Coach Mike Mead

Fine Tuning for the Big Race - June 2004

I recently received an e-mail message from a Run Georgia reader regarding rest and eating before a big race and thought that would make an excellent column for this month. I have discovered over the years that some hardcore runners have trouble getting adequate rest when they are preparing for a significant race they’re trying to run a good time or place high, whether it is overall or in their age group.

The common mistake regarding rest is some runners do not cut back or tamper their mileage and intensity of their training leading up to race day. Here at Clayton State, we cut our athletes back during the week leading up to the important races. We’ll cut the weekly mileage by as much as 40 percent, do one speed/interval session about four days before the race and factor in one or two rest days depending on the individual and the distance.

Regarding the speed/interval workout, we’ll work on short, fast stuff. Usually, we’ll do distances 400m or less at faster than 5K race pace. Depending on the intensity, we’ll also cut the recovery rest. An example of such a workout – say for a 6-minute pace, 37:17 10K – is 8 x 400m in 1:25 per 400m with one minute rest in between.

The remaining days leading up to the race, we’ll do light running, keeping the runs to about 30 minutes, and form drills. When I was a serious road racer, I’d like to take Thursday off before a Saturday race so that I did not feel stale and have Friday to shake things out, particularly if I had a significant distance to travel to the event. If you’re the type of runner who just cannot stand taking a day off, then do just a short, easy run of about 15 minutes as your “rest day”.

Most important, I made sure I got a little more sleep the last couple of days before the race. If my schedule allowed, I’d take afternoon naps. I always stress with my athletes about “the night before the night before.” That is, get a good night’s sleep (10-12 hours) two night’s before your big race. This way, if you get too keyed up the night before thinking too much about the race, you’ll have the adequate rest necessary to run well.

As far as eating, pasta has always been the big favorite as a pre-race meal for runners. Many runners over do “Carbo-loading”; though I’ll beat the latest “low-carbo” diets have curtailed some of this. Carbo-loading is helpful when racing distances from 15K on up, but for races 10K and below, boosting the carbs isn't as essential. When I ran my 10K PR many years ago, I had a McDonald's Big Mac around midnight before the 9 a.m. start the next morning. I don't advise doing this, but eat foods you know will not give you adverse effects.

I try to eat a good meal, but I avoid spicy foods and I don't eat anything new. I try to avoid eating anything five hours before a race. However, many times the morning of a race, I'll eat a banana two or three hours beforehand with no side effects. If you're going to "load up" on anything, make sure it's plenty of fluids! Avoid caffeine drinks for at least two days before the race to reduce the risks of dehydration, especially during hot weather racing.

So if you find that you’re stuck in a racing rut, maybe a little R&R the week before your next big race will do the trick. Good luck!