Tips to Enjoy Race Week & Race Weekend
Contributed by Erin Garvey, a 2017 Ambassador for The San Francisco Marathon.
After the seemingly endless number of runs you’ve posted, happy hours you’ve turned down, blisters you’ve popped, and sports gels and drinks you’ve made yourself consume “in the name of training,” at long last it is FINALLY race week!
When you’re in the thick of training for an endurance event like any of those offered as part of The San Francisco Marathon weekend, race week, or even the actual race, can seem like it’ll never come. It seems like it’s more of an abstract, nebulous idea instead of a real-life event that you’ve obviously been preparing for and are rearing to show up to, ready to rumble. Sometimes, it seems unrealistic to focus so wholeheartedly on training for a single event, like any of those during TSFM’s race weekend, for weeks and months on end. Ask any runner, veteran or novice, and chances are he/she can relate. Before you know it, though, BAM: it’s race week, and you’re chomping at the bits, probably wavering between despair and excitement.
By this point in your training, we runners like to say that ‘the hay is in the barn,’ that the hardest part of your training is behind you. You’re in the throes of your taper; you’ve eased off on your mileage and intensity in some combination that makes sense to you and your coach, given your training and your goals. and you’re preparing your mind and your body for the rigor of Race Day. It is equal parts exciting and terrifying.
Below, I’ll give you some quick tips that’ll hopefully help you ease your nerves a bit during race week and more importantly, during race weekend.
During Race Week:
Check the weather, but don’t freak out. Unless you’re traveling from afar to race (and thus, have to pack a lot/won’t have access to your entire running wardrobe), I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to begin checking the weather a week out from Race Day. The weather is *literally* one of the only things you can’t control about Race Day, and if you see sub-par weather in the forecast, you’re going to start freaking out, and needlessly. The forecast might change a thousand times; seriously, don’t let it get to you. Have a couple ideas in mind of what you’ll wear given the elements, but don’t obsess over it. You literally have no control over it. Adjust your goals if you need to, have some back-up plans, and just roll with it.
For the love of all things, get some sleep. Sleep is so important for everyone, but I’d argue it’s even more important if you’re an athlete training for an endurance event. When it’s race week, in particular, it’ll behoove you to get as much shut-eye as you can; you’ll want to do anything and everything in your power to show up on Race Day with fresh legs, a fresh body, and a fresh mind, ready to rumble and go after your goals. Even if it means getting into bed 20 minutes early each night, it’ll be worth it.
Fuel appropriately. You don’t need to start slamming pounds of carbs Monday night, but as Race Day approaches, consider incorporating more carbs into your diet and begin cutting back on fiber in the name of trying to prevent GI distress. Some people even swear by sacrificing caffeine in the weeks leading up to Race Day, with the thinking being that they’ll use it for the first time in a while on Race Day and get a stronger kick than they usually would. Whatever you do, remember that you’re running an endurance event on Sunday and that you want your reserves to be ready and full. Similarly, be sure to drink enough water during race week, and you may even want to consider sipping on sports drinks in the final few days pre-race to top off electrolyte stores.
Chill. Veg. Meditate. Race week’s not a good time to start a home renovation project. It may be tempting for you to transfer any pent-up energy or nerves you have into some fruitful and physical activity in the final days pre-race, but don’t. During race week, chill. Fulfill your regular obligations and responsibilities, of course, but don’t assume that this will be a great time to begin a new adult gymnastics class or a trapeze arts workshop or something similarly fun and active. Pick up a good book, listen to a podcast, watch a show (hell, watch many shows if you’d like), but don’t physically stress your body more than is absolutely necessary. Again: you want to go into race day feeling fresh. Steer clear of anything, particularly activities that are physically exhausting during race week (beyond your prescribed race week taper plan).
Race Weekend & Race Day:
Get to the expo early. TSFM’s Expo will be open on Friday and Saturday, and kinda like going to the airport, you may find that you’ll be better off – and more at ease – the earlier you go. Particularly if you like to meander through vendor booths and peruse sales, allow yourself enough time to do whatever window shopping or retail therapy that you see fit. Plus, if you go to the Expo early, you’ll be giving yourself even more time to put the finishing touches on your Race Day routine, and if you find that you need to buy something last minute (clothes, nutrition, whatever), you can always return.
Don’t expect to sleep well on Saturday night. It’s hard to sleep well before a big event, like a race, so don’t worry too much if you find that you’re tossing and turning on Saturday night more than you are sleeping deeply. In fact, plan for it, and try to maximize how much sleep you can get on Friday night. Plus, if you’re running the Full Marathon or the Ultra, you’ll be looking at what I affectionately call a “WTF?! o’clock” alarm on Sunday morning, so do what you can to get in bed, even if you’re not asleep, much earlier than usual on Saturday night.
You do you, friend! Don’t overthink it. When it comes to running, training, and racing, what works for your best friend or coach or some stranger on the internet whose blog you follow may or may not work for you. That’s cool. Don’t sweat it. Remember to do what works for you, from the way that you decide to pace your race, to the nutrition you consume mid-course, to whatever song and dance routine you do pre-race. You are an expert in you, my friend. Social media makes it super easy to compare and judge, but don’t let yourself get caught up in it. Legions of runners out there may indulge in plates of pasta before knocking out 13.1 or 26.2, but if pasta makes you gag, obviously don’t do it. If you swore by Taco Bell the night before all your long runs, and your LRs were fantastic, by all means, get on with your bad self. You’re an experiment of one. Do what you know works for you.
Right before your race begins, have a moment with yourself. Here’s the thing: we’re really f—–g lucky to be able to do this stuff. Revel in your accomplishment of getting to the starting line. As you’re standing there, asking yourself why you thought this was a good idea, chill out for a second. Smile. Look around and take in the enormity and diversity of the running community, a family to which you now belong, a home in which you’ll always have a place. The people around you at the starting line? They are your people. Not many people can conceptualize running the Ultra, Half, Full, or 5K, nor do they think they’d actually want to, but the sea of people surrounding you at the starting line do. They get it. They understand. For as nervous, or excited, as you may be feeling, take a moment to smile and just soak in the moment.
Note: I’m grinning like an idiot while I write this and am blinking furiously just to hold back tears. That pre-race moment is so special, and it gets me every time.
Give some high-fives, some fist-bumps, or go quickly hug a stranger; you’re not sweaty yet. Share and bask in the love of the running community. Get fired up to go run and conquer the wonderful streets and hills of San Francisco. You have arrived.