Establishing a routine before a race or big training run can be daunting without some preparation and thought ahead of time. After many years and races I have finally established pre-race rituals that give me the confidence I need going into a race. With the Backward Planning Process (BPP) you can toe the line feeling ready to go without forgetting the little things.
When I was attending the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course as a prerequisite to a promotion to Staff Sergeant in the Army I had to give a brief on the BPP. The Army has a methodology for everything and most times reading about it in a manual or presenting it on Powerpoint will put you to sleep. I was able to draw on personal experience gained from running marathons and ultras to help with my presentation. Essentially, the BPP starts by identifying when the event begins – let’s use 7 a.m. – and then identifying the task that needs to be completed just prior to the last task and so on until you reach the start of the plan. It goes like this:
7:00 a.m. – The race starts.
6:50 a.m. – Line up for last minute instructions, shoe-lace re-tying, find a good position, listen to the national anthem, turn my GPS watch on…
6:45 a.m. - One last chance to use the latrine.
6:40 a.m. – Leave after-gear bag, (Note: this is different than the drop bag), pre-packed with warm-ups and clothes to change into after the race, comfortable shoes, sandals, maybe baby wipes or a wet washcloth in a ziploc bag for cleaning up.
6:35 a.m. – Remove warm-ups and keep items you will need on the run; water bottles or hydration pack, gloves and/or hat, sunglasses, gels, e-caps, NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). Also, this is a good time to apply last minute body-lube in those places that need it.
6:20 a.m. – Warm-up; depending on the race you may not need to jog around beforehand. Shorter faster race efforts are enhanced by a 10-15 minute pre-race warm-up followed by 5 minutes of easy stretching. If it’s longer than a marathon you’re probably better off saving your energy.
6:10 a.m. – If the race offers to place drop bags for you then this is a good time to find where that is and drop them. The drop bag can contain a variety of items and is a subject in itself for another post but in essence the drop bag is primarily used for a change of clothing when the weather is unpredictable or expected to change. It’s a good place to pick up a jacket, flashlight, or extra water bottle. It’s also a good place to leave items you no longer need to carry and would like to see again.
6:00 a.m. – Arrive at the race and find a place to park. If you haven’t entered yet or still need to pick up your race packet and number then adjust this time to 15 minutes earlier: 5:45am.
5:30 a.m. – Let’s assume the race is a 20-minute drive from where you are staying and you already have your bib. Leave with 10-minutes to spare in case of detours or last minute necessities like stopping to use the restroom or grabbing a cup of coffee. Not only is coffee a great bowel mover but the slight stimulant of the caffeine helps focus the mind. Caffeine is also proven to release fatty acids into the bloodstream which is burned as energy before using glycogen stores in the early part of endurance events. Why do you think cyclists are always hanging out in coffee shops before their ride?
5:20 a.m. – Do a physical check and gather all of the items you want to take with you; drop bags, warm-ups, gear bag, water bottle, coffee, race number, keys, money, identification, phone, sunglasses. Shades are easy to forget when it is dark in the morning.
5:15 a.m. – Attach race number or timing chip and put gels, e-caps, NSAIDS in pockets where they fit best and are accessible. Also, grab a handful of toilet paper; you never know where this might come in hand; even porta-potties run out.
5:05 a.m.- Get dressed; all of your race clothing should have been identified last night and placed together in one spot in the corner of the room or on a chair. I like to Vaseline my toes before putting on my socks. I also use calf sleeves so it is a good idea to put those on before lubing the feet. Depending on past race experience you may want to use a couple of band-aids or medical tape for your nipples. Trust me, if you haven’t heard of this before then watch some of the runners later in a race and look for the fading red streaks on the front of their singlet. If you are lucky, chaffing won’t hurt too much until you are in the shower afterwards. Chaffing has caused many runners to DNF.
5:00 a.m. – Drink fluids; I like to have some form of electrolyte drink in the morning mixed with a tablespoon or two of Chia seeds. This is also a good time to ingest any vitamins or supplements that you choose to take. I like to take 400 mg of liqui-gel ibuprofen to offset any last minute aches and pains. I also take an electrolyte cap to pre-load my sodium intake especially if the weather is going to be hot and/or humid.
4:50 a.m. – This is a good time to brew some coffee, cook some instant oatmeal, eat a banana or bagel, eat an energy bar. You have 2 hours until the race. Unless you are running a 10K or shorter your body can use this extra bit of nutrition and will have plenty of time to digest before the run.
4:40 a.m. – Take a hot shower. You don’t have to use soap, just get your muscles warmed-up. I like to do the wall stretch while the hot water sprays onto my lower back, hamstrings, and calves.
4:35 a.m. – Alarm clock goes off and you have a couple of minutes to remember where you are and then stretch your body in bed like a cat. Brush your teeth.
There you have it, less than 2 and a half hours before race-time and you are guaranteed to be prepared. For some of you this might be overly-detailed and a bit OCD but it is tried and true. For me, the Backwards Planning Process kicks in when my alarm clock goes off but it is useful in many other areas of life as well. It would be helpful to do a little planning and preparing the night before by putting out race clothes and shoes, pinning your race number, preparing the coffeepot, filling water bottles and hydration pack, charging the GPS watch, just to name a few.
By the way, that Army course I gave the BPP brief in – I came out Honor Grad with the highest score in the class.
Happy and successful running to all of you!
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