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Breaking All the Race-Ready Rules

November 30, 2010

The day before my last race, I wasn't hurting as badly as this guy...but I was close.

As a freelance magazine writer, including being a contributing editor for Runner’s World like Dimity, I make my living doling out fitness and running advice. Yet based on my performance at the recent Philly half-marathon—a comfortable 1:57 finish–I’m thinking maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Here are five nuggets of advice I’ve written for the masses…then flouted in Philly.

Get a good night’s sleep. Especially two nights before the race. In 2004 I wrote an article about the critical role sleep plays in running performance, citing a study that found it’s especially important to snooze well two night’s before a race. Well, the joke was on me: After a lively dinner with two of my best friends—during which I consumed nearly a bottle of white wine—I had an epically bad night’s sleep, complete with a vivid, horrifying nightmare. Every time I awoke during the night—I lost count after about the 34th time—it felt as if a baby bear was hibernating in my mouth. Turns out it was only my puffy, furry tongue.

Take an easy jog the day before a race to shake out your legs. All the training plans I’ve ever followed—or espoused in articles—include a 2- or 3-mile trot the day before a race. When BFF-Courtenay and I dropped into our (spinning) bed on Friday night, we had the alarm set for 8 a.m. so we could run together. Ah, the best laid plans…we got up at 8:00, but were back in bed by 8:15, after I’d hurled and Court had swallowed a handful of Advils for her splitting headache. Instead of running, we spent our one free hour sleeping off our raging hangovers.

Hydrate well in the week leading up to a race, particularly the day before. Okay, so I started off Saturday with the Sahara in my mouth…and I barely made a dent in that desert for most of the day. There was no water to be found at the expo (tsk-tsk), so all I had was a 24-ounce Nalgene bottle that I’d spiked with a nuun tablet. No shocker, then, when I didn’t pee from 9:30 in the a.m. until 4:35 p.m. I tried my best to make up my drink-deficit that evening.

Don’t skimp on calories, especially carbohydrate ones, in the days before a race. I was go-go-GO the two days before the half-marathon, and something had to give. It ended up being food during the day. On Friday, the only food I ate until dinner was a Greek yogurt. On Saturday, my daylight consumption was a hard-boiled egg and some grapes.

Familiarize yourself with the course. Other than knowing we ran near the Liberty Bell, I had no clue about the half-marathon route. I’d heard talk of a hill at mile 9, but I didn’t know if it was steep, long, or both.

Like all magazine articles, a blog post should have a take-away message. I’m not sure what mine is for this one…other than perhaps do as I write, not as I do.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelly permalink
    November 30, 2010 6:34 am

    I was at the Marine Corps Marathon last year and there was no water to be found at that expo either. And because we were in D.C. for crying out loud I wanted to see at least one museum. So my party and trudged through the soaking wet Washington Mall with no water and they let me glimpse the original Stars and Stripes from the National Anthem. Then made me go back to the hotel. There was no running the day before but I PRed the race the next day.

  2. Jeana permalink
    November 30, 2010 6:49 am

    I ran the Shamrock 15k in Portland after a similar experience. To date it was the hardest race I have ever ever run.

  3. Jen B permalink
    November 30, 2010 9:17 am

    So funny. I ran the Seattle Marathon this weekend with a conscious training plan of “no-plan”. Earlier this fall I attempted to BQ in Victoria, and was obsessed with all the right steps in the months and weeks leading up to the race: strict diet, lots of sleep, lots of speed work, hill runs, strength training, blah-blah-blah. Did not finish the race!! In 15 marathons, that was a first. So I registered for Seattle, and other than a few long relaxed, enjoyable long training runs I did nothing. Ate heaps of chocolate daily, barely got my mid-week runs in, shopped for 6 hours in 3 malls the day before the race, etc….. Had a FAB run! Felt great, did not BQ, but that dream was left at 28k of the Victoria Marathon when I walked off the course. So the moral of the story….who knows!?!?

    • bowenshea permalink*
      November 30, 2010 10:11 am

      Love how you were able to turn bad Victoria experience into positive, relaxed Seattle marathon. (Yay for no rain on Sunday!) As I creep closer to age 45, I’m thinking a more relaxed approached to racing might suit me well on occasion. I’m certainly not throwing in the towel by any means, but it was a real delight to see how MUCH I enjoyed a race w/o trying to gun for a time goal or sweat out the pre-race details.

