It’s the night before your race, and you’re sleepless. The more you think about needing sleep, the less you’re able to find that elusive land of nod. Don’t worry: it’s the sleep you’ve gotten over months of training that count, far more than the night before. Here are a few other pre-race pointers to ease the jitters and help you start the race off on the right foot (literally). I know from hard experience that the days before a race can make or break the actual event, even if it simply means starting with the right frame of mind.
Whether it is work, pets, volunteering–whatever occupies your time, everyone is very busy. It can be hard to prioritize getting organized days before an event. Having a lack of structure in the week leading up to your race can be tempting: you’re tapering, right? Your job is to hydrate, fuel well and get some extra rest. Sure, but setting aside some specific time to get ready before the race can be race-altering. Laying out your race-day clothes, charging your watch and looking over the race route can give you a boost of confidence as you gear up for your run.
Last-minute tip: Life throws wrenches into even the best-thought-out plans. If you’re a day out from a race and feeling like you’re scrambling, focus on two things: your race bib and your pre-race breakfast. Once those are in place, you will feel like you can tackle a little more (or get some much-needed sleep).
Don’t eat new things the week before a race
Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many athletes who suddenly veer from their regular pre-race meal, and pay the consequences. When in Edmonton for the Servus Marathon, my race crew/fan (Mom) took me out to the most fun-looking patio we could find for a pre-event supper. Instead of sticking to the usual rice, protein and easy-to-digest-vegetable bowl I usually consume before a race, I had a meal chock-full of things I’d never tried before. The next day, I felt less-than-fuelled and had to make many of those dreaded porta-potty stops along the race route. As any marathoner chasing a PB or trying to qualify for Boston or New York knows, one bathroom stop can derail your pace. On that day, I had to adjust to the fact that I wasn’t going to hit my goal and shift my aim to learning from the experience. (Though my slower pace meant I got to enjoy the views and smile at the other runners as they passed by.)
Last-minute tip: What to do if you made an error, ate something new and aren’t feeling great? Try to assess if it’s just nerves upsetting your stomach. It’s safe to take an antacid, if you’re comfortable with it, to help with indigestion. Make sure you have a gel or another simple carbohydrate (easy to digest) as a backup, if you aren’t feeling up to your usual breakfast. If the worst happens and you feel sick during your race, shift your mindset to: “what can I take away from this?”
Realize anxiety and excitement feel the same
If you’re feeling incredibly nervous the night before a race, know that you could be misinterpreting excitement. As neuroscientist Andrew Huberman explains in an interview for Inc.com: “fear and excitement are two very different emotions, but to our bodies, they’re identical.” Whether you’re thrilled to have the opportunity to run in your community or you’re terrified about the miles to come, “our brain automatically prepares you for whatever action is to come, by dialling up the activation of your autonomic nervous system. That means your heart pounds, your hands shake, and you feel jittery and sweaty. Whether you interpret these sensations as excitement or terror is entirely in your mind,” Huberman adds. Simply understanding that concept can help you reframe those last-minute worries.
The physiological sigh: two deep inhales through the nose (no exhale in between), followed by a full exhale to lungs empty (through the mouth) is the fastest way to reduce autonomic arousal — aka “calm down” & causes activation of neural circuits specifically for calming.
— Andrew D. Huberman, Ph.D. (@hubermanlab) April 2, 2022
Last-minute tip: Even if you feel like you can’t shake the anxiety, it can help to gain a handle on it. Huberman suggests a technique called the double breath. “Inhale through the nose. And then before you exhale, sneak in a little bit more air and then do a long exhale through the mouth,” he says. Do this one to three times, double-knot your laces, and you’re ready to roll.