As a whole, athletes are a superstitious bunch, and runners are no exception. Watch a runner as she stands at the starting line—stretch the neck to the left, then right; check the watch three times; double knot the laces, undo them, and double knot them again; a quick glance to the sky, wiggle the toes, and off she goes!
I have my own superstitious (compulsive) quirks during a race, but I also have a laundry list of routines and strange behaviors in the weeks leading up to the race for a solid mental workout. Many of the techniques I am employing for my marathon this Saturday I will also use in August as I (hopefully) prepare for the Ridge Run.
Keep Calm and Carry On
With less than three months until the Bridger Ridge Run, I have been training both physically and mentally for a grueling day in the mountains. Between hill sprints and early-morning yoga sessions, I try to fit in some meditative "race day visualization." I doubt that meditating is going to improve my race time or prevent injury, but it does help ease nerves and provide some much needed motivation.
This week as I prepare to compete in the Fargo Marathon as a training run, (I never imagined myself using a marathon as a training run… yuck.) I try to visualize myself at the starting line of the Ridge Run at Fairy Lake. I try to imagine the other people bumping shoulders, the quiet but excited energy, the deep breaths and slow exhales, the image of my toes finding their starting place on the dusty trail. I try and pace my breathing as I meditate, imagining each foot hitting the trail, the trees thinning as I begin the switchbacks up to the top of Sacajawea Peak. I picture what my arms will be doing as I scramble along scree fields, balancing left to right, up and down, praying I don’t trip and fall off the side of a cliff.
One Week to Go...
In the days leading up to your big athletic debut, be kind to your body. I try to end my long runs more than a week before race day, but I schedule some light jogs and long walks so my legs don't forget what they've been trained to do.
Drink lots of water in the days leading up to your race—carry a full water bottle around with you throughout the day. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like nuts and avocados. Don't change your diet drastically right before a race, but be conscious of increasing healthy food and decreasing sodium and fake foods. That means dumping the box of chimichangas in your freezer and opting for a bean and veggie burrito.
Most importantly, de-stress. We can't cut out the deadlines, nagging co-workers, or unpaid bills, (did I really need that boxed vinyl set of Paula Abdul?) but we can all take a moment to concentrate on our breathing and focus on our successes. Grab that book you've been meaning to read and head out to the front porch, hike to the top of Triple Tree with a picnic, and watch the dog run around the mountains.
The Night Before
Know well in advance what you're going to eat so you're not stuck at your friend's BBQ with a bowl of baked beans. Think ahead and ask yourself: will my body react well to this tomorrow? Some people can't handle meat or dairy the night before a race, some may avoid alcohol, while others may require a glass of wine to relax. With the marathon on Saturday morning, my dinner plans for Friday include a nice bowl of quinoa, brown rice, and veggies. Sounds boring, but it provides me with some healthy protein and is easy on my stomach.
Make a checklist for the next day that includes things like lip balm, athletic tape, sunglasses, even shoes and socks. It sounds obvious, but who hasn't forgotten something "obvious" like ski boots or the climbing rope when out on an excursion? I know I have.
Get a good night’s rest and try and avoid distractions before bed like television, loud music, or annoying significant others.
Some people are used to flying out of bed, grabbing their coffee, and jetting out the door, but not me. I need to wake up slowly with plenty of time to eat, digest, and take a trip to the loo—because no one wants to stop at mile five for a 15-minute break in the port-a-potty. On the morning of the race, do a little yoga or light stretching, and pump yourself full of positive thoughts as you get ready. Eat a light but substantial breakfast such as a bagel with peanut butter or a smoothie.
Go through your checklist, stay calm, and know that this is your race. You know what to do, you've trained for this, and you're as ready as you're going to be. Stay positive and try and avoid my bad habit of letting violent scenes run rampant through your mind such as images of monsoon rains, monstrous hail, tripping on shoelaces and landing on a pile of glass, flaming meteors soaring towards the race route, and all of the other obvious and likely obstacles at races.