There’s no doubt we’re now in the peak of trail running, vertical hiking, outdoor distance and marathon running season in Hong Kong. Want to know how to prepare for greatness? Verne Maree chats to former professional tri-athlete Ben Pulham of Journey Fitness about the self-sabotage that runners tend to inflict on themselves.
You’ve done your training, you’ve tapered well and there’s a bounce in your step. The last thing you need now is to scupper yourself on race day, agrees Ben. According to him, race success often has little to do with a runner’s fitness, and more with race-day execution.
#1 Mistake: Starting too fast
This is the worst mistake, and the most common. Buoyed by the crowd and the music, most runners head out too fast. The main problem in a longer race – less so in the 10K – is that it quickly chews up your precious store of available carbs.
Only a tiny percentage of our available energy is in the carbs stored as glycogen in our muscles, explains Ben – about 2,000 calories, as opposed to more than 80,000 calories available as fat (enough to get you to KL). “This also stuffs up your nutritional strategy,” he adds, “because it’s impossible for you to replace those carbs as fast as you’re burning them.”
Well in advance of race day, decide on a doable pace; and then try to stick to it as evenly as possible throughout the race. This would give you an “even split”. Inexperienced runners tend to run a “positive split”, albeit by accident; elite runners will typically do a negative split (a slightly faster second half).
Some races provide official pacers, identified with bunches of balloons, to help runners maintain their goal pace. Can we always trust them to stick to the pace they’re displaying on their boards?
“Not in all the races,” admits Ben. “But we’ve been involved in coaching the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon pacers for the past few years, and I can assure you that they are phenomenal.”
He himself wrote their 16-week programme, which is implemented by a club called Running Department. They train over a 3K hamster loop that helps them internalise the pace they’ve been tasked with setting. “They use GPS, too,” he adds.
#2 Mistake: Forgetting to eat and drink
Feeling good and strong at the beginning doesn’t mean you can be lazy about the nutrition – water, beverages and carb-rich gels – you’d planned to take along the way. If so, you’ll pay for it down the road.
“For the 10K race,” says Ben, “water is enough. But as the race gets longer, calories become increasingly important.”
However, nutrition is very personal, he notes. “Though I can drink 100Plus at other times, I’ll throw it up if I try it during a run or a race.” So, you need to experiment during your training. You need to find out who the race partners are, and what they’ll be providing at the water stations.
#3 Mistake: Trying something new
Never wear new gear. Get it a least a few weeks before, and train in it. Run your shoes in properly before a race, or you’ll get blisters. And runners who decide on the spur of the moment to wear their brand-new race-day shorts or vest are setting themselves up for chafing and raw nipples – not fun!
It’s the same with nutrition. If you seldom eat pasta, gorging on a plate of spaghetti the night before is a bad idea. As for breakfast, eat what you would normally eat before a heavy training run.
#4 Mistake: Over-attachment to time goals
As soon as you set a time goal, says Ben, you set yourself up for failure. Even worse, as soon as you tell others your time goal, you start to do stupid things. You worry; maybe you rush your training in the effort to set paces and reach goals; you’re likely to become injured.
Say you set your mind on achieving a 50-minute 10K, or a four-hour marathon. But then it’s a windy day, or you’re not physiologically on top form that morning, or you get stuck in a bottleneck, or the course marking is not accurate. These things happen.
“I’ve seen people so sad and disappointed that they didn’t achieve their goal time, and that’s a great pity,” Ben feels. His message? Don’t worry about the outcome being “good” or “bad”. It is what it is.
Doing the process well – sticking to the training programme, and then executing your plan on race day – is all you can do. If you end up doing 4:05 instead of 4:00, it means you were physiologically incapable on that day and in those circumstances of hitting 4:00. But that’s not to say that in three months or six months or a year’s time, you won’t be capable of doing it.
“Control what you can control, let go of what you can’t, and the outcome will take care of itself. As long as you’ve done your best, you can’t be disappointed. Some of the races I’m most proud of are not necessarily the ones I’ve won, but where I know I gave my utmost.”
8 Top Race Day Tips
– Don’t over-train, and do taper properly.
– Do prepare your kit the night before the race.
– Don’t expect to sleep well; the previous night’s sleep is more important.
– Do know exactly how you’re getting to the start, and have a Plan B.
– Don’t try anything new: food, drinks or kit.
– Do get to the start in good time.
– Don’t start out too fast.
– Do be flexible and adjust your expectations if you’re slowed by the crowd or a toilet break.