Many congratulations for signing up for your first race of the season! Deciding to participate in a long distance run – 3K, 5K, 10K, 21.097K, 42.195K or thereabouts, is no mean feat! It’s a great way to break free from same old – same old, up your ante and talk yourself out of comfort zone.
As the nip will start to set in in Delhi, race season is fast approaching. Early mornings when I drive around town to drop my children to school for their football practice before heading off to work, I see walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists hit the roads, pavements, and parks with focus and purpose!
Running, when done the right way with the right technique (adequate nutrition, hydration, consistent practice, warm up, cool down, due regard for rest and recovery) is good not just for our heart health but also bone health. Running is a very natural mindful human activity. We are all born to run. All we need is a pair of shoes and the world is our stage (or track)!
With the upcoming race season, I thought of putting together a laundry list of odds and ends that you could bear in mind so that you can have a fabulous race – this season and many more to come!
So here it is:
1. Weeks Prior to Race Day, remember to:
1.1 Have a consistent running regime – Subject to your strength, stamina and time, you could plan to run three-four times a week. Start with a nice warm up (like a 1K brisk walk) and then once you are nicely warmed up, start to run small, careful strides. Up your ante gradually week after week. Remember to cool down with mild stretches or yoga. Warm up and cool down are absolutely non – negotiable even if that means shaving some time off your run time. For one, it avoids injury and second, it aids recovery. Don’t forget to make room for rest and recovery and cross train.
1.2 Nutrition – Treat yourself with well – balanced homemade meals comprising of carbohydrates (roti, pasta, rice), proteins (eggs, legumes, lean chicken, fish), vitamins and minerals (seasonal fruits and vegetables), and fat. Remember the lessons you learned in Class III EVS – we need carbs to give us energy, proteins to help our body build and repair, vitamins and minerals to build immunity and strength and so on. So every section of the food pyramid is integral.
1.3 Enable your body to enable you – Fuel, rest, adequate hydration (water, fresh home juices; not store bought – they have zero nutrition and empty sugar) and sleep are key to a consistent and injury free practice. These enable you to run at your optimum level plus address the post-race fatigue and soreness. Carbo-load for energy.
2.The Evening Prior to Race Day:
2.1 Lay out all the things that you need to carry with you, the night prior – This includes your running attire, your BIB (very important – No BIB, No Entry, No Race), safety pins to secure the bib, pair of shoes, socks, watch, phone, charger, pedometer, banana, energy drink (ORS etc.), petroleum jelly (to avoid chafing) and whatever else in the world you need or want to carry with you. Do carry only the bare necessities. Lockers are provided at the venue, but it’s an effort negotiating in and out of crowded baggage counters. Water will be provided at the many hydration stations along the race route, so no need to worry about that.
2.2 Carbo Load – Have a good carbohydrate – dense meal but don’t stuff yourself silly. Sleep on time the night prior because the next morning (i.e., race day) will be a rather early start due to the insanely early reporting times. Long distance races, like the half marathon and marathons, get flagged off as early as 5 or 5:30 AM because the race organizers must free the roads for city traffic to resume by 11 AM or so. 5 K and 10 Ks are normally flagged off by 6:30 or 7 AM.
2.3 Set your alarm to wake up with some time margin in hand so that you are not rushing or scrambling or worse still, scowling early in the morning pacing against time.
3. On Race Day:
3.1 On your big day, wake up on time, drink two glasses of nice room temperature or lukewarm water to kick-start your metabolism. Have a nice shower. It’s great for your nervous system too, makes you stay alert and focused during the race and the race feels akin to embarking on a pilgrimage.
3.2 Apply petroleum jelly between your toes and skin folds and wherever you think you might chafe or the skin will rub against your skin and irritate you. Chafing can be annoying, so it is best-addressed upfront.
3.3 Have a banana or a bagel with peanut butter or a small helping of any nutrient – dense sandwich or snack you fancy.
3.4 If you are planning to drive to the race venue, be sure about the location of the parking spot etc. Else, call your cab on time, and don’t lose your patience if one driver acts funny in the morning or decides to do a no-show. Don’t get livid. It’s OK. Just stay calm, rebook and don’t let this trivial point mar your race day experience. Remind yourself it’s your Special Day today.
