Runners' corner: Dealing with the pre-race nerves

Being prepared for competition is more than just training

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2006

With the Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay rapidly approaching its Sept. 7 starting date and October being a popular month for marathons, there are several things you can do to maximize all of the hard training you've done and avoid some of the unexpected pitfalls runners experience on race day.

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Practicing race day strategies and not trying anything new on race day can make your experience much more enjoyable.

Scoping out the terrain

If possible, get a look at the race course the day before the race.

The more you know about the hills, layout of the road and road surface, the better. If there is a major hill near the beginning, you will need to think about pacing yourself and not going out too hard at that point.

You may want to divide the course into three segments and memorize landmarks to remind you where you are.

Since pace is so important in a race, knowing how far you've gone and how much is left is a big advantage.

Another important advantage of having seen the course is that you can practice visualizing yourself in the race.

Picture yourself at the start, feeling relaxed, confident and strong. Follow along as you click off the miles, feeling energetic and calm. See yourself attack the hills and pass "road kill" on the way to an exciting finish where hundreds of people are cheering for you.

It may seem a bit far-fetched, but positive visualization does improve performance since so much of racing is mental, anyway.

Rest and refueling

It would be ideal to get plenty of sleep before race day, but that does not always happen, especially on the Klondike. I've read that it is more important to get good sleep a couple of days before the race so you can get by with less the night before.

If you're going to be sharing a room with snorers, bring ear plugs to increase your chances of sleeping at all.

What you eat the night before a race is pretty important, also. Try to have a normal, high-carbohydrate meal such as spaghetti, rather than trying a new dish at the Indian restaurant in town. Pasta, bread, potatoes, vegetables and fruit, rather than fatty foods, are good choices. Also, saving the partying for after the race makes for a better race-day performance.

The morning of the race it is important to have a good breakfast before you run, but you should allow yourself an hour or two for it to digest. Eating before running should be practiced ahead of time so that you know what your body likes.

Coffee has been found to enhance race performance, so go ahead and have it with breakfast. If you run out of time, or have an early morning leg to run, a simple bagel, piece of fruit and cup of coffee would be enough to ensure that you have enough fuel on board before you race.

Eating within 15 minutes after the race is a great idea, also, if you want to have energy to celebrate your victory. Your body will be happy if you refuel as soon as possible. A mix of carbohydrates and protein works well, such as a turkey or peanut butter sandwich.

Staying hydrated

Don't forget to drink some water the day before and the morning of the race. You want to step up to the starting line well-hydrated, but not over-hydrated, or else you will have to make unwanted pit stops. Drinking eight ounces of water an hour the morning of the race and four ounces or so every 15 minutes before you take off should do it.

It is also important to drink water during a long race, so either stop at the water station or carry your own. If you have a reliable team with good support, they can attend to your every wish along the road.

It does make a difference to use a high carb product such as GU or Gatorade if your race is longer than an hour, but be sure to practice with the sports drink and energy gels before race day.

Dress for success

The night before the race, organize what you are going to wear. This will prevent panic when you realize you did not bring any socks with you. It also eliminates one more thing to worry about on race day when nerves set in.

Pin your race bib number to your T-shirt, even if it is going to be under your jacket, which you may remove. Better yet, attach your number to your shorts and don't worry about what you will be wearing on top.

Tie your chip timer to your shoe laces if it is a chip-timed race. Get your running watch out as well as all of the layers you will need to keep warm waiting around until the race starts.

Please don't make the mistake of wearing brand new shoes or any running garments that you have never worn before. You run the risk of blisters, chafing and worse by trying something for the first time during a race.

It is not considered cool to race in the T-shirt that came in your race packet. Instead, wear a real running shirt that is made out of breathable, wicking material.

Butterflies are free, and normal

Allow yourself to be nervous and excited before the race begins. Having pre-race jitters and doubting yourself is normal and will go away as soon as you begin to run.

Warm-up slowly and stay warm for the best results. Don't start out too fast - the mistake most frequently made by new runners. Run the first two miles slower than your goal pace to save glycogen stores for later in the race.

And finally, enjoy the experience. It's only a race! Remember that pain is temporary, but pride is forever.

Oh, remember to set your alarm for a.m. instead of p.m. and you should do fine.

• Nancy Thomas is a past president of the Southeast Road Runner and former Juneau-Douglas High School track coach. She can be reached at

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