Once you’ve entered taper for your race, there’s little more you can do to physically prepare. But, there is one more thing you can do to that may help you perform better on race day — dialing in your pre-race ritual.
Exactly what this ritual looks like depends on you. But, I’d generally describe a pre-race ritual as something designed to make your body happy, get your head in the right place, and buoy confidence. Think of the pre-race ritual as the final stage of your taper.
Properly executed, a pre-race ritual can help you better manage the fatigue, challenges, and opportunities a race presents. Outlined below are a few guidelines for constructing your pre-race ritual. Dial in your ritual and a great race may materialize.
Do what makes your body happy
In the 48 hours prior to a race, do whatever makes your body happy. For me, this typically includes a solid sports massage two days prior. It also likely includes a quality night of sleep two days prior.
While many like notching a few final miles via a shakeout run the day before a race, I’m a fan of a full day of rest prior to a maximal effort. But, this doesn’t mean I’m doing nothing.
24 hours out from toeing the line, I stretch liberally. I foam roll generously. I will likely take a leisurely Epsom salt bath or linger in a hot tub. All of this is designed to make my body comfortable, relaxed, and happy.
If my body is feeling comfortable, relaxed, and happy when I get to the starting line, the journey to the finish line will more than likely be a pleasant one. Do what makes your body happy in the days and hours leading up to your race and you’ll likely be happy with what unfolds on race day.
Dress the part
Whatever you plan on wearing, make sure it’s tried and true. Make sure it’s an outfit you’ve tested a few times. Ideally, the outfit should be appropriate for whatever kind of conditions are forecast for race day.
If you’re looking at hot and humid conditions, dress minimally. A light colored singlet that wicks away sweat and moisture, a pair of shorts, and a hat may be all you need. Bitterly cold and frigid conditions may require a couple layers, a skullcap, and a pair of gloves.
But, dressing the part isn’t just about functionality. It’s also about those special items that make you feel invincible. Your outfit should resonate for you.
If you have a pair of kicks that have a special place in your heart, lace them up. If a certain shirt makes you feel like a superhero, throw it on. The right outfit can help you perform better and get your head in the right space to conquer whatever lies ahead.
Rehearse your race
While it may not be possible to do a true dress rehearsal for your race, it’s still possible to rehearse. I typically pull up the race course map, description, and elevation chart. I’ll hone in on the parts of the race that look tough or challenging.
If I have the luxury, I’ll drive the entirety of the course and get a solid tour of what I’ve signed up for. It’s not the same as running the course, but it’s the next best thing. I’ll take a litany of mental snapshots of the spots where I might find myself challenged.
After I’ve completed my due diligence, it’s time to visualize. I switch off the lights in my bedroom. I sit down on my bed and close my eyes.
I see myself running confidently, economically, and on pace in the early miles. I visualize myself responding appropriately to whatever challenges the course may present. Then, I hone in on those last few miles to the finish line.
I visualize the fatigue. I see myself fighting through the fatigue and focusing on maintaining form. I battle through these final miles and spend whatever I have left as I surge towards the finish line.
This combination of studying the course and visualization always leads to positive things on race day. Whatever fatigue I visualized the day before is less intense than I thought it would be. I’m better equipped to deal with it.
Do some quality rehearsal and you’ll be well positioned for whatever your race throws at you.
Get your head in the right space
As race day approaches, I become a bit of a solitary creature. I tend to withdraw into my own little, race-centric world. It’s nothing personal.
I just like to quiet things down a bit. I spend time reflecting on the work I’ve done to get to the starting line. I reflect on what I’ve done to ready myself for what lies ahead.
I also use this period to get my head in the right space. Getting in the right headspace often includes watching some of my favorite flicks. These flicks usually involve an underdog overcoming ridiculous obstacles en route to a glorious victory.
This kind of narrative always lights my fire. Whether it’s true or not, I like thinking I’m an underdog. If Rocky Balboa can somehow find a way to go 15 rounds with Apollo Creed, surely I can find my way through whatever’s lined up on race day.
In addition to (over)indulging in flicks about hopelessly outgunned underdogs, I’ll dial up some of my fight songs throughout the day. Whatever tracks I play are those that have served me well. These tracks have gotten me through many miles, numerous runs, and a demanding training cycle.
Rounding things out, I indulge in my pre-race comfort foods (and drinks). This likely means snacking on salty pretzels and knocking back coconut water casually throughout the day. Regardless of whether or not this actually helps me on race morning, it makes me feel like I’m well fueled and well hydrated.
Whatever you do in those final few hours prior to your race, make it about you. Be a bit selfish. Do what you need to do to get into the right headspace.
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!