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Written By Dena Evans
Updated By Coach Hiruni 

Many of us set running goals that culminate in a large race event with thousands of people.  Even if you are not completing your goal race at the ING New York City Marathon (more than 45,000 starters) or the Zazzle Bay to Breakers (more than 50,000 starters in 2011), your race day experience will likely not resemble your typical “roll out of bed and head out the door” long run.  How do you manage to find your normal, confident, well-trained self in the midst of a completely abnormal situation?  Try these tricks for race day success.

Weeks or at least days before your race, take advantage of all the available information on the race website.  If your race requires transportation to the start or transportation from the finish, examine your options and discuss the best choices with any friends or family members meeting you.  Closely examine the course map, particularly if the race offers an elevation chart.  Knowing exactly when you can expect hills, and how often hydration, gel, porta potties, and other key items are offered can help ease your stress by eliminating some of the unknowns of a big race.

If you have a web confirmation of your entry, double check you have the correct corral or wave start time, and exactly what tasks you will need to accomplish at the expo (shoe chip confirmation, etc).  One of the key reasons to do this well before you race is to be able to contact the race organization in a relaxed way if you have any questions or discover any discrepancies.  Usually, the organization is scrambling on race weekend and is off site at the expo so get on it early.

One key way in which many large races will differ from your typical workout is the length of time you will be required to stand at the start and the amount of walking you may be required to do to get to the starting area.  Again, read through the race materials well in advance and have a sense of what this will entail.  If it worries you, remember that everyone who is racing will also go through the same process, and that all the racers in prior years made it the same way.

To help condition yourself for this and to remind yourself that you will be ok, practice by walking a half mile or a mile before starting a few of your long runs, and then walking that same distance home when you are done.  Plan to wear a last layer of clothing that you would be ok with discarding (pick from your Goodwill/ Salvation Army pile at home).  This will leave you with a bit more warmth in the wait at the start, and less of a dilemma than if you had worn your favorite and most expensive outerwear to the line.  A $3 plastic parka or a trash bag with head and arm holes punched through can also provide a cheap alternative to hold in a bit of warmth.  $1 drug store knit gloves (or multiple layers of the same) can also be handy.

Even the most experienced racers have the butterflies on race day.  Sometimes this means extra trips to the restroom, particularly if you are well-hydrated.  The amount of facilities available at a particular race can vary widely, and it is likely you will need to wait in line, sometimes for quite a while.  In addition to being very deliberate about using the facilities at the last comfortable and private location you will have before you head out, consider going right when you arrive at the staging area.  If there is a line, you will have allowed yourself time afterwards to grab a drink or sit and relax a bit, and you won’t be as stressed as if you have left it to the last minute and are now faced with a full bladder, a huge line, and 10 minutes until you need to be at the start.  A travel pack of baby wipes or Kleenex (accompanied by a small bottle of Purell) in your gear bag can also be invaluable in case improvisational measures are required, or if race management hasn’t managed to keep pace with the usage of toilet paper in the facilities available.

Finally, all of the machinations required to get tens of thousands of people in place to start a huge race require several hours of organizing the people involved.  You may need to leave hours before your race and rise at a very early hour.   It is worthwhile taking at least a time or two to get up earlier than normal before your run in the weeks leading up to the race to prepare yourself for what that will feel like on the big day.  It is difficult to suddenly go to sleep at 8pm on the night before, so don’t expect yourself to be able to get a perfect and luxurious night of sleep from an artificially early hour.  Instead, just do your best to have an evenly paced evening so your food is digested, your stress levels are low, and your body can wind down as quickly as it naturally can.

Many experienced athletes have different strategies for managing the above challenges.  2012 Olympic Marathon Trials Fourth Place finisher and our May 2011 Pro’s Perspective interviewee, Amy Hastings, reported that she plans by making Post-It note lists of all the things she will need to do on race morning between waking and beginning the race.  Others may have great ideas – if a particular issue continues to trouble you, don’t hesitate to reach out to your fellow runners or to us (write us on the Forum or tweet us at @focusnfly).  We’re athletes ourselves and have been there.  Now that you have done the hard work of training, we’d love to help you enjoy and excel on race day!



