Now that the nice weather is here, all of the race weekends are upon us. It seems that each year, there are new ones that are being added to the already long list of options. Runners can choose to do marathons, half-marathons or those beginning can do 10 km, 5 km and even some 1 or 2 km races. There are also the beloved obstacle races, made most popular by the Spartan race, which there are three levels: Sprint, Super and Beast. Or you may choose from a growing list of other obstacle races, including this past weekend’s Mud Hero, or the Foamfest, Badass dash and too many others to list (over 70 different races each year!).
These are all great ways to motivate people to keep fit and exercise, as they promote that you do some form of training beforehand to prepare for the longer distances and build endurance. Some of them are set for all ages, so families can get out together and parents can be great fitness advocates and examples for their children. When you decide to participate in one or more of these events, keep in mind that, although the focus is a lot on having fun, all runs or races are a form of exercise and you should be prepared.
Here are a few tips and tricks that you should keep in mind before, during and after getting that medal.
Get ready and get set…
No matter what level of athlete you are, you should always prepare for a race. Even the most seasoned marathon runners will ensure that they are ready for 5 or 10 km runs or races. If you are not someone who exercises often, you should consider beginning training a couple of months beforehand. This will allow you to build up the stamina needed without overstraining the body too quickly.
You will want to start with a shorter distance and take your time when first beginning. Remember: you are training for a race, not racing right now. Push yourself, but within reason and not too hard—you don’t want to injure yourself during your training and then be unable to participate race day!
Even if you are more active or are a seasoned “racer”, it is still important to take a couple of weeks to get yourself ready—especially if you are mixing it up a bit and trying something new. After all, you may be excellent at road running, but trail running or hills may be more challenging for you!
Always warm up beforehand, not only for the race itself, but also for your training. Do some dynamic stretches to warm up and loosen your muscles up. Get your heart rate elevated a bit. Don’t forget to breathe either! A few slow, deep breaths before starting is a great to help to relax the body before the fun begins.
Fuel your body!
Don’t forget proper nourishment. Running on empty will not get your vehicle very far and it would be the same for you. Make sure you eat something before your race, but beware: unlike a car, you don’t want to fill up completely before going out. A heavy stomach can make you very nauseous quickly.
Have something small and avoid too many liquids (like soup), because there is nothing worse than running with a gurgling stomach. As for what to eat, since everyone is different, use your training time to see what works best for you. Some athletes enjoy eating a few dates before their run, as they are a nice natural sugar boost that gives energy. But if you need a bit more, than try a small protein shake. Make sure that you eat at least 20 minutes or more before your race to give your body a chance to start to digest.
H20 on the go!
Keep hydrated! Not only will staying hydrated help your running performance, but also there is nothing more dangerous than becoming dehydrated during a race. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea (even vomiting in severe cases), headaches, muscle cramping.
As a general rule, you should drink about 8-16 ounces 1 hour before your race (stop drinking 1 hour before the race to avoid having to make pit stops). During the race, try to drink 4-8 ounces of (NOT cold!) water for every 20 minutes.
Why not cold? Cold water can actually be hard on the body. In order for your body to digest the water, it needs balance the temperature. If the water you are drinking is too cold, it can cause the sensation of chest compression as the body tries to warm it up. This will affect the lungs and your stamina. Room temperature water is highly recommended, as you can quickly consume it and use it.
… and Go!
You will want to push yourself, but remember to go at it at your own pace. Listening to your body is key to avoiding injury. If you feel the need to slow your pace due to muscle fatigue, stamina, or anything else then do it.
Set a reasonable goal for yourself and try to improve it with each subsequent race. Becoming number 1 doesn’t happen overnight!
The final stretch
So you completed the race, congratulations! Great work! Now you can relax, right? Not so fast: you need to cool down! Don’t forget to do your stretches!!!
Unfortunately, this is one thing that even a lot of the seasoned athletes will “forget” to do, but it is extremely important. You have just put your body and muscles through a lot more activity than they may be used to and so they need to be stretched out, cooled down and relaxed. Ignoring this step will leave you with stiff, sore muscles over the next day. You could have limited movement in some joints and just be all around tired.
There are multiple ways to cool down, and basic stretching techniques can found online or through any of the running stores. You can also use foam rollers on the various muscles and areas of the body. Walking for a while right after the run will also help to bring your heart rate back down at a good pace and also allow your breathing to level out.
When in pain, seek help!
Injuries can easily happen at races and obstacle courses. Ankle sprains, an awkward landing from obstacles, bad falls, overexertion… these are only some of the injuries that may occur.
A physiotherapist can help with some of the strains and sprains; there are a number of them who are well adept on working with athletes (both professional and weekend warriors).
You can also benefit in seeing your chiropractor after your race; some of those long drops can cause a subluxation that you may not notice but could cause issues further down the line.
And, even if you didn’t injure yourself, taking the time to see a registered massage therapist and getting those tired muscles worked on is one of the best feelings in the world!
So don’t forget when you are signing up for your race(s) this year to be prepared and plan it out from start (training) to finish (stretching) and in between: have fun, keep smiling throughout it and I’ll see you at the finish line!