In anticipation of competing in the Foundation Clinic Mauao Half Marathon this weekend, I’ve been contemplating the ideal race plan. I’m taking this week’s event as a good opportunity to check my fitness levels and test out some different gear and nutrition strategies. We all have our own necessities and rituals when preparing for a race, so this has got me thinking about my particular routine and why I deem these practices to be essential. Being organised for a race is important to me so things go smoothly and I don’t get into an anxious state that may spoil my race. You’ll know when I’m stressed out because I go into this small realm of silence as it’s more socially acceptable than having a tanty. It’s best not to disturb me when I’m in this space.
The following is how my races typically play out, if we’re thinking of a long-distance event like a marathon. Is it normal? Is it unorthodox? Who knows but it works for me.
2.5 hours before starting gun: Down some breakfast, usually some Weetbix bircher muesli mush with yoghurt and fruit, plus some caffeinated tea so I’m buzzing all morning. Sometimes this is eaten cold in a Tupperware container if I have to travel a fair distance before the event, which sounds horribly unappetising but is not as bad as you’d think. Although when you’ve endured 3 years of student life, you’re not particularly fussy either.
1 hour before starting gun: pick up registration pack if I haven’t got it already. Scour through bag for vouchers and free food to savour once I finish the race. Flick through fliers and be inspired to do more running events later on in the year (these motivations are to be revised during the race, at the time which I begin to question the meaning of my life). Give any free stuff I don’t want to Mum and Dad, because I’m so generous.
30 minutes before starting gun: Have a small prerace snack to give myself some added energy for the race. Energy boosters may include dates, a piece of fruit, rice wafers, or a combination of these depending on how far I’m going or how much food my nervous tummy can take. Energy levels are further topped up by juice I’ve been sipping on all morning. Then I head out for a light warm up with some dynamic stretches and stride-outs. And about 4 toilet stops. Can never go to the bathroom too many times before a race (unless you’re going only seconds before you’re about to take off. Would not recommend having to sprint to the start line unless you like a really intense warm up).
5 minutes before starting gun: strip down into racing gear and throw clothes at pack mules – sorry, parents. Receive hugs and good luck wishes then weave way through crowds to somewhere near the front. But not the very front, not confident enough for that. Chat and laugh nervously with other competitors while waiting for the countdown. Try to keep the body loose by stretching and performing some limb-shaking movements resembling a dog shaking its leg after marking a tree. Remind myself of why I am doing this race and then question whether these reasons are logical.
Start: And we’re finally off! This is one of the best parts of the race when you become swept up by a wave of competition and excitement of running with lots of people who, like yourself, have gone through months of long hard training. Everyone is feeling a sense of relief and achievement that they’ve finally made it to this day. You feel fresh and are spurred on by the crowds so it’s hard to stop yourself running too fast. But when the spectator presence begins to dwindle everyone settles into their own pace and you find another random competitor whose pace matches yours and hang out together – if you can call an exhausting endurance event where you’re too breathless to make conversation, “hanging out”. Often you push one another along, inspiring the best running performance out of each other, which is one of the greatest yet understated cases of sporting comradery.
Half way through the race: I check whether my current time is at the right pace for the finishing time I want to achieve. If I’m ahead of schedule – feel awesome and continue with current pace. If I’m not quite going as fast as I would like, I try to push a little bit harder and remind myself that pain is only temporary, glory is forever.
3 quarters through race: legs aching, wind pipe burning, a stabbing stitch at my side – start to question my existence and why I decide these races are a good idea.
The home stretch: The realisation of what I have accomplished finally hits. Euphoria kicks in and the burden of breathlessness and sore limbs is lifted, causing my strides to become larger. I’m wearing something between a smile and a grimace on my face and I am reminded again how much I love to run.
The finish line: assume rag doll pose in attempt to catch breath. Then a hand appears from my peripheral visual field to say “well done” so I snap upright and return the compliment. Find family to sit down with and debrief. Chat excitedly about race I had previously disdained not too long ago. Down some refreshing sports drink (if available at the finishing line) or tepid bottled water (that has been sitting in my bag) then change into some warm clothing so I don’t become hypothermic by sitting in my own sweat. I paint a picture of pure elegance here don’t I?
20 minutes after race: what’s this pain in my tummy? HOLY COW I AM HUNGRY. I suddenly become a ravenously-consuming beast taking in energy bars, sandwiches, smoothies, ice cream, burgers, sushi or whatever else I can fit into my mouth, then slowly succumb to a satisfied food coma before prize giving or heading home.
And that’s basically a race in a nutshell for me. I feel the general storyline is similar for all runners, but the finer details derive from what we’ve been told to do or previous experiences where something worked for us. Sometimes things don’t always go to plan, or our plans aren’t as successful as we’d hoped for, and that’s totally ok. We have to take those times as a lesson on how to refine our practices and become better, faster, and stronger.