So, the hard work is done and the months of tedious graft have finally began to reach an ultimatum as competition day looms around the corner.
Whilst no improvements in your physicality can be addressed from this point, the final days of preparation can certainly give you that extra per cent, which could very well be the difference between first and second.
While you can’t advance your physicality in the short timeframe before race day, your build-up of form can be put to waste in these last few days through poor planning.
No matter what event you take part in, preparing yourself physically and mentally for the task in hand is a necessity if you want the best from yourself come competition day.
Here are a few tips to use in the days and hours leading up to your event:
Nutrition: As all athletes know very well, nutrition plays a key role in performance, and even more so in the build-up to a big competition. Up to a week before the big day, athletes can start preparing their bodies with something called carb loading.
In the first few days of the week athletes are encouraged to train without the intake of a lot of carbohydrates, in order to deplete the storage of Glycogen, focusing more on the intake of protein.
Then, with about three days to go, the athlete should lower the load of training and maximise the intake of carbohydrates, so that the glycogen stores have just the right amount to give you energy.
On the day of competition, athletes should have a meal about three hours before competition. If athletes eat any sooner then food may not digest properly, putting their performance at great risk.
Having a carbohydrate-based meal, such as rice, with a protein source, such as chicken, is a good way to meet your nutritional demands.
To add an extra energy source before competition, some athletes use energy gels around half an hour before the event. Make sure you build-up to this though, as they can cause sickness if the body is not used to it.
Sleep: Getting enough rest is crucial to athletic performance. In order to train and compete at the level you are capable of, you must respect the body by rewarding it with enough sleep.
Whilst researchers recommend a minimum of eight hours sleep, athletes should aim for 9-10 hours, in order to help the body repair the stress it regularly endures.
Even though getting enough sleep is not always possible, the week and days leading up to competition are the most important for sleep. If you are competing on the Saturday, for example, Thursday is always the pivotal night for an adequate sleep. The night before competition is often disrupted by anticipation of the following day, but athletes needn’t worry, as the benefits of rest from previous nights are already stored.
Relax: As athletes, our appetite for hard work can seem peculiar to the onlooker. In order to be a successful athlete, words such as dedication, determination and discipline are at the forefront of any competitor’s vocabulary.
However, in the week leading up to a competition, nobody needs to be a hero.
Athletes should remember that all the hard work has already been done, and the time between the big day should be used to taper down to give the body optimum recovery.
Whilst this may leave many athletes twiddling their thumbs, why not use this time to do the things you enjoy outside of athletics. This will help take the intensity out of the competition. It is also important that athletes do not dwell too much in the days leading up to the competition – this will only lead to over-thinking.
Slow jogs or necessary drills ensure that the body doesn’t feel sluggish, but be careful not to overdo it. Infact, Roger Bannister, who was the first man to ever run a sub-four minute mile, took a whole five days rest before his historical feat. So don’t be afraid to chill out – you’ve earned it!
Preperation: Even though you only have to worry about yourself in this sport, preparing for your competition is important. Little variables could go a long way to your overall performance.
It’s probably safe to say we have all been there: realising you don’t have enough pins to attach your race number five minutes before the start or forgetting to even collect your number at all!
Simple necessities such as checking your spikes are sharp will prevent a panic come race day, which could mentally knock you off balance. Preparing the night before will ensure that you can go to the event with a calm, assured attitude.
Stretch: Preparing your body for competition could be the difference between first and second on the day. As no improvements to your fitness can be made, opportunities to get the most from your muscles can still be influenced by you. Event specific stretching as well as a little help from a foam roller can help your body feel looser and better recovered come race day.
Visualisation: Thinking whilst not overthinking about your event can help you mentally prepare for what is ahead. At night,whilst in bed, for example, it may be therapeutic to wonder through the event in your mind, thinking about what is to come and how you are going to react to different situations in a calm manner. After doing this, there can be no surprises on the day – potentially giving you psychological tranquility over your opponents.
With this said, along with visualisation, it is important to have a plan in your head about what you are going to do within the race or field event – this should mainly be discussed with your coach. In championships especially, events can be extremely tactical, and without the right game plan, you may not get the result you want.
Using the example of middle distance running, athletes need to have a clear idea set in place to reach their goal within the race. This plan can usually be constructed by honestly comparing your own strengths and weaknesses to that of your opponents. For example, if you believe your finishing speed is not as good as your opponents, then you may want to think about making a move earlier and running the finish out of your opponents. Tactics in races will be the difference between only running good times, and winning medals.
Positivity: The mind is a powerful tool – so much so that it can potentially help or hinder athletes throughout their whole career. Unlike other sports, athletes are out there on their own, and as we all know an athlete’s career is a long road full of lasting highs and crushing lows.
The ability to stay positive, even when it gets tough, is an important asset for an athlete, and one which should be embraced with importance. Athletes should use coping mechanisms to stay positive in what can be a lonely and pressure-filled environment.
Almost all athletes have found themselves in a situation of self-doubt right before the start of a race, but remember if you can honestly say you have prepared the best you can, then you can have no regrets. Reminding yourself that you are capable, or that everything happens for a reason, can help take the pressure off which, in turn, will help you run with confidence. Remember: you are only as good as you think you are!
On The Day of Competition
Music: Some athletes find great comfort in preparing themselves mentally by listening to music during the warm-up phase or on the journey to the event. That said, some athletes prefer motivational tunes, such as rap music or dance beats, whilst others like to relax themselves with slower music.
Music can be a great way to help focus your mind on something besides the pressure of the environment, and can also help block out any distractions around you.
Listening to music may not be in everybody’s preparation plans, but it may be worth trying if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by the occasion.
Warm-up: Getting in a good warm up is vital for every event. This is a time where you can help engage the appropriate muscles and tune them to work sufficiently. Athletes should prepare an appropriate warm-up plan to raise the heart rate before the event. Be careful not to over strain yourself or tire yourself out though, it might take time, but you will eventually find which drills and exercises work for you.
If you are a track athlete, a 10 minute jog followed by some drills and strides should be enough to get the blood flowing.
The Call Room: So everything has been done. The weeks of training and sacrifice have reached its boiling point. You are almost there, but not quite. Your event is a matter of minutes away, it’s the championship you have dreamt of all year, and you sit in the dreaded call room amongst all the other athletes who, ironically, all dreamt that same dream as you.
For those who don’t know, the call room is the final page of the book. It’s here where all the athletes gather, in a chicken pen style scenario, to sign in and check you are prepared with the correct spikes and numbers before being escorted to the track.
As imagined this can be a rather hostile environment with opponents’ eyes wandering coldly in your direction.
For those with little experience of these, it is important not to be phased at the final hurdle. It’s here where you can so easily talk yourself out of performing well, and it’s important not to get involved with any negative conversations with fellow athletes. Questions such as “what’s your PB” can act as psychological warfare, which is not worth engaging in.
Being calm and focused will ensure you do not crumble before you are sent out to compete.
As you become more experienced the preparation for a big race will become easier and more familiar. Remember, you took up athletics because you enjoyed it, so go out there and enjoy your next big race.