You’re nearing the big race. You’ve trained for months for this one moment. Ultras aren’t like 5ks were you have another shot the next weekend if you have an off day. It’s only natural that you feel nervous, excited, or maybe even nauseous. This post will help you minimize the stress factors that accompany race day. You’re going to be keyed up, but if you follow this list and advice, it will be with excitement rather than worry.
Prepare to be prepared. ☺
Tip#1: Don’t Fight the Feelings
As I alluded to above, you’re going to be keyed up and excited. You might have trouble sleeping. The trick is to not fight it. Breathe. Everything is going to be fine. By race day there is nothing else you can do anyway. You’ve put in the time. You’ve earned this moment and you should enjoy it—jitters and all.
I have 4 kids that are under the age of 7. With our first child I thought the sleep deprivation was going to make me lose my mind. It didn’t (some may argue this point). You get by and you learn a very important lesson: losing a night’s sleep (or even several) isn’t going to kill you. Rest is an important part of your training regimen, but lots of people don’t sleep the night before a race. It’s not a big deal. The excitement of race day and the atmosphere will carry you through. Chillax yo (my English professors would shoot me for saying that).
Tip#2: Know thy Race
Study the maps. Know where the aid stations are. Study the elevation profile. Decide whether you are going to carry water/nutrition between stops. Plans change on race day, but you’ll feel better knowing the course and having a rough idea of the race you’re going to run.
Tip#3: Expect the Unexpected
This one may seem like fluff, but it’s not. The day isn’t going to be perfect. Don’t dread the rain, or the cold, or the heat. Embrace it. Everyone has to run the same race. Let go of factors you can’t control. View it as part of the challenge. Terrible weather and race day quirks make for great stories when you take them in stride. You are an ultra runner. By race day you’ll have run through some pretty gnarly conditions. You’re ready. Don’t worry. (noticing a theme yet?)
The “don’t worry” attitude I’ve pushed in the previous tips is something you earn. Do your homework. How are you getting to the race? Where are you going to park? Where are you going to park if that lot is full? I like to stay at a hotel within walking distance of the shuttle if there is one. That way I don’t have to worry about parking. Also, if the official shuttle is late, so is the race start. Then you know that they aren’t going to start without you. For me that offers a lot of peace of mind.
Tip#5: Gather Your Stuff
Do a check of all your gear the night before. Did you charge your GPS? Water bottles filled? I lay everything (clothes, socks, shoes, nutrition, money, whatever) out in one spot the evening before. DO NOT WAIT TILL RACE MORNING TO GATHER EVERYTHING. There is nothing worse than searching frantically for something you need last minute.
Call me crazy, but I like to set two alarms and at least one of them is out of arms reach. Sleeping in used to be my biggest fear on race day. I couldn’t imagine how sick to my stomach I’d be if I missed a race due oversleeping. Setting two alarms works for me and I sleep better for it. Almost always I wake before the alarms.
If you wake up excited at 4am and have trouble getting back to bed, just get up. Enjoy an unhurried morning. Eat breakfast. I love having that extra time just to take my time and savor the excitement of race day. It’s probably too late to get in another REM cycle anyway so just let it go. That extra hour of fitful sleep probably isn’t going to do you any good.
Tip#6: Pin and Tie the Day Before
This goes with the last one. I’m obsessive about getting my bib straight. I’m also somehow terrible at it. Leaving that till last minute doesn’t help my fine motor skills at all. Also those pesky timing chips all seem to be a little different. Men, I give you permission to read the directions on how to tie/attach them to yourself.
Tip#7: On Carbo-Loading
As my friend and legendary ultra runner Roy Pirrung says. “I carbo-load everyday!” If you’re an ultra runner you should have a steady diet of carbs as your mileage increases. Don’t do anything crazy or out of the norm for you in terms of food. Nutritionally approach each long run as you plan to on race day. You’ll learn what your body likes and then you won’t worry about what to eat the night before and morning of race day.
EAT BREAKFAST. Mine is pretty hearty. It usually consists of oatmeal with walnuts, two eggs, greek yogurt, and a banana. It hovers around 800 calories. This may require you to get up earlier to digest all that food, but I think it’s well worth it. You’re about to run an awfully long way. You need fuel and it’s going to get harder and harder to take it in as you run. Eat while you still can! Again, make it a weekly ritual with the long run.
The long run should be a dress rehearsal for your race. That way the race is just another day at the office; An electrifying, exhausting, emotionally gratifying, day at the office, filled with groaning, chafing, despair, and weeping with joy, filling your heart with a renewed sense of hope over the human spirit. You know, normal 9-5 stuff. 😉
Okay, I digressed on that point. I’ll sum up that last paragraph to say: On your training runs eat like you plan to eat race day. It’ll give you a chance to really dial in and fine-tune your nutrition. It’ll give you a huge boost in confidence knowing that your nutrition plan works.
Tip #8: Let it Go
Could you have trained more? Sure. Did you train too hard? Maybe. Does it matter? No. Not on race day. Live in the moment. There’s nothing you can change at this point. Let it go.
I saved this one for last because it’s the most important. It’s also the one that you’re most likely to dismiss as fluff, but don’t. If you don’t actually enjoy the experience of racing, then don’t do it. If it makes you upset with yourself and fills you with regret every time and you keep doing it, that’s insane. Pure and simple. Utterly foolish. Take up knitting. Resist the urge to make it speed knitting. ☺ Life is too short to always be mad at yourself.
Hope this list helps. Now get out there and chase down your dream!