It was the night before Oceans and all through the house…
One week to go, and it’s time to put into action all your plans, to reap the rewards of all your training, and to cash in on all your sacrifice and work.
But, it’s also important to get the last few days just right, so that you’re able to get to the start line “perfectly tuned”.
First things first, the key word in the final week is routine. You’re going to be tempted, bombarded even, by ideas and notions and suggestions from people who are often well-meaning, sometimes trying to sell you stuff, that will “guarantee you a great race”.
The key lesson, the golden rule, is that if you haven’t tried it before in training, don’t try it now. You’d be amazed how many people have disastrous races because they listen to a salesperson or even an experienced runner who is giving them advice that they then use, but just aren’t used to it, and it affects them horribly. Usually, this takes the form of something they eat or drink the night before, or during the race, but it’s equally true of socks, shoes, methods to prevent blisters, or chafing, or to sleep better. Just cut it all out – your mindset should be that it’s a week, just like any other, and stick to YOUR routines, not those of other people (no matter how many races they’ve done!).
Next, you’re going to have to wake up early, and perhaps that’s a challenge to you. The key there is to sleep really well on Wednesday and Thursday, and almost allow Friday to be a bad night. You’ll cope with that – the adrenaline helps – but what you don’t want is a bad week, and then a bad night, because it’ll create pressure and anxiety you don’t need.
Next, the day before. You’ll see in your programmes that I like to give you a run the day before the race. A lot of people will think that’s odd, that you should rest. I prefer to have you rest on Wednesday and Thursday, and then do something really light on Friday, only because my experience (with some physiological basis) is that running after rest days often leads to heavy legs, feeling sluggish. Whether it’s mental or physical, maybe neural, a run the day before “primes” you, so I think you’re usually better off getting your rest in early, and doing something light on Friday.
Then, the night before, a lot of people will carboload, eating more pasta than usual. That’s fine, provided they don’t eat so much that they feel full and bloated the next day, and very importantly, provided they don’t eat new things. We’ve all been there – try a new dish, it looks great, it’s recommended, go for it. Next day, your stomach will be running faster than you are!
So avoid new foods. Avoid rich foods, with the potential upset your stomach. Creamy pastas are a classic for this, as are seafood pastas (often a favourite, especially for visitors to Cape Town!). Avoid large amounts of alcohol (they are a diuretic, so you might end up starting slightly dehydrated the next morning).
Strictly speaking, you don’t actually need to carbo-load, because you’ll have so many opportunities on the route to fill up with energy. It’s like if you are driving from Joburg to Cape Town – you don’t actually have to fill the tank at the start, because you can stop for fuel every few hundred kilometers. So all you have to do is make sure you have enough to start with, and then be disciplined about replacing on the go.
But if you fancy a bit of carbo-loading, because it’s in your routine, then go for it. The race is meant to be social, after all! Just avoid, as I say, the temptation to over-indulge or try new things.
An early night? Not ideally, no, because what then tends to happen is that you go to bed not tired and then lie there beyond your normal bed time, feeling anxious. Normal bed time will do it. And what you can do, and something that helps mentally do, is spend the early evening preparing your race gear – numbers pinned on, shoes out, breakfast planned, energy provisions set aside, bag pack, car keys next to the back, three alarms set, and so on. Do this early, then have dinner or watch a movie, and relax. It’ll help get your mind right, but then allow you the time to switch off before bed too.
Ultimately, don’t overplay it. Just stick to routine, don’t deviate too much, and you’ll be fine!