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Kristina Pattison - 5 Do's & Don'ts of Race Week
After a year-long hiatus from races, American based runner Kristina Pattison gives a refresher on race week do's and don'ts
After nearly one year since her last Skyrunning race—the Rut 50km in Montana, USA, and about 15 months since my last international Skyrunning race—Transvulcania 75km in Canary Islands—I tried my hand at Tromsø Skyrace Hamperokken 60km in Norway.
Hamperokken was the most technically challenging race I’ve ever done—and the steepest—with 4800 m gain in 57 km. In other words, it wasn’t exactly a warm welcome back to racing.
Shocking as it felt, it was an extremely effective tool for reawakening the senses and startling the mind and body into remembering some solid common sense rules of race week:
Don’t run the course a few days before running the course.
Do casually scout out the finish and the start if you’re feeling nervous, but even if you’re scared of the course, try to avoid a four-hour excursion on the toughest part of the course in the days before the race. In the past I’ve had smart coaches who encourage their runners to rest, stay off the feet and remember that you’ve already put in the work. Don’t get sick. This seems like one you have no control over. But a nice bout of food poisoning or other sickness that leaves you unable to eat in the days before a race is probably going to leave you a little glycogen depleted.
Do eat familiar, basic foods, try to avoid restaurants, and bottled water if you’re traveling. No matter where you go in Europe the food is pretty similar and predictable at grocery stores, so planning to stay at a hotel with a kitchenette is smart choice. Remember to pack hand sanitizer and vitamins. Generally, your ability to store glycogen is ramped up high volumes of training so just eating simple, carbohydrate-rich foods without a lot of fiber in the last 48 hours before a race is enough prep to ensure a full gas tank come race day.
Don’t be a tourist. It’s hard to travel half way across the world and not plan to see some sights. Do keep your focus on recovery prior to the race and staying off the feet is a good way to save the legs for fresh running. Save the sights, and eating out for post-race celebrations!
Don’t stress (admittedly, easier said than done). Having to work the week of an international race is sometimes as unavoidable as late flights and lost luggage. But stress is as much a mindset as a product of circumstances. Do focusing on the breath if you feel cortisol levels creeping up. Counting inhalations is one way to wind down the sympathetic nervous system that wants desperately to fix all your problems with mega-doses of excitatory hormones. Sometimes even just focusing on some simple talisman that’s a reminder of home, or having a sequence of stretches can calm the senses.
Don’t skimp on sleep. Running half way across the world also means your body is running on a completely different circadian rhythm cycle. Your body can take weeks to adjust to a new sleep cycle, but there are some ways to help it along.
Do be diligent about getting on your new time zone as soon as you’re in travel mode. Bring an eye mask, ear plugs and something to help you sleep (like melatonin) to assist the new schedule. Research shows that exposure of any part of the body to light during the night will disrupt your ability to enter into deep sleep. You can close shades and stay out of the sun during night hours of your destination city during travel to help. Screen time also stimulates the brain, and has an excitatory and even addictive influence on our nervous system. Get into the habit of unplugging a few hours before bed, and during hours you would be sleeping at your race destination.
Everything rarely goes perfectly during races, let alone international ones. But some small tweaks to your race week prep routine can go a long way toward setting yourself up for success and getting you to the finish line, no matter how crazy the race course.