The Run United event, which consists of a 5K (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles), 10K (10 kilometers or 6.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles), and a kids fun run, is this weekend. Maybe you are among the people in our area have been training for that or another event. As the event approaches, there are still some things you can do to make it a success, whether that means completing your first race or trying to set a personal best.
This advice is more relevant for people who are doing longer races but is general enough that it can help everyone. Keep in mind that it also applies to any event that involves running, walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, or hiking. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.
You should cut back on your training in the week leading up to the event. This is called tapering, and it is helpful to promote recovery and reduce the risk of injury before the race. You should still stay active, but your training runs should be shorter and less intense during this time. And give yourself a rest day the day before the event.
What you eat before and during the race can also help you feel and perform better. You may have heard of carbohydrate loading, the practice of eating lots of carbohydrates before a race. This is important because it can help boost levels of muscle glycogen, an important fuel for exercise. Realistically, this process should involve more than a pasta dinner the night before the race and include a more carbohydrates for several days.
On race day, you should have something to eat and drink to make sure you are hydrated and to top off your carbohydrate stores. You should drink plenty of water leading up to the race, but not right before you start. You don’t want water sloshing around in your stomach while you run and should give yourself time to use the restroom, so you don’t need to go during the race.
If you chose to eat a small meal, it should be at least two hours before the race to make sure everything is digested and absorbed. Closer to race time, liquids are a better choice. The emphasis should be on carbohydrates, but realistically, most food will be fine.
What you do during the race mostly depends on the time you will be running and the weather conditions. If you are exercising for an hour or more, especially if it’s hot and humid, you will certainly need water and taking in some carbohydrates is a good idea. Aid stations along the race course will have water and a sports drink like Gatorade, but you may also want to bring your own gel or other carbohydrate supplement. For events lasting less than an hour, drinking water is a good idea and even though carbohydrates may not help you, there is no reason not to have some if you want.
Something to keep in mind: Race day, and probably the evening before, is not the time to try new foods, drinks, or supplements. You definitely don’t want to learn that something you ate disagrees with you before the start or, worse, while you are running. This includes your clothing, too. A new pair of shoes or clothing can rub you the wrong way, causing blisters or chafing that, at the very least, will make your run less enjoyable. Always try out your shoes, clothes, and anything you will eat or drink during the race ahead to time to avoid an unpleasant race day surprise.
The most important thing is to have fun! Participating in a race is a celebration of your dedicated training and a chance to be part of an active, healthy community. Crossing the finish line is always a thrill whether this is your first race or not. Plus, you’ll get a cool t-shirt!