Today I was asked for my advice by someone who is about to run their first half marathon. Specifically how can they best prepare for it in the days leading up to it as well as the days following the race. After all, we all want to minimise any pain and suffering as much as possible.
I’ve put together a quick list of principles and strategies that I have used for my races, that I find effective. I would be happy to hear other peoples hints and tips too, so please reach out or leave a comment below.
1. Don’t change your diet. Now is not the time to experiment with new foods or drinks, especially on the day of the race. The last thing you want to contend with is an upset stomach.
2. Eat a good meal (something you are familiar with) about 2 hours before the start. Even if I have a morning race, I will still eat a proper meal, like I would have for dinner.
3. Drink plenty of water in the 2-3 days leading up to the start, as well as on the morning of the race. Don’t worry that you might be peeing every 5 minutes. During the race that will stop as dehydration kicks in, especially if it’s going to be warm!
4. I always like to consume a green drink (greens powder in water) soon after the race. The alkalinity of the greens will help to counter the acid that has built up in your body during the run.
5. Protein shakes are always a good quick source of nutrition at the end of a race. You may not feel like eating as soon as the race is done. Ideally a protein shake and banana are a good combination if you can stomach it.
6. Try and keep mobile after the race, especially for the first 10-15min, it will stop the lactic acid pooling in your legs. The lactic acid is responsible for that heavy tired feeling you can get. Moving around will help your lymphatic system to drain some of it away.
7. An ice bath works a treat in the evening following the race. You can create your own at home with a few bags of ice or if you have a gym with an ice pool, use that. You want to spend about 5 minutes in there at a time with about 10min outside the bath before getting back in.
8. If you can schedule a one hour massage for the second day after the race, it will help to work the tension out of the muscles.
9. Spend the afternoon after the race with your legs elevated. A good position that I find helpful is to sit with your legs straight up a wall as you lay on your back. Do that for 15 minutes and it will also help ease the lactic acid build up in your legs.
10. If you have a foam roller use it.
11. Don’t go back to heavy training (running, gym, etc.) for a few days afterwards. A couple of 30 minute walks in the 2-3 days after the race will help.
12. Don’t go out to fast at the start. It’s easy to say, but hard to do. The excitement of the race and all the people cheering will encourage you to go faster than you should, but you will pay for it towards the end.
13. Take in the atmosphere. A race is meant to be fun, so high-five the crowd, encourage other runners and enjoy the moment.
Hopefully some of this advice is helpful and useable. You don’t have to do everything, but the more you can do the better you will feel and the quicker your recovery.