You wouldn’t know it by the strength of her British accent, but Rosie has been in the US for over 10 years. She arrived in Indianapolis to run track and cross country at Butler University. Since then she has progressed through the distances, from 1500 meters to the marathon.rosie_bio3

Rosie is fresh of the plane from her most recent race at the British Olympic Marathon Trials, where she placed third with a time of 2:31. Wowza! She loves all things science-based and enjoys putting her Sports Science Degree and running experience into practice.

 In addition to her coaching on Runcoach, she is a strength and mobility coach and today we asked her to share a few little tips, which may help in your next race build-up:

 Hips don’t lie~

Hip mobility is a huge focus area for runners, whether you are in a car, seated at a desk or watching TV at night, sitting with your knees and hips at 90 degrees can be a little tough on the body.

As runners, hip extension is paramount when opening the stride. However, the everyday seated position can lead to tight and shortened hip flexors which can decrease the length of our stride, costing us precious seconds over each mile and even leading to injuries.

 If you have the ability to sit on an exercise ball rather than a chair it will help to keep your hips mobile throughout the day, while activating and recruiting stabilizing core muscles.

Here are some of her favorite hip-opening stretches.
stretchs2

Another key area that we often neglect are the adductors. If we asked you to log how many steps we take in the forward motion compared to the lateral motion each day we'd wager that the majority of us only build in lateral movement when turning very tight corners.

 This is why our adductors can become weak and as a result, tight.

By adding a little focused work to strengthen these stabilizing muscles we can once again work towards decreasing injury risk.

Strength exercises for this exercise include clamshells, monster walks, and lateral steps with resistance bands.

One of her favorite stretches can be viewed below. The mountain backdrop certainly makes the stretch more enjoyable.

Hold each stretch for 1-2 minutes or move gently in and out of the stretch for mobility, avoid aggressively bouncing.

s3
Taking a few minutes each day to focus on the little things can pay dividends in the long run, no pun intended. Happy running.



Q:  After some of my long runs I completely crash for the rest of the day, and I can't afford to be down for the count - I have stuff to get done!  What can I do?

A:  Make sure you are leaving for your runs with a full tank - hydrated, and with 100-200 calories at least in the hour or two before you start.  Plan for and consume 4-8 oz of electrolyte replacement beverage every 2-3 miles (25-30 mins.) for long runs beyond an hour.  And, most importantly, replenish with carbohydrates as soon as possible after your run = 15-30 minutes max.  A banana, apple, orange, peanut butter sandwich, or energy bar with primarily carbs and some protein included are great choices to save in your car or keep ready at home for your return.  We know that in a depleted state your body will grab carbohydrates and convert them to working glycogen quickly.  So the post-run quick meal (100-200 kcal) within 30 minutes is key.  Miss this window and you'll be playing catch up the rest of the day!


Q:  What should I eat the night before a race?

A:  You should eat familiar foods at a normal dining hour.  The day before a race, incorporate plenty of carbs, but do not stuff yourself with two pounds of pasta.  Eat a moderate amount of a well balanced meal (pasta, chicken breast or bolognese sauce, salad, roll is one example) at dinner, and sip both water and sports drink throughout the day.  Steer clear of alcohol.

One mistake a lot of people at destination races make is to set out from the hotel for dinner at 7, head to a casual dining restaurant which is busy on weekends, wait 45 minutes or an hour for a table, and all of a sudden, start dinner at 9pm when the alarm clock is set for 5am.  Plan ahead and give your body time to assimilate the food and get ready to sleep! You and the line of people behind you at the porta-potties will be grateful.


Q:  How much should I drink during a marathon or half marathon?

