Three weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of racing in front of my Seattle friends and support team. It was my first 3k, my first race on the track since the trials, and that meant, my first full pre-race in over six months.
The thought process that goes into pre-race is part logic, part superstition. As I gear up for the next one: the mile at the Millrose Games, this weekend, I wanted to share a bit of my routine. To show you what I do, perhaps be a source of ideas, and get any advice on good tricks!
1-2 Weeks out: Visualize.
In the shower, on a shakeout, lying in bed - some places where I do my prime daydreaming about a race. I never run through the whole thing. Rather, I focus on specific points: crossing the line, making a surge. And 'focus' is a bit misleading. I wander through the feelings, and relish the particularly strong ones - joy, grit, discovery of the next gear. I pull from specific moments in past races when I have experienced these things. This type of visualizing normally happens when my body is more relaxed (shakeouts or shorter jaunts). An exception is if I want to practice a certain skill. For example, I knew before the 3k that staying connected, especially after the mile, was something to work on. So in practice, I zoned in on the feeling of keeping form and allowing the runner in front to pull me along. That could then be an experience I incorporated into the dream race. (for bigger races, the visualization process starts much sooner)
Other athletes? - Thinking of specific competitors is something new to me. I used to use ignorance to my advantage. A "don't know, don't care" attitude toward other athletes. Now that I am immersing myself in track, that approach is not only harder, but perhaps not the most effective. I see how it can be a mental advantage, to have a person you really want to beat. But for me, it can also really increase the nerves, because it brings with it a gravity to losing. Right now, my way of toeing the line, is making the race the goal, not the result. That way, I am striving for a great competition, where we push each other. It frees me from fear, and still enables me to think about specific people. For future races, I am interested to study some of the current and past greats, at how they hone a killer instinct. Because at one point, i.e championships, the result is all that matters. I certainly had this in college league meets, perhaps it just comes with experience and confidence.
3 Days before: Feel sick.
At one point in the week, I will feel off on a run. It's so common, a race without this is probably not an important one. I don't know if it's mental or physical. But my inkling is that it's simply the result of over-thinking. Every run is different, and that includes occasionally feeling a bit weaker, off to a slow start, like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, etc. My diagnosis? On race weeks, I just notice this fluctuation a bit more. My biggest growth is to observe this, and let it pass. Allow the doubts come in, and fade away (getting a little zen on this one). That ability comes from 1) knowing the pattern 2) having competed well through it before 3) trusting that even if there is truth to the observation, my strength and preparation is truer.
2 Days before: Final workout.
Our last workout is always the same. The consistency helps with nerves. It's easy, just enough to break a sweat, but nothing that will be too tiring. 5x400 at around 3k pace, and one 300 in spikes. The 300 is pretty snappy, providing a great confidence boost that the wheels are turning. Even though the workout is quick, we don't cute corners on the process. Warmup, stretch routine, dynamic exercises, form drills - we run through them all, with special purpose.
1 Day before: Chill!
The big thing on this day is to expend absolutely no nervous energy. I find that a good dinner with lots of laughs and maybe a glass of wine is a great way to keep relaxed. As for fuel, I stick to good, clean food. Fish is a go-to pre-race protein. Packed with goodness, unique enough that it signifies something special, yet not with the weight of digesting a steak. Also, an insane amount of hydrating. New addition: including a bottle of Nuun or Gatorade, for sipping along with my normal water. I used to cramp badly in races, and one possibility was I over-hydrating and flushing out the good electrolytes.
Day of: Ready, Set
Now, I don't mind that excited/nervous energy comes through in occasional shivers. An easy morning shakeout helps to dispel some of it (with some literal shakes - bouncing out any tension in my shoulders, arms). I end the two-mile jog with a few pick ups, to get the blood flowing. The routine before a later race is ingrained, so I have very little thinking or planning to do. I will get increasingly single-minded as the time approaches, and have learned it's best to ask little of myself at these moments. Stretch, shower, shave, eat, chat with coaches, rest (tv, maybe crossword), quick meditation, prep/pack, dance, leave, run, win. (or, that's the plan).