Ready, Set, Let’s Race!

Even though I’ve run many races and marathons, I still get keyed up the week beforehand. A few things I’ve learned that keep it sane and make it fun:

It’s Not About How Fast Or How Long You Run

There are all sorts of factors that make some runners faster, some slower, and give people runners more endurance than others. I’m 6″2″ and over 200 pounds, and the fact is, I’m just not built to run. But I run anyway. Once you’ve had some experience and accepted that you’re not going to be top dog, it actually becomes more fun. You don’t have to worry about it and you can just enjoy yourself. It’s not about competing with other people, it’s about topping yourself.

Be Well Prepared

Here’s what I do for the last few days before a race.

  • Drink plenty of water. Most people don’t drink enough water on a daily basis, but don’t drink too much right before the race. If you do excreting out electrolytes.
  • Eat plenty of fiber. You don’t want to carry extra weight.
  • Eat breakfast early. You don’t want to skip breakfast and run on an empty stomach. If you eat too close to the race it’s traumatic for the gut because the organs are deprived of normal blood flow.
  • Eat protein for breakfast. Protein digests slowly so the energy lasts longer, and it works to spare the muscles from being torn down too quickly.
  • My breakfast of choice: two pieces of whole wheat toast with almond or peanut butter and jelly. It’s nature’s own power bar.
  • Don’t slam a glass of juice. It’ll spark you, but the energy won’t last and you’ll crash.
  • Include some caffeine. Caffeine is glycogen sparing; it slows the breakdown of carbs.
  • Carry energy gels. They have caffeine as well as carbs.

Take It Easy

Before I’d ever run a race myself, I used to watch races and wonder, why are these people running in the middle of the pack? Well now I know they’re the smart ones. They’re listening to their bodies.

No matter whether this is your first race or you’re a veteran runner, start from where you are and set a reasonable goal for yourself. Deciding “my goal is to run it in under 3 1/2 hours” is just setting yourself up. If you injure yourself, it’s not good physically or mentally, and who wants to get depressed? So don’t push yourself and appreciate what you can do.

And by the way, if you’re reading this and you’re ill or injured and can’t run this weekend, try not to get too discouraged. There are always races to enter. Use this time to reflect on everything you’ve already accomplished. Even if you were training for your first race, at least you took the initiative and made some positive behavioral changes.

Life’s a marathon, so do you want a short-term “win”? Or do you want to have longevity? That’s the real win.

Brian Soo is a senior physical therapist at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center who works inpatient, outpatient, and in sports medicine.  A recreational runner for many years, Brian also bicycles, plays racquetball, and most importantly, paddles on a 20-person Dragon Boat team that competes internationally and practices three times a week. He also enjoys active video games and believes they can be an excellent complement to an overall fitness regime.