Sunday, September 15, 2013
This post was inspired by my friend, Ken, who'd asked for some 5K race day tips yesterday. So, here's some free coaching advice for those racing the 5K distance, whether it's their first 5K or their 50th:
1. If possible, do a dry run of the race course to familiarize yourself with the "lay of the land," so to speak. Being well-informed and well-prepared helps to instill confidence on race day. It's a psychological thing: Typically, the more "knowns" (versus "unknowns") you create, the more at ease you will feel; it's a good technique to help "settle" the mind on race day as well.
2. Pace yourself. That might sounds obvious but a 5K is all about the pacing. It's a fast race -- a 5K is typically over before you know it! -- but nonetheless, pacing yourself properly can actually be trickier than it might seem. So, hold back a bit in the beginning, so you have enough steam left for the last mile. It can be very tempting to take off like a shot at the starting line due to the surge of adrenaline and competitive urges that kick in when you're surrounded by fellow racers, standing in line waiting for the race to begin. However, when it comes right down to it, everyone runs their own race. The trick is to take control of those competitive feelings and adrenaline and use them to your advantage; this way, you'll be able to keep them under wraps a bit at the starting line and then release them around the last mile to help push you to the finish line and "take it home" for a nice strong finish.
3. Arrive there on the early side and keep your legs warmed up and limber by running around a bit before the race starts. Nothing fast, just a light jog. You can even do this in the parking lot or if there's on a nearby road or sidewalk.
4. Get up early to give yourself enough time to digest your breakfast, preferably finishing your last bite 2 hours beforehand. This will help to settle your stomach (especially if you're experiencing any pre-race "nerves") as well as give your body enough time to "process" the food you eat.
5. Don't wait too long to hydrate before the race. Your body will be pumped with adrenaline, so it's not uncommon to have to make multiple pit stops before a race. So, try to reduce this by hydrating at least 2 hours beforehand to allow your body enough "processing time." :)
6. The week of the race, be sure you've been hydrating and fueling properly all week-long. Good sports nutrition is vital to help you prepare for a strong performance on race day, and that doesn't just start the day before, or the day of, your race. Your body will thank you for it on race day. :)
7. Set the stage for a good race by telling yourself you're going to crush it! Placing yourself in a confident and uplifting headspace will help you to visualize yourself being successful. Say to yourself, "I am going to go out there and give it my best effort and will have a great race." Or, "I am going to go out there and kick some major tail!"
8. Focus on landmarks in the near distance to help keep you going. The next tree, the next house/building, the next sign pole -- whatever helps keep you going. This keeps your mind focused squarely in the present, and also keeps you from thinking about how far you have to go. Some people like to focus on the back of the runner's head in front of them, to try to catch up to them and then pass them. :)
9. Remember to breathe regularly and focus on your stride. The first suggestion might seems like an obvious thing, but thinking about both of these activities during your race will also help keep your mind in the present, not to mention that they'll help you pace yourself and also keep tabs on how your body is doing. Use a running mantra to help you even out your stride and pace. One of my favorites is "long, strong, stretch, stride," which helps establish a regular rhythm to your stride (essential for pacing yourself) as well as creating a nice strong, elongated stride. It also helps to calm the mind and relieve any race day anxiety. Plus, it bolsters your confidence and creates mental prowess by instilling good thoughts and feelings about your running as well. :)
10. Keep your mind in the present and keep it focused on uplifting and encouraging thoughts. Here are some techniques to help you to accomplish this: Enjoy the scenery around you, smile at the runners to your left and right, use techniques #8 and #9 above, and last but certainly not least, remember to enjoy the racing experience itself. Even during a race, running is like a moving meditation. It creates awareness of everything around you, which can heighten the experience and hopefully, your enjoyment of it. By keeping your mind in the present and remaining conscious of your environs, your body, and your thoughts, you will also develop the necessary mental strength to push yourself and keep your body going strong, right across the finish line. After all, when you run and race, it's essentially mind over miles, even for a 5K. :)
Good luck! Now go forth and conquer that 5K race!
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