      Also, bonus of being dehydrated day before race: I didn’t have to pee from time I left hotel until after I returned. No urge to hit port-a-potty or duck behind a bush!!


  4. Marne permalink
    November 30, 2010 11:20 am

    The message I heard is that sometimes life intervenes and the best laid plans don’t get followed. And that we are all (even published authors) human and sometimes screw up. But we admit it, and move on.

    I THANK you for this post. Think of the comfort it will give your tribemates who may sometimes fall off the wagon…and get run over. We can still dust ourselves off and keep running. Mothers are bada$$ that way.

  5. November 30, 2010 12:38 pm

    yes, the lesson would be that sometimes doing everything right isn’t enough, and everything (or many things in this case) wrong proved to be more than enough. Thats life.

  6. G.Schultz permalink
    November 30, 2010 5:30 pm

    Why would you even stand on a starting line after all of this self-sabotage? It’s hard to understand your thinking. Or is it a way to explain away/rationalize a mediocre result? I’m perplexed.

    • Iliana permalink
      November 30, 2010 5:46 pm

      For fun? Not all of is enter a race to get a PR but for the experience.

    • KathyinMN permalink
      November 30, 2010 7:10 pm

      What an odd thing to say. I mean, why line up if you think its going to be bad? Or if you have no chance of winning? Why run at all? LOL-sometimes you just run anyway. Having limped through my last marathon to a 4:50, when lamenting to another runner about my time and the dumb luck of it all (getting runner’s knee at mile 3)-the response I got was geez, I ran one and couldn’t get a 4:50. Perspective. And looking back-lesson learned. And the main thing I learned? Why I run marathons. I may have not PR’d, but I found my love of running, something I’ve struggled with this year. And that’s why you stand at the starting line.

    • Carla O. permalink
      November 30, 2010 7:16 pm

      Wow…I don’t even want to tell you how long I take to complete a half marathon when I do follow all the rules if you think 1:57 is a mediocre result…

    • joanne godfrey permalink
      December 1, 2010 5:34 pm

      simple…life…life…life…real runners take in stride and let the little things not stand in their way…getting swept up in the moment reminds us that we are real and have a world that intertwines with our running…lessons learned…no one needs to be perfect each and every time they race and as you look back on those times, you smile and realize what an incredible individual you are by learning from it and the memories shared with someone special…life experiences mean much much more when it doesn’t always go your exact way…i wish you could have seen sarah’s face when she talked about the weekend – she lit up, smiled and knew, that depsite the no-no’s before the race, the entire time spent was worth it, with giggles and sighs to last you weeks…

      • bowenshea permalink*
        December 3, 2010 4:10 pm

        Thanks, gals, for coming to my defense. G. Shultz, I’m thinking maybe you didn’t read my race report so this post was out of context. I hadn’t trained specifically for this race–was doing it largely as a lark with my best friend from high school. I had THE.BEST.TIME on my weekend in Philly. Yes, not a PR by any means, but the half made me realize the joy of racing just for fun. “Giggles and sighs” as Joanne wrote.

  7. November 30, 2010 5:59 pm

    Yep, I really appreciate this too. I think we psych ourselves out by thinking that everything has to go just right, and the human body is just really amazing in that it can usually do so much more than we give it credit for!

  8. Carla O. permalink
    November 30, 2010 7:14 pm

    I am so glad I’m reading this today! I was trying to decide if I wanted to sign up for the Santa Run in Vegas on Saturday before doing the half marathon and this post reconfirmed that I should! People keep telling me I shouldn’t do it because I need to rest up, but I figure if I do a nice slow-paced run instead of an all-out run I will be fine. And what better run than one where there are thousands of Santas? 🙂

  9. Kathy permalink
    December 1, 2010 10:25 am

    Some races are run just to be out there, as a part of the group, not for the results. I think it is akin to the adage about enjoying the ride and not always focusing on the goal. If we get too caught up in the end result we miss out on all the joy that goes along with the experience!

  10. December 2, 2010 12:38 pm

    Sarah–I have to say, I love this! Every once in a while, it’s great to kick the rules to the curb and live in the moment. Well done!

    • bowenshea permalink*
      December 3, 2010 4:12 pm

      Thanks, Miss Zippy. It was fun flouting the rules…and seeing that my body could do a fairly decent job regardless. It was a kick. And the joy I felt during the race was some of the highest high I’ve felt in any race, ever. For no reason other than just being there and a part of it all.

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