A:  First of all, we recommend taking a drink to the start line and consuming 4-8 oz right before the gun goes off.  This is your first water stop.    Plan to consume 6-8 ounces of fluid every 2-3 miles or 25-30 minutes.  For bigger races with aid stations every mile or two, one good rule of thumb is to just take fluid every time (so you don't have to think about it).  A good strategy is to alternate sports drink and water.  Pinch the top between your thumb and fingers, and you can nurse it for a few more yards.  Most importantly, do not wait to consume fluids until you are "thirsty".  At that point, you are already playing catch-up.  Drink early, and when in doubt, choose the electrolyte replacement drink over water - then you'll get both the minerals and the H2O necessary for hydration.


Q: Everybody says I should try this (bar/ gel).  How do I know if it is right for me?

A:  Practice!  Your initial long runs serve as trial and error nutrition workouts.  Once you find your comfort zone with a particular drink, gel or bar include consumption in your longer and more rigorous workouts. Nutrition-wise, nothing you do on race day should be brand new territory.  We recommend consuming a gel packet (always with fluid) or similar amount of carbs through another source such as a banana every 45-60 minutes during a marathon or half marathon, which means you should also be doing this on your Big Kahuna long runs.  Keep in mind if you are following the earlier recommendation of energy drinks every 25-30 minutes you may not need the additional gel/bar/banana replacement.  Many utilize a combination of drinks, gels and food to provide quick available carbs within the race.  Everyone's body is different - make your refueling plan during workouts as deliberate as the other parts of your race preparation and you'll have one less unknown to worry about!



calendarLike the recipe of your favorite dish, your runcoach training plan combines many difference types of ingredients.  Each of these ingredients are important, even as some of them come in large quantities and some are just a pinch of salt on top of a mound of flour in the bowl.

 

Your runcoach pace chart provides a wide array of paces for various types of workouts prescribed on your individualized schedule,.  Your marathon, maintenance, 80% and half marathon paces are paces your body should be able to handle for long durations – paces at which your cardiovascular system can keep up with the oxygen demand of your muscles for extended periods of time.  Even though you may not be out of breath during this type of running, your muscles are building more extensive and efficient pathways for oxygen and energy delivery.  In addition, your mind is preparing for the lengthy race task ahead.  If you are using a heart rate monitor, this running is done somewhere in the range of 65-85% of your maximum.

 

While some “Pace Runs” on your schedule might be prescribed at slower paces, “threshold” running is designed to challenge you at a comfortably hard level.  This pace should be sustainable for a shorter period of time, say 20-25 minutes, but should not feel easy to continue much beyond that duration. It should also not feel hard after just a few minutes of running.  This area of pacing helps to challenge your body to become more efficient with handling a steadily accumulating blood lactate level (something you will have to do in races shorter than a half marathon).  Threshold workouts are ideally executed at about 88-92% of your maximum heart rate.

 

Crossing the “threshold” literally and figuratively, leads us to paces that can only be performed for shorter, more challenging periods of time.  Balancing intervals or repetitions with just enough rest or active recovery allows an athletes to spend a significant cumulative period of time at a quick pace and high heart rate, conditioning the body and mind to operate effectively and efficiently at that level of demand, which is ideally in the mid to high 90s of maximum heart rate percentage.  If one ran a series of 800m intervals at 4:00 with 90 seconds recovery, each successive interval would see the athlete’s heart rate shoot up more and more quickly within the 4:00, but ideally not so quickly that the athlete could not complete the interval at the prescribed pace.  This effect may result in the first couple intervals of a workout feeling slightly easier than anticipated, tempting the athlete to run faster than the prescribed paces.  While this may seem logical – to run harder initially and shoot the heart rate to the moon on the first interval – the workout is designed to create its effect by the end of the session.  What may seem like a comfortable pace on the first interval turns out to be a misguided assessment as the athlete slows down precipitously at the end or requires way more rest than assigned.

