I heard one of my cross country runners back at the team tent yelping in pain after a race. As I approached the tent to assess the problem, my athlete was seated on the ground, spikes already taken off, inspecting his bare feet. The bottom of both feet were bleeding.
“I don’t know. I must have had blisters that popped or something.”
I noticed there weren’t any socks in the vicinity. “Where are your socks?”
“I didn’t wear any today.”
“Don’t you normally wear socks with your spikes?”
“Then why did you go without socks today?”
“Because a few the other guys don’t wear them, and they said it feels better.”
“So does THIS feel BETTER to you?”
This isn’t the first time one of my runners has changed something on race day. They sometimes get nervous and make rookie mistakes like this. Maybe they doubt themselves or their preparation, so they try something different. I often use these stories to prevent events like this from happening, but they sometimes still occur.
The warm-ups, stretches, and pretty much everything we do on a daily basis is routine on our cross country team. Over the years, these routines have become ingrained and second-nature. The boys have learned to appreciate that routines help you feel physically and mentally prepared on the big race day.
Make sure to keep the following consistent from what you do on your tempo runs or workouts to what you do on race day:
1. Warm-up routine
Do the same warm-up, whether it’s a certain distance, a certain amount of time, or specific drills. Your body is accustomed to warming up in a certain way, so allow yourself time to do the same warm-up routine on race day. My team always arrives at our meets at least an hour before race time. We want to ensure plenty of time to do the same warm-up, stretches, and drills that we do in practice before our meet. Not only is the body ready, doing the same warm-up routine will get you in a confident racing mindset.
Don’t try any new foods the day before or day of a race. Don’t think the extra protein in the Power Bar you’ve never tried before will give you the extra boost you need. I’ve had so many athletes feel nauseous and vomit right after (or even during) a race due to eating something different from what they are used to eating. If you want to try a new food, try it before a tempo run or workout, and see how it affects your performance. Better to have a yucky feeling during a workout than ruin a race due to a diet experiment. I practice this with my own races. I eat the same dinner (the tried-and-true pasta) and have the same breakfast smoothie before every half marathon I run. I also eat the same breakfast smoothie that I have on race day before my long tempo runs. My body is used to it. I also eat my Gu at the same mile mark in each race. If I want to try a different type of Gu, I test it out in a tempo run.
As I discussed earlier in the epic sock disaster, don’t change your gear (or lack of) the day of a race. Don’t save brand new clothing or shoes for race day. Wear your favorite socks, shirts, shorts, pants, hats, sports bras, and so forth. Wear gear that you have worn many times before. If you bought new racing flats for your next event, make sure to test them out. If you’ve never worn light-weight trainers or racing flats before, or you’ve switched brands, start with wearing them one or two days a week for shorter runs. If you notice that you don’t feel any aches and pains, especially from the knee down, try wearing them on a long run. The stabilizers in your lower leg and feet need to adapt to the lack of support. Don’t wait until race day to test them out. The first time I tried light-weight trainers, I wore them for an easy four-miler, and even then, my calves and feet felt sore afterward. I wore them one day and week until I didn’t have any soreness. Then I wore them for my longer runs on Sundays. Once I was able to wear them successfully for long runs, I knew I could wear them for my half marathons. Once I adapted to them, I loved them. Now I wear light-weight trainers all the time.
Don’t doubt yourself or doubt your training on race day. I’m not saying you can’t try new techniques. Just be smart about it. Use your tempo runs and workouts as trial runs for your races. I feel experimenting with different warm-ups, stretches, workouts, foods, shoes, is a way to improve and find ways to maximize what you can do. Variety can also keep your training fun and interesting.
But don’t try something new on race day. Talk to my runner with the bloody feet. He’ll tell you it’s a bad idea.