This article was written for Second Wind Magazine http://secondwindmagazine.com/7-race-day-tips-for-your-best-marathon-experience/
As the largest running event of the year approaches you must be feeling the nerves every now and then just by thinking about it! No doubt the most exciting running event on the Singapore Calendar, Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore is also the best way to end your year! Somehow the timing of this marathon always makes its completion feel like the year has finally come to a close and signals the time to allow your body to get some deserved rest.
To get you ready for this race, here are 7 key tips that I share with friends time and time again. I hope this will help you execute your best race ever and to set a Personal Best!
1. Do Not Fret If You Cannot Sleep
During my early years as a competitive runner, I was caught up with getting enough sleep the night before the race. It made me feel inadequately prepared when I woke up after a restless night. So much so that at SEA Games triathlon in 2007, I changed my sleeping pattern. As the race would start at 7am, I decided to wake up at 4am the day before to have my breakfast, so that I can attempt to sleep for 8 hours when I headed to bed at 8pm. That was 2 hours earlier than what I was used to.
I ended up tossing and turning and the vicious cycle of me not being able to sleep and, subsequently the worry of not being able to sleep, got the better of me. Eventually, I woke up feeling tired.
However, I still managed to race the race of my life to win a Gold Medal. It was only after my studies in medical school that I realised how I managed to still race well despite not getting enough sleep. I learnt that when you are standing on the starting line, your mind and body perceive it as a stressful situation, and it gets ready to wage war. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol will pump through your blood stream, making you primed and ready for any challenge – whether you slept a wink or not. When the gun goes, you will not feel any sense of sleepiness.
So nowadays, I just head to bed at the usual time I am used to and not get worried if I cant fall asleep. By not worrying, you may end up falling asleep faster too!
Logistics is important in any mission. First of all, you need to plan your transport – how are you getting there? It is always best to head down with your training buddies with whom you have trained so hard for this race with. Having someone to talk to before the race helps with the pre-race jitters. For me, I always group up with my fellow Easties and carpool to the race site. We then warm up from where we park the car (won’t tell you where we park if not there wont be enough space for us this year :P) to the race site.
Secondly, you need to plan your post-race activities. It is crucial to have something to look forward to. Whether you had a good or bad race, it is still a great achievement to complete a marathon or anything shorter for the matter! I usually have a buffet after the run with my fellow running buddies.
In addition, you can should also plan for baggage placement (whether you are leaving them in your car or at the race site), how to rendezvous with your friends after the run in the huge crowd among other nitty gritties that can make your race experience less than perfect.
3. Race Equipment
Your race equipment is also of utmost importance and I have learnt it through the hard way myself. In the 2011 Singapore Marathon, I decided to wear a sock with small hole at the big toe area. I remembered telling myself to just use the sock one last time and perhaps throw it away after the race. While running the marathon, the hole got larger and larger and before I knew it, my shoe was soaked in blood. After the race, my entire big toe nail was avulsed off and I could not run for the next week. Lesson learnt: do not be too stingy with your race day equipment.
It will be best to have a standard check list that you use before every race. This should consist minimally your race shoes, racing attire, socks and your race bib. Make sure you have used them at least once prior to the race as you can never know where they may cause chaffing.
4. Pace Yourself
One of the keys of running a good race is to pace yourself perfectly. This requires experience and training. Many a time, runners start off the race too fast, carried forward by the adrenaline surging in your blood and end up losing steam when not even half way through. To prevent this, it is of utmost importance to set a realistic goal.
The challenge in Singapore is that due to the hot and humid weather, the goal that you set may be totally achievable in cooler climate but when attempting to do it in Singapore, the heat gets into you, especially after the sun rises. Thus, it may be wiser to be a little conservative. It is always psychologically easier to catch up with lost time towards the last quarter of the race than losing time towards the end.
Of course, if you have ran the Singapore Marathon a few times, you will roughly know what to expect and definitely can aim to better your previous timing if training has went well. You will be lucky if your race pace falls under one of the pacing groups as this means that you can relax yourself mentally and just follow the pace train.
Like it or not, being mentally relaxed instead of checking splits will make your experience so much better and that comes with better performance too.
5. Hydrate With Electrolytes
People know that it is important to hydrate. But did you know that a very common cause of runners visiting a medical tent during a race is due to overhydration? It is ironic but this is because we have been told so much about the dangers of under hydration that people end up drinking way too much.
Issues such as cramps which are commonly experienced during any race are easily blamed on dehydration but the truth is that scientists are none the wiser as the causes of cramps are multi-factorial and what may have caused it in a runner may be different from another runner.
Overhydration occurs when one drinks excessive amount of plain water so much so that it dilutes the electrolytes in the blood of the runner, causing a drop in sodium levels. Due to this, runners may start to feel giddy and fatigue and thinking it is due to dehydration, they drink even more. This is a dangerous vicious cycle.
To prevent this, try to drink from the electrolytes table during the race. Consume plain water when you are eating a gel. In addition, drink to the point of thirst – if you are not thirsty, it is unlikely you need to drink more.
6. Nutrition Plan
A sound nutrition plan is key to your race day performance and it all starts with a good breakfast. There is really nothing special of the race day breakfast and the key is that you need to eat something familiar to your body. Aim for a low fat, high carbohydrate meal that is easily digestible. Examples include cereals with milk, bread with peanut butter or a muffin. Try out your breakfast a few weeks before during your long run and see if you have any digestion issues. If not, stick to it for race day.
If you are running the marathon, you will also need to plan your carbohydrate intake during the race itself. This usually comes in the form of sports gels. Gels come in different consistency and it is important that you try them out before hand. Gels like Maxifuel and Science in Sport are very liquid in nature and thus may be more palatable for some. Other brands like Power Gel and Gu are much thicker but the advantage is that they come in much smaller sizes and perhaps makes them easier to be carried on the race. I would recommend eating one gel every 45min to 1hour from the start of the race. Remember that gels are not magic potions that can give you a sudden burst of energy and you need to consume them early on during the race.
7. Enjoy the experience
Last but not least, go into the race with the mindset of enjoying the race experience. Your training has been done and there is no use getting overly stressed about the race. Whatever happens on race day will not be within your control. Just stick to the general principles I have laid down above and everything else will fall into place. Based on my experience, you do best when you place the least expectations on yourself.
Whatever it is, look forward to the post race celebrations and may the force be with you on the 6th of December!