Master Your First Road Race
Expert tips to help you train and prepare for a 5K or 10K
If you’re training for your first 5K or 10K, you’ve logged the miles, gotten a few blisters and forced yourself to run even on days when the couch was daring you to give up. Training for a race is no easy… feat.
As race day nears, the right preparation becomes even more critical. Dartmouth College men’s cross country coach Barry Harwick, who coached several All American runners and was head coach of the United States cross country team, offers this advice for the days leading up to the big race.
The week before
Hydrate. Don’t wait until the morning of the race to pump your body full of fluids. Keep a water bottle on hand at all times the week leading up to the race.
Sleep. There’s a misconception that your body can “catch up” on sleep. (It can’t.) Try to get enough sleep the entire week before a race. (“Enough” sleep is different for every person, of course.) While it’s definitely important to rest on the two nights before a race, a consistently restful sleep pattern is even more beneficial, Harwick says.
The day before
Go for a shakeout run. Resting before a race is essential, but your body is used to the miles by this point and an easy run can help you stay loose, Harwick says. “Easy” is relative and depends on the runner. If this is your first race and you’ve kept your mileage low during training, you may want to run just two or three miles.
Choose your last supper wisely. “Carbo-loading” is a term you’ve probably heard more than once in the running world. While there’s truth behind the concept, there’s also a tendency to go overboard. “I think the night before a competition, runners should choose a diet that they’re already very comfortable with,” Harwick says. If you don’t usually eat meat, for instance, the night before a race isn’t the time to be carnivorous. You can step up the carbs some, but if you don’t typically dine on pasta, don’t force yourself to scarf down a bowl. It’ll only give you a stomach ache.
Know the course. If you can run the course in the days or weeks before the race, great. If not, get a course map online or contact a race director. Ask if the course will have mile or kilometer markers and if aid and water stations will be available and how far apart they’ll be. Familiarizing yourself with the terrain, especially hills, will help you pace yourself during the race.
On race day
Eat a breakfast of champions. “People typically err in one of two directions: They either eat too much and wind up with stomach problems during the race, or they’re afraid they’re going to have stomach problems so they don’t eat anything at all and don’t have enough energy,” says Harwick. He recommends a banana and half a bagel as a good pre-race meal — if those are foods you’re used to. And of course, drink water to stay hydrated.
Have fun. Make having fun your ultimate goal. You can set physical goals, too, like finishing in a certain time or limiting the amount of walking you do, but if you’re not having fun, these goals won’t be as satisfying and will be harder to achieve.
Cool down. After you cross the finish line, grab some water and catch your breath for a few minutes, then head out for a 10 to 15 minute jog. As tempted as you are to just sit, cooling down will help prevent soreness. Your body will thank you later.
The day after
Go for a run. Similar to your cool-down run, running the next day will help keep your body loose. You can reward yourself with a day off the following day. For instance, if you race on a Sunday, go for a short run on Monday and then take Tuesday off.
And finally, congratulations! You set a goal, trained for it and achieved it. You should be proud, regardless of your finish time.