So as we get ready for the first race of the Super Awesome Year of the 5K, we have to talk about prep. I have done 5Ks before, so this isn’t my first rodeo. That said, I’ve only done 3 (4 if you include a mud run). It’s not like getting up and rolling out of bed. No, it’s like getting up, rolling out of bed, milling around with a crowd of strangers, and then running 3.1 miles for a t-shirt.
My first 5K was a small affair, so it was low stress. My second one was a bit bigger, but it was on a route I knew, so not overly bad. The third was just obnoxious on many levels. It was in a place I’d never run before. There was WAY more people. The route wasn’t marked right, so everyone ran the wrong distance.
In short, I like to worry.
One of the ways to combat anxiety over a situation is to unravel it to understand what’s going on. My way of doing this was to (re)read race prep material.
It breaks down into a few different sections. You’ve got the prep that actually starts days before (excluding the whole, you know, running thing). Then you’ve got prep that discusses how to dress, which is more in-depth for cold-weather racing (we’re looking at 32F [0C] as the starting temp). And of course the actual running of the race.
So let’s take a look at all of this.
There are three big pieces of advice the show up.
1st is to relax. You cut down on your exercise so you’re body is rested. You also just need to take a chill pill
The gist of this is trying to get your mind right so you’re not keyed up and basically psyching yourself out. Think of it like test anxiety. You can do everything you’re supposed to, but if you aren’t mentally in it, it doesn’t mean jack.
2nd is getting enough sleep in the days leading up to the race. That’s right, I said days. Evidently, the night before doesn’t really matter. The days leading up to the race, however, are important. It makes sense. You’re body is built to overcome short-term hurdles, but long-term ones are problematic. Not getting enough rest one night is obnoxious, but if you do it several days in a row, you’re body will stage a coup.
3rd is carbs. This is one of those murky areas that a lot of people aren’t always on board with. If nothing else, you need to be eating easily digestible food so you’re not running on an upset stomach the next day.
Combatting the Cold: Frosty’s Revenge
The cold is an added hurdle I’m neither amused nor adequately prepared for. I have clothes, but I completely lack the willpower to run well in the cold. I don’t like running, much less when you throw in extra crap that I’m not really prepared for.
So first, let’s talk about the effects of the cold. You’re body reacts differently to the cold than it does in the warmth. In short, you burn more energy trying to stay warm, which adversely affects your ability to run as well as you normally would. So what’s happening? Relative to warmer temps, you’re body is doing a few things:
- Burns more carbs than fat,
- More oxygen is needed to maintain the same pace, leading to increased lactic acid build up, and
- Fast twitch fibers are being used more than slow twitch muscle fibers, which isn’t how a distance runner wants things to go.
Now all that said, this is going to be the one time I have the advantage over the skinny little twigs running with me. My body fat will finally make itself useful and keep me warmer. I hope they shiver like Chihuahuas.
So it’s cold and our bodies don’t like it. Now we’ve got to alter how we dress (or become polar bears; no one seems to mention this option). The big thing is layers. When in doubt add extra layers.
The worst case is that you get too warm in the run and you ditch material as you go.
These layers should be synthetic so it doesn’t trap whatever you sweat. You may also look into gloves and a hat if you’re feeling extra cool.
And lastly, warming up is different in the cold. It takes longer and you also don’t want to stop until the last minute because you’ll just get cold (and try to avoid sweating, ‘cause that’s just going to make you have to right back to the start).
Are We Done Yet?
So we’re relaxed, we’re dressed properly, and we’re warm. Now all we have to do is run 3.1 miles.
This might not be the easy part, but at least it’s straightforward.
Don’t drink too much right before. You need to be hydrated, but that’s in the hours leading up to the race, not the minutes. No one wants to slosh around, and no one wants to hear you sloshing around, so go easy on the drink.
The big thing as you’re running is to run your race. It’s easy to get excited by the race, by the crowd, by the hot chocolate waiting at the end, and then run so fast that your final time is slower than it should have been because you burned out.
If you have gadgets that tell you your pace, use them. If not, be mindful of how you’re running. It’s easy to get carried away. I’m a hypercompetitive person, so this is really the most difficult part for me. For a few hundred yards, I look like a champ, but I know I don’t have the conditioning to keep up a fast pace. I have to force myself to run a slower pace than I really want to.
That said, be within reason. I already know I’m going to have to alternate running and walking. It is what it is. I actually clipped out a 10-minute mile average my first 5K despite walking VERY large chunks of the route. I found it do hard to go slowly, so I trailed a runner who had a comfortable pace until my (lack of) conditioning finally caught up to me. After that initial stop, I was just walking until I caught my breath and running until it was no longer feasible. That’s probably what I’ll end up having to do for the 1st 5K. Hopefully, I can at least crack 35 minutes. That seems vaguely reasonable based on what I’ve been running when the zombies have been chasing me.
But who knows. Good or bad, the 1st 5K is happening. The point is to do it. That’s all that really matters. And then fatty can have his hot chocolate.