 

Some athletes may wonder why an 800m or 1500m pace might even be assigned to them as they train for a half or full marathon.  Although the bulk of an endurance race training schedule includes work preparing for the paces, energy efficiency, heart rate demand, and mental effort of the longer races, workouts prescribed with some quicker paces allow an athlete to work on running economy.  Workouts or even strides on your schedule at 800m or 1500m pace provide a valuable opportunity for athletes to challenge the fundamentals of their running stride, to teach their legs to have a bit more range of motion in the stride, to strengthen their feet to push off the ground more effectively, quickly, and with strength.  Although they may seem inconsequential in the larger picture, even small improvements in this area can result in large gains considering how many thousands of strides we take during the course of our general training.

 

While it is normal and natural to feel more at home with one type of workout over another, avoid the inclination to slough off the types of workouts that seem unfamiliar or not in your wheelhouse.  Each of the paces prescribed in your schedule has a purpose.  Commit to executing each workout with mindfulness and a sense of purpose.  This is your best chance of turning out a race day “dish” you’ll remember for years.



After all the time and effort you invested in training, you want your hard work to pay off on race day.  Here are 10 tips to keep in mind in the final days before the big day. runners

1. Hydrate. Dehydration can make even an “easy” pace feel harder. Consume plenty of water in the days before the race.  Sip fluids in small doses throughout the day to avoid stomach upset. 

2. Stick to familiar foods. Avoid the temptation at the expo to test out new sports foods and drinks. Stick to foods that have given you a boost during training without upsetting your stomach.  Avoid any new foods or ingredients to avoid GI distress.

3. Stick to the training plan. In the days before the race, it’s tempting to cram in extra mileage or intense workouts to propel yourself to a PR. That’s not a good idea.  You can’t boost your fitness at this point—you only risk injury.  Use the time to rest, run easy, and get plenty of shuteye. You want to feel springy and energetic, and ready to unleash all the strength, and speed you worked so hard to develop.

4. Don't diet...Some runners attempt to cut back on calories during the taper, as they cut back their miles. But in the days before the race, you want to be building up your stores of glycogen so that you can have them to burn during the race. If you’re training for a half-marathon or a marathon, aim to get 70% of your daily calories from carbs in the final three days of your race. If you try to restrict calories, you could end up at the starting line feeling depleted and fatigued.

5. ...But don't get carried away with carb-loading. Other runners use the race as an excuse to eat with abandon. That can lead to GI distress, a heavy-legged feeling at the starting line, and a race that's derailed by emergency pit stops.

6. Review the course. Review the race route and course elevation, or if you can, drive or run on stretches of the course. Take mental notes on where you’ll have to push and where you can cruise. Visualize yourself crossing the finish line feeling composed, strong, and exhilarated.

7. Gather your tried-and-trusted gear.  Resist the temptation to use or wear something new for the special occasion of race day.  A gear or clothing malfunction before or during the race can rock your focus and derail the day you’ve worked so hard to prepare for.  Plan to race in the shoes, apparel, gear, and gadgets that have been reliable in training.

8. Review your logistics.  What are your plans for picking up your race packet? How will you get to the race in the morning and get home afterwards? Where will you park? Make a plan for race weekend, write it down, and stick to it. Spending time to nail down these logistics will help relieve stress on free up energy you need to focus.

9. Reflect on your training. Add up all the miles you logged to train for this big event. Take note of all the times you pushed yourself out the door for a tough workout when you would have rather stayed in. Draw confidence from all that you accomplished on the way to the starting line. Take time to reflect on the major milestones you hit—say the first time you completed a mile, achieved a new personal best, or hit a pace that once felt impossible. Use those memories and that pride to fuel your confidence heading into race day.

10. Reset your goals.  Have a few time goals for the race. Consider how your training went,  how healthy you feel, and any niggling aches and tweaks you may have developed along the way. If work, life, illness or injury got in the way of training, save your original time goal for another day. And be sure to set process goals for the race, which aren’t tied to the numbers on the finish-line clock. You might aim to run up the hills you previously walked, or try to do a negative split—that is, finish the second half the race faster than the first half.

Good luck!

After you cross the finish line, be sure to tell us about your training and racing experience. Share your story here. 



