As any racer knows, the race weekend has levels of excitement, nerves and energy you cannot experience elsewhere and pumps us all up with that adrenaline boost that sharpens our focus when we head into that first turn. To be on top of your game when you get to the track, and to ensure that you make the most of all the practice, tuning and training you did to get there, you need to keep certain fundamentals in place. These will give you the edge that you’ll need to get to the podium:
- Sleep: Believe me, I know how difficult it can be to fall asleep before the race weekend. Your mind is, well, racing (sorry for this bad pun) and calming that excitement can seem overwhelming. However, sleep is more than just need to recover and rest, it is the performance enhancer that sets your body and brain up for success. Think of adequate sleep as the reset button that opens up all your other prep. Proper and regular sleep increases your performance on track and in your day-to-day life. “Sleep optimization can have a significant influence on performance across a range of athletic activities. Improvements in sleep duration and quality appear to improve reaction time, accuracy, and endurance performance…”(Andrew Watson, MD).
SoNow, how can you work this knowledge into your pre race weekend preparation? Start with these three steps:
- Get plenty of it, especially before race weekend. Get at least seven or eight hours daily and plan for eight to nine hours starting 3 days before your event. You may want to sacrifice sleep to catch up on other last minute items, but as hard as it might be, locking in those hours and maybe even catching up on some more before the race will improve your performance, your reactions, your focus and your overall mental state at the track.
- Create a sleep routine at home that you can bring with you on the road. This might be as simple as going to bed at the same time every night, having a cool down period away from your phone and electronics 30 minutes before turning in or drinking a glass of water, warm milk or hot tea before bed, The routine will signal to your body it is time to rest and will help settle those restless pre-race nerves.
- Limit caffeine after 2 PM and sugar in the evening. .Nothing is worse than being exhausted but twitching from a too-late espresso, soda or energy drink. This will help with making sure you get those hours.
If you’re like me, you love an afternoon coffee. Sometimes, especially before a big event, I crave that extra espresso and the charge to get some extra work done. However, I’ve found that focusing on my sleep before my races truly made a difference in my stress levels and focus at the track. Check out the link below for more detailed info on the sleep performance connection.
- Nutrition: You need calories. However, it is not just any calories, you need the right ones. The right food keeps you sharp and fit, not just physically, but mentally. Since it can be tough to get a good, healthy meal at the track, it’s important that the week prior you are building yourself up with good quality food. Enjoy your home cooked meals where you can control the ingredients. I personally focus on getting good protein, lots of vegetables and clean carbs. A perfect race week prep meal for me includes: Grilled Salmon, rice, cooked vegetables and a salad of some sort - it’s filling but not heavy. While it may not sound as appealing as a pizza, a plate of tacos or a burger, your body and mind will thank you when your performance is at peak on the track. Believe me, the burgers and tacos will still be there after you got your trophy.
- Hydration: Or as they used to call it, drinking enough water. Racing is demanding physically so you’re going to sweat. A lot. The heat won’t help. On Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast he estimated that drivers lose an average of six to eight pounds per race. Some of this weight loss comes from water weight from the driver's preparation, but it is common for drivers to suffer from dehydration while racing. The F1 weigh ins and weigh outs confirm this.
Since, hydration is so important when it comes to athletic performance you need to have a plan:
- Start Drinking Electrolytes the night before the weekend, maybe two nights if you know it will be an especially hot one.
- Hydrate the morning of practice and stay hydrated the entire weekend
- Have an electrolyte packet the night before practice and one directly before the race to avoid any dehydration.
- Exercise: Training for a race is important, but so is knowing when to cool down a bit. Overtraining can be as bad as no training. As you are getting ready for your race, it is important to dial back on the intensity to give yourself the proper amount of recovery time. You’l want to focus on easier reps, mobility and endurance heading into the race week. I find that giving myself an ample amount rest before a race helps me avoid soreness on the track. Now, there are some pretty insane athletes out there that can run 10 miles and not feel it, but that isn’t me. Still, I like to run a couple miles or hit the gym for a quick session after a long travel day to get my blood flowing and my head into the right mindset.
The key take-aways here are having a plan and staying consistent. Overall, it is important for you to find your own routine - one that helps you perform the best on track. You can be flexible and adapt, but just like with any pre-race changes, always test new methods, styles and products before the race weekend.
Watson, Andrew M. MD, MS Sleep and Athletic Performance, Current Sports Medicine Reports: 11/12 2017 - Volume 16 - Issue 6 - p 413-418 doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000418