase well before race day. Pick one of your longest training runs and pretend it's "race day." Try a mini-carb-loading phase before this run. This will give you the opportunity to see how long different foods take to pass and which ones to avoid because they "hang around" too long.
Note: Diabetics and others with specific health problems should consult with their doctors about the best foods to eat during their carb-loading phase.
Dress for the Occasion
Don't overdress. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if it's 15 degrees warmer than it really is. Your body will warm up at least by that much while running. To keep warm before the race, wear some old clothes to the start. Long sleeve shirts and tracksuit pants will keep you warm while you wait and then you can toss them at the start. Goodwill Stores are a great place to pick up cheap attire that you won't mind discarding. Many races donate the discarded clothing to local homeless shelters.
To avoid a panicked race-day morning, lay out your shorts, singlet/shirt/top (go ahead and pin on the race bib), socks, running shoes, hydration belt, ID, and anything else you'll be wearing or carrying with you on the run. Preparation is key to success remember.
I see so many people doing static stretches before a race (ie. stretch and hold). These stretches are to be done post event/race as the purpose of them is to lengthen and relax the muscles, not get them moving and energised. Dynamic stretches (ie. movement stretches) is needed to warm up the muscles (easy jog, brisk walk, shoulder rolls, grab’n’let go of knees). We do need to remember that a warm-up is exactly that – a warm up, not a work out so don’t overdo it, you want to be warmed and limber not worn out.
To finish I’d like to focus on the Mindset.
You have trained hard, you have taken care of your body (inside and out) and now it’s time to achieve the best you can. There are always factors out of your control that may affect event day (crazy weather, extreme temperatures, illness, injury, etc.), but what you can control is your confidence. Trust in your training and believe in yourself as an athlete, these factor will reassure that all the hard work you've put in over the past several months will shine through.
If that pesky voice of doubt begins to creep in, acknowledge its presence then reset your mind back to the positive. Feel free to shout out aloud "Go Away!"...of course the person beside you may think you're crazy, but who cares – they may be thinking the same thing and you’ve inspired them to re-focus on the job at hand.
A good way to get the mind back on track is to have a mantra. When climbing a tough hill or fighting off fatigue, having a mantra can help pull you through a tough stretch. Spend a little time before event day thinking of a few motivating mantras. For Sunday’s Stadium Stomp, my mantra will be “Let’s Go TJ; Let’s Go” and “Come on Tara. You can do this.” Works every time.
With the right preparation, you'll finish with a smile and you'll achieve what you trained for.
For some further tips on how to prepare for an event, check out an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by OceanFit’s Andre Slade gives some great tips when you have signed up for an event and what to do before, during and after.
Stay Active this July and dine on locally grown Seasonal produce to keep energised for your upcoming event or race.