4. At the Race Venue and Whilst Racing:
4.1 Reach the race venue with some time in hand and help yourself with another small banana if you feel like.
4.2 Secure your BIB on your T-shirt with safety pins. The bib must be visible. Don’t cover it with a jacket. There will be time recording machines near the mats at every milestone. Always be mindful of stepping on the mat. As you cross it, the machine stationed there will read your time from the timing chip located behind your BIB.
4.3 Warm Up. Normally there is a warm-up routine such as Zumba or aerobics organized by the race organizers. Use it to warm up but please do not get carried away or tire yourself by attending all the sessions. Remember – you are here to run, not to attend a one-hour Zumba session, so go easy and conserve your energy for the race ahead.
4.4 Watch out for the organizers making an announcement regarding the start of the race. Be aware of the locations of the washrooms or portaloos at the venue and use it to empty your bladder before reporting to the start line. Expect a last minute queue at portaloo, so keep time in hand for that rather than pacing against time. Report to the start line.
4.5 Don’t bother about pushing and nudging people to stand first in the start line. Your race and Your time will start from the time YOU will first set foot on the timing mat which is placed at the start point and which you will cross to start your race. So don’t worry. Even if you are the last man standing in the race line up, you’re good.
4.6 Just as the race starts, start slow and consistent. Remind yourself you are participating in a long run which is about endurance and Not just speed. This is not a 100-meter sprint. Don’t burn yourself out in the first few miles by going really fast or trying to wave at everyone on the roadside. Conserve your energy and use it efficiently throughout the distance, so that you do not hit the proverbial wall and have a fulfilling race from start to finish.
4.7 Remember, this is a race in which you compete only with Yourself! You are here to better your (own) best. All along the race course, your mind will indulge in a series of conflicts and arguments – one part will say Go, Go Go! and the then there will be a part of you which will discourage you, slow you down, pull you back, make you curse yourself for this tomfoolery you opted for and even make you swear that you will never to do this madness again! But don’t worry. And don’t give up. This is a very normal phenomenon and nothing but the ‘bad’ chemicals and neurotransmitters – adrenalin and cortisol at work! Just ask them to shut up and keep running, stay focused, do positive self – talk, keep going, absorb the energy of race day, watch the others around you and then after about 15 – 20 minutes or so, the ‘good’ neurotransmitters – serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins will start to activate and take precedence over the evil ones (adrenalin and cortisol). You will feel nicely warmed up and start to feel really proud of yourself and after a while, you will feel like you are walking in the clouds. The experience will be sensational! Enjoy this journey and keep smiling all along! Don’t frown. Don’t clench your teeth. Correct your posture – if the face is frowning – “unfrown” it; if shoulders seem tense – relax them; if you are hunching a bit – go nice and easy and straighten up; “untense” every muscle in your body. It improves your Face Value and sends messages to your brain that this is the time to rejoice and thank God, not sulk and crib!
4.8 Keep a steady stride and pace. Run tall. Never mind people crossing you. Don’t let that hurt your ego. Don’t start a race with them. You will tire yourself and burn out sooner than you think. Look ahead and focus on the route and remind yourself to enjoy this journey which is as beautiful as the destination (finish line). If someone’s playing loud music as they run, try not to criticize. In fact, use the beats to get your groove and pace.
4.9 Whilst racing, keep checking your body from head to toe –Check your face – Am I smiling or frowning and pouting? Ok Smiling. Good. How are my feet doing? They’re good. Cool. Are my knees in a good space? Yes, they are. Good. Are my shoulders tensed and hunched? Yes, a bit. Ok, course correct the posture. Done. Good. Are my fists unclenched? Super. Run as if you are holding a fragile potato wafer in each hand. Take nice deep breaths. You are running along the beautiful tree-lined scenic stretches with minimal or no traffic. Take advantage of that and inhale god quality oxygen nice and deep. The oxygen intake will energize your cells and molecules and charge you with a new vitality. As you exhale, watch all the doubts and fears getting expelled from your body along with the carbon dioxide, leaving you with a blissful sensation. Enjoy that bliss. Back to mental body scans – are my forehead and eyebrows clenched? Oops..yes they are! Unclench them right away. Good. Take another deep breath. Exhale deeper. Smile and feel proud of yourself! Keep going. Check your breathing again. Inhale through your nose and mouth (VO2 Max). Exhale fully. Repeat. Check that runner’s cool neon strap bandage! Oh wow… that guy who just passed me is running bare feet! Wow…seriously? Thank God I have mine on. My shoes make me feel like I am running on mattresses. I am in a good place!
