Katie Scott dissects the key tips and tricks you should be aware of when going the distance
I may not be an elite athlete, but I definitely have some experience when it comes to challenging myself physically, my go to for this usually an endurance, long distance running event, such as half marathon, interspersed with the occasional 10km or 15km depending on what races are out and about. The past year has seen my running calendar to be a little fuller than usual, with some really great events – my main ones being the Innovation Sport Clapham Common 15km where I won fastest female for that distance with one hour and nine minutes, as well as the scenic Maidenhead Half Marathon, where I gained a brand spanking new PB of one hour 35 minutes. Although pushing yourself on the day and having the base fitness levels in the first place are both undoubtedly important factors, much of your race day success also comes down to how prepared you are, and how you set yourself up for race day.
Here are my top five tips on how to prepare for a long distance event, whether you are lacing up your trainers for a sprint finish, clipping in your cleats to tackle the hills or donning your swimsuit for a water workout.
- Carbs are not the enemy:
Ok, carbohydrates get a seriously bad rep but when it comes to fuelling your workouts, they are actually super essential. Firstly, carbohydrates are used to create glycogen. Stored in the muscle cells and around the liver, glycogen is then used by your body to create energy – all important if you want to cross the finish line. Some athletes tend to ‘carb load’, eating starchy, complex carbs on the lead up to their event so that their muscles are fully stocked with glycogen. Me, I tend to eat plenty of pasta and lean protein – such as chicken – for my dinner the evening before the race. Everyone is different so you need to find out what works for you.
- Don’t try anything new:
When going long distance, practice makes perfect and I’m not just talking about your training plan. You don’t want to set out on race day only to start getting blisters from your new trainers on mile one, or for your smart phone armband to start slipping uncomfortably. For this style of event, it’s all about your old faithfulls and your tried and tested kit. Not only applying to clothing, I would also suggesting working out which energy products you may want to use on the day. With gels, sports drinks, tablets, chews and more now on the market, have a play and find what works best for your style.
- Put in the hours:
Long distance events are all about stamina and endurance and at the end of the day, there is only one way to improve this – simply keep going. You are going to have to set aside some hours where you go for long training runs, rides, etc. You need to get used to your body being active for that amount of time, and what it feels like to push past your pain barriers. Laying down this groundwork is essential, and once you have the baseline stamina there, then you can focus on going faster or improving your technique. Don’t forget to vary your mileage too.
- It’s a mental as much as physical event:
Yes, it’s your body that’s pounding away and getting exhausted, but once you hit that tired barrier, it’s all about your brain. Maintaining a strong mental willpower and drive to continue to the end is vital in any event. When I did the Maidenhead Half Marathon, I have never felt so exhausted in my entire life – it was my brain that kept me going for the entire second half of the race.
- Get organised:
Preparing the night before your event means more than just carb loading. First things first, you’ll need to pack your race gear. Sometimes you’ll be sent your race information, such as your race number and timing chip, in the post, on other occasions you’ll need to pick it up on the day at the venue. Either way, ensure you pack everything, for example, race number that has been filled out with contact details, safety pins, timing chip, registration information, maps to the venue, etc. I normally travel in my event clothing, with tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie thrown on top to save me carrying an excess of clothes. I normally bring deodorant for afterwards and I always bring a spare pair of trainer socks – no matter how gross you feel, clean, un-sweaty feet make all the difference in my mind. A small towel to mop up sweat after the race is a good idea too. Food wise, I overdose on bananas as well as raspberry Lucozade, which I carry around the race as my beverage of choice. I will always bring water as well though. All of this is packed in my bag the night before, along with usual essentials such as my purse, phone armband and oyster card if travelling by train. I also always lay out my clothes to save fumbling around. Get your head in the game as soon as your alarm goes off.