Getting to race day fit and ready to race is a hard task and a challenge to every athlete and coach. I would say as a coach those final 2 weeks before a race are the most stressful of an entire program, not so much in terms of the physical preparation and fitness its about all the little mistakes an athlete can make in those final days that can derail months of good consistent hard work and sacrifice.
It amazes me when athletes are in great shape yet report back to problems encountered on race day, cramping or bad back, nutritional issues or even mechanical issues. When we go through all the details something always comes up and it just shows how easily we are influenced and how we are easily drawn into others beliefs. A classic example is athletes complaining of a bad back yet never experienced in training then report to lowering front end as they saw pics in race magazine and everyone looked much lower than themselves therefore must be faster.
Peter Reid multiple time Hawaii champion even managed to make this rookie mistake at Challenge Roth – seeing the set up of the bikes of his competitors he changed to a behind the saddle water bottle before the race and had a little difficulty getting on his bike resulting in a few falls as he could not jump on his bike the way he had always done in training – it may look funny but could have resulted in a serious injury and ruined the event for Peter, luckily it did not effect Peter in this day.
Lets look at some regular mistakes athletes make in those final days or on the day itself and make sure you do not repeat these yourself and ruin all the work you have done to get race ready.
Hydration and cramping
This is one of the biggest issues I see and one of the biggest causes of mysterious race day cramping in athletes that never seem to experience cramps in training. Through media and the influence of sports drink manufactures we have been led to believe we need to hyper hydrate the day before a race and the morning of a race. At any event you will still see many athletes walking around with bottles and drinking every couple of minutes – you will normally see them standing outside the porta-loos flushing away all their body salts perfectly preparing them for major race day cramping.
Our bodies are very good at preserving salts but if you flood the body with huge amounts of water or even electrolyte drinks when its not needed you will leach body salts out of the muscle. If you want to increase salts and hydration it needs to be a long term gradual process during race week and make sure your taking the salts in during and immediately following any exercise which is when the body will be more likely to absorb.
If your easing off training before a race, your body needs less fluid and salts not more – think of it another way if you train 20 hours a week and suddenly drop to 8 your going to need a lot less food not a lot more – same goes with fluids.
Dead legs and sore feet
This is another common issue, athletes complaining of sore swollen feet the day before a race and a dead legged feeling on race day. This one is a very simple problem to solve, it comes from spending too much time on your feet the day/ days before the race cruising the expo and chatting with fellow athletes. Standing around allows all the blood to pool in your lower limbs and feet causing them to swell and become cramped and sore in shoes – not only are they sore but this excess blood and water retention leads to poorer muscle contractions on race day.
Try to save the expo and catch ups until after the race or meet in a cafe or for a meal where you can sit down. On the day before the race try to et as much done as possible on the morning and then get to your room and chill out watching a movie or reading a book with your legs elevated to a 45+ degree position to drain excess blood and fluid from the legs and have you feeling fresh and ready for race day. Its not a mystery as to where all the pro’s are the day before a race – they are not out training they are chilling out getting ready to battle!
This practice is great and has been shown time and time again to boost endurance performance BUT we can very easily get it wrong. Carbohydrate loading should be done in the 2 days prior to the race not just the day before with 1 big meal.
Our bodies absorb carbs into the muscle most effectively immediately following exercise and more so following intense exercise. Following this knowledge our pre race big carbohydrate meal should be immediately after a training session with a little bit of intensity. I would suggest a session like this late morning on the day before a race including a short period of around 10 minutes at race pace – during this session take on board an energy drink containing calories not a electrolyte drink and then as soon as possible after the session get a good carb heavy meal consumed. It amazes me how athletes tend to do a session like this and then eat a salad and consume a big carbohydrate meal later at night.
Eating a carb rich meal late at night will increase blood sugar and trigger a stress response without the exercise, it will not lead to storage in the muscle but more a feeling of anxiety and make it very hard to sleep.
My tip here is a big carbohydrate lunch immediately after your final pre race training session then a lighter evening meal and try to add in some medium chain triglycerides for enhanced endurance performance on race day – coconut milk and cream are a good choice here!!
To make the most of your fitness and enjoy performing to your best on race day make sure you do not make little mistakes right before the race that will destroy your day. Planning before the event so you know exactly what routine to go through in race week and the final preparations will make sure you stay on track and perform to your true potential.
Enjoy your fitness and get out there racing!!
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