4.10 As you go about your run, remind yourself you are running a whole 3K, 5K or 10K or 21K or 42 K for fun! How super cool is that?! How many people in this world can afford to do that – run a long distance for fun, despite having a reasonably healthy body?! Feel blessed that you are! If there are aches or pains or discomfort, assess them and listen to your body. If your body signals you to stop or go slow, listen to it (but make sure your body is not fooling you with this excuse). Discern between discomfort and pain.
4.11 Pick up a small bottle or cup at the hydration station – sip it bit by bit as you run along. Don’t empty the whole bottle in one big gulp, else you will start to fill up your bladder early on. There will be several hydration stations and volunteers handing out water and energy drinks along the way, so don’t load up and just go easy on them. Treat yourself with a glucose biscuit or an orange flake smeared with salt (to replenish your body salts) or a slice of banana offered by the volunteers. Thank the volunteers as you run along. Remember, they have woken up at an ungodly hour and are on their feet since, just to make your race day a success! Acknowledge the fact and express your gratitude to them with a winning smile or a thumbs up.
4.12 Remember not to litter along the route. Use the dustbins provided, because no, it’s NOT OK to litter on race day!
4.13 Towards the very end of your race, you could contemplate a walk-run policy if you must. Remember, whatever you do – run, walk, drag, crawl, cry, scream, yell, crawl again – but you must not be a DNF (Did Not Finish). You HAVE to finish your race and accomplish what you are here for this morning….not for anyone else but for YOURSELF! So just get your act together and do it! Make your intent happen!
4.14 Once you reach the finish line, Rejoice! Thank God, thank your body and all your well-wishers. Take nice deep breaths (inhale deep, exhale fully – when you inhale, let the oxygen and energy reach out to every cell in you and as you exhale, expel all the exhaustion and doubt along with it. You will feel sensational and relaxed. Get away from the finish line to make way for other finishers and cool down with some gentle deep stretches. Consider a few yoga postures (vajrasan, upward dog, down dog, bird – dog pose, cat-cow pose, bow pose, plough pose). They help ground you and cool you down and will address the subsequent issue of DOMS. You could take a sip of water and meditate for 5-10 minutes, just to check in and take stock of your mind-body-spirit. A short meditation stint and stillness after an hour or more of running rhythmically feels like the perfect yin-yang!
4.15 After you cool down, grab a drink, queue up for your Finisher’s Medal and enjoy your well – deserved hot breakfast served by the organizers. An attitude of gratitude will overwhelm you. Enjoy it. You will have a blissful day ahead as all the good hormones continue their job and leave you with a heightened sense of bliss, accomplishment, and serenity! You will realize that have just rediscovered yourself and the untapped energy that you never knew existed within you! Feel proud of it!
4.16 Once you reach home, try to go about your everyday routine to the largest extent possible. In other words, try not to give in to the temptation to plonk on that couch all day doing nothing. Staying active post-race helps in two ways – when we stay active, there’s blood flow. This blood flow to all organs, including the sore ones, expedites healing, rather than when we become sedentary. This aids recovery and heals DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness which is a very common phenomenon in long races).
Namaste and you have a great fulfilling run! It’s great for your mind body and spirit.
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About the Author
Namrata Singh is a corporate lawyer by profession based in Delhi and a mother of two footballers aged 9 and 12. She is absolutely fascinated with understanding how stress works on the brain. Namrata runs marathons and practices contemplative practices like yoga and meditation, which she strongly believes has the power of dramatically altering an individual’s entire paradigm with its subtle but significant approach. Namrata can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image Credits: pixabay.com