Updated by Rosie Edwards.

This month, we touch on a question that comes up over and over with brand new and experienced runners alike.

Form Tip:  Arms

Q:  What should I do with my arms when I run?



App_logoUpdated by Rosie Edwards

“Just put one foot in front of the other! “  Seems easy enough, but how does your stride really work?  Understanding how you run can help you to understand what stresses and strengths your body has as it covers ground day after day.

 

Running is differentiated by the instant where both feet are concurrently airborne, as opposed to walking, which always includes one foot on the ground.  Some describe the running stride in two phases, support and swing, while others divide the stride into three stages[i] four stages[ii], two stages with multiple stages within these larger divisions[iii], five stages[iv], and more.

 

Regardless of how the stride is divided, many of the ways in which the stride is discussed cover similar ground.  Like the chicken and the egg, as the first one ends, the next one starts, although some have strong feelings regarding whether or not the stride should technically begin at toe-off or while the foot is in the air[v].  For our purposes, we’ll begin with the lead foot about to return to the ground, the hamstring and gluteus contracting and preparing to absorb the coming contact with the ground.  Watching an athlete running on a treadmill helps to more clearly visualize this aspect of the stride.  The leg anticipates pulling the body past the ground underneath and the large muscle groups on the back of the leg in particular help to initiate this pulling motion as the lead foot heads toward the ground.

 

Once the foot hits the ground, the body absorbs the initial contact (whether heel, midfoot, or forefoot), with a bending leg and a collapsing foot (pronation), as the muscles contract to control the joints and effect of the shock caused by gravitational forces[vi].  If bouncing on a trampoline, the trampoline can provide the absorption and return forces needed to propel oneself up again.  In other words, one can bounce on a trampoline with straight legs as the leg muscles aren’t required to contract and extend to return the body to the air.  On the solid ground, the legs must provide the absorption and propulsion.  This requires them to bend and give.

 

Next, the weight of the body travels forward in preparation for the toe-off from the forefoot.  This response is not unlike a rubber band or a spring.  The joints and ligaments of the foot flex and contract to allow transition from the initial landing point on the foot, to a point where the foot is absorbing maximum downward stress, to the toe-off where the hip flexor is extended and the opposite knee is flowing forward and up.

 

When the foot leaves the ground, it cycles underneath the body, and follows the knee forward and downward to ideally land underneath the body to efficiently recreate the cycle again.  As speed increases, the amount of time spent during this portion of the stride increases and the reciprocal percentage of the time during the stride spent on the ground decreases.  The dynamics of this portion of the stride vary widely, depending on hip flexor flexibility and strength, naturally occurring angles of the body, length of our legs relative to our overall height, and current speed.

 

As with all parts of the stride, each runner brings their own physiological idiosyncrasies to the table.  However, each of our strides, rather than a forgettable, automatic process not worth a second thought, is rather an amazing series of actions and reactions that we demand from our bodies thousands of times in a row in even one run.  There is debate about how much we can change our strides to resemble those of the Olympians on TV, or even the winner of last weekend’s 5K.  Each of us, however, have the opportunity to increase the chances we can continue to stride as our best version of ourselves, by being mindful to strengthening and balance exercises in our legs from foot to hip, and by seeking to increase flexibility and avoid prolonged muscle tightness.  Even if your stride isn’t perfect, these steps can help you resist and postpone fatigue, and stay healthy enough to continue training your legs to move you to the finish line as best they know how.



