Lunch and Dinner.
The foods that you eat the day before the race are the foods that your gastrointestinal system will be using in the morning. So, you should avoid having an evening meal that is loaded with fiber and protein. Instead, consume an easily digested dinner that is comprised of a carbohydrate like sweet potato, yam or quinoa, an iron-rich dark leafy green or cruciferous vegetables like steamed spinach or broccoli, and if you’d like, a moderate amount of a basic protein, like a small piece of baked salmon.
For me, lunch the day before the race is the meal to focus on. Although “carb-loading” is a very different thing from what we think it is (huge piles of pasta the night before the race is not carb-loading) having your bigger meal earlier in the day means that you have more time for it to… ahem… leave your system before the race. Nuff said?
Race morning meal?
Ok honestly, if you don’t like the idea of waking up way too early to eat breakfast, you really don’t need to eat anything at all for a race this short – as long as you had a decent dinner the night before. If you get hungry while you are on the way to the start line, eat half a banana (or something similar) 10-15 minutes before the event starts and you’ll be fine.
If you don’t mind getting up super dooper early, time your breakfast to be eaten at least 2 hours (better yet 3) before the race starts. Breakfast doesn’t need to be fancy – simple carbohydrates (like leftovers from the night before) are perfect. For example, you can simply have a small pile of salted sweet potato or yam, which is easy to digest and won’t cause any stomach issues during your run. Or a banana and some almond butter. Also, include about 20-25 ounces of water, and then, between breakfast and the time the race starts, try to consume another 20-25 ounces of water.
Warm-up and warm-up well.
The perfect warm-up should include about 5-10 minutes of easy aerobic jogging, 2-4 hard 30 second efforts that get you breathing hard, and finally, a series of arm swings and leg swings in all directions as you wait for the event to begin. My friend Rick demonstrates some good drills in this YouTube video.
Getting a good warm-up will allow you to begin the run at a better pace, and perhaps even avoid the notorious side stitch. Plus, it can be cold at the start line of these races, and this extra activity will help keep your muscles warm and supple.
Don’t start too fast.
For the first half of the race, push yourself to about a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale of effort. This means you will breathing deeply, but your legs will only have a slight burn. You should not be “sucking air” or getting rubbery legs. Focus on leg turnover (cadence) and taking many small steps rather than on big, loping strides. Also, remember to drive your arms (elbows) back and then let them swing forward. Especially when you are near the end and need that extra boost! You will often hear me yelling “go to your arms” at the finish of a race.
And on that note – Finish Hard.
For the second half of the race, start building to your “maximum sustainable pace.” Do this by maintaining that quick leg turnover (high cadence), but begin to extend your stride length and push off the ground harder.
It can be helpful, to break the race up into smaller goals and if this is your first 5K or 10K. For example, in a 10k you can break it into 4k, 3k, 3k and pace it like this: 4k zone 3, 3k zone 4, 3k as hard as you can maintain.
Also, to ensure that you are able to maintain the more intense pace at the end, you can take a 30-60 second brisk walk break at the 4K mark and 7K mark. Just walk long enough to get some air and lower your heart rate don’t lose your momentum.
Fuel and water.
Although your body has adequate energy stores (muscle glycogen) to last 90 minutes to two hours, and you don’t absolutely need to eat or drink anything during a 5k or 10k race, it can give you a mental confidence boost to have a small somethin’ to consume at the halfway point. If there are aid stations, you can also take small sips of water at each one. Again, this isn’t really necessary unless you’re starting the race dehydrated… which is unlikely.