[i] Dugan, S. and Bhat, K. (2011). “Biomechanics and Analysis of Running Gait” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America http://demotu.org/pralados60/files/2011/05/DuganPMRCNA05running.pdf : p 612 Retrieved August 6, 2013

[ii] Parker, Ron. “ The Running Stride” http://www.trackandfieldcoach.ca/the%20running%20stride%20with%20photos.pdf Retrieved August 6, 2013

[iii] Phillips, Matt. “Introduction to Running Biomechanics”  http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/running-biomechanics/ Retrieved August 6, 2013

[iv] Barreau, Matthew. “The Five P’s of Running Form” http://www.brianmac.co.uk/runform.htm

 

[v] Novachek, Tom. (1997) “The Biomechanics of Running”  Gait and Posture, Vol. 7. http://www.elitetrack.com/article_files/biomechanicsofrunning.pdf p79-80 Retrieved August 7, 2013

[vi] Dugan and Bhat: p. 609



RunnerUpdated by Rosie Edwards

While we have many athletes who have been training with runcoach for years, we also love the constant influx of beginning runners or runners now tackling their first challenging goal race. 

On the blog, we talk about all sorts of topics, but we also have an extensive archive of short pieces detailing some of the most fundamental aspects of running.  So, whether you could use a quick refresher, or have been anxious to ask these questions but too shy to reach out, here is a sample of some tips we believe can help you reach your full potential!

 






Tips for running hills

 

What to do with your arms while running

 

How to breathe while running

 

How to choose the right shoe

 

What is a taper and how do I do it well

 

The art of hydration

 

Avoiding the post-run bonk

 

The mechanics of the running stride

 

Beyond these few topics, there are dozens of articles on our blog covering everything under the sun.  We have Q&As about almost every imaginable ache and pain with experienced practitioners, interviews with professional and world class athletes, and even a few profile of fellow runcoach athletes like yourself.  Check it out!



Updated by Rosie Edwards

While not everyone can be the running equivalent of a Tour de France champion, dancing on your pedals as you climb the Alps and the Pyrenees with the ease of a mountain goat, we all will encounter hills in our running, and probably all could use a periodic refresher on how to get the most out of our efforts on the ascents.

With the climb or descent looming ahead, how should you prepare to for the challenge ahead? Read on for a few simple cues....

1.  The basics of general good running form almost all still apply.  Keep your arms at 90 degrees (click here to review our column on What To Do With Your Arms) and keep your shoulders low (not hunched) and square to the direction you are heading.  Keep your hands relaxed and swinging through your "pockets", and maintain tall posture.

2.  Don't lean too far into the hill on the ups or too far back on the downs.  Try to maintain a slight lean forward (long lean from the ankle, not the waist) both up and down, just as you would on the flats.  Leaning too far forward on the uphill restricts the ability of your knees to drive and can compromise your ability to maximize your inhales if you are hunched over.  Stay tall, open up your chest, and give your legs and lungs room to work.  On the downhills, braking yourself by leaning backward puts unnecessary stress on your muscles and joints, and often squanders a chance to make up ground in a race.  A little forward lean, when not on an area with dangerous footing, can help get you a couple seconds closer to that PR, and leave you a bit less sore the day after.

3. Concentrate on cadence.  Resist the urge to overstride on the downhills, and do your best just to maintain your rhythm on the uphills. Yes, you will be going faster than the flats on the downhills and slower than the flats on the uphills if you maintain a similar rhythm and effort level, but you will also most likely arrive at the top of the hill without wasting a bunch of energy for little advancement, and keeping your stride landing underneath your body on the downhills instead of in front will minimize excess pounding.

4.  Don't spend a lot of time on the ground.  Keep your feet pushing off of the ground quickly, just as you would on the flat. For those used to heelstriking on the flats, hills can be a valuable tool to build foot and calf strength as you land more on your midfoot than you might normally.  On the uphills, it should almost feel like your feet are striking the ground behind you.  On the downhills try (as we have discussed), to let your feet land underneath you so you do not have to wait to let your body travel over the top before pushing off again.

5.  Look ahead.  Sure, it is tempting to look at your feet and make sure your legs are doing what we have just been talking about, but looking several steps ahead will help you anticipate any undulations in the hill ahead, any poor footing areas requiring caution, and will keep your posture tall (more air in the lungs!)  and your arms at the right angles.  

This fall, may you approach every hill with anticipation and crest the top with satisfaction! 

Have a suggestion for next month's Personal Best?  Email it to us at info@runcoach.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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