1. Overdo it in training
This is so easy to do — not least if you’re going from no running to ALL running. Your heart, lungs, joints, muscles and mind need time to adapt, recover and get used to the stresses and strains of running. Start easy with just two short runs a week and very gradually build up the distance, pace and frequency of your sessions. That means starting early. Give yourself six weeks to prepare for a 5K race and at least six months to prepare for a marathon.
Your heart, lungs, joints, muscles and mind need time to adapt to the stresses and strains of running.
2. Get the dress code wrong
There’s nothing worse than being distracted by uncomfortable clothes and painful chafing. I have a specific “race kit” for this exact reason. It’s a set of comfy clothes I have worn over and over again and feel fabulous in. I only wear them to race and believe me, it saves a lot of hassle when it comes to choosing kit.
Find the best shoes for your stride and wear them on at least ten runs pre-race.
Your choice of footwear is just as important. My all-time favourites are Brooks Ghost and Nike Pegasus but don’t be drawn in by the marketing. Find the shoes that fit you best. If you invest in new trainers it’s important to wear them in first — they could be the incorrect size, rub or just generally feel horrid on your feet. Go to a good running store that will analyse your running gait to find the best shoes for your stride and wear them on at least ten runs pre-race.
3 Upset your stomach
The day of the race is not a time to start experimenting in the kitchen. Make sure you’ve trialled and tested your routine from waking up, eating breakfast and setting off on your run so you can follow that exact template on the big day. Likewise, be cautious with energy gels or drinks. If you haven’t tried them in training, don’t suddenly load up on them at the start line or you could spend most of the race in a portaloo. My perfect race day breakfast is porridge with a banana and peanut butter and two glasses of water, but what works for me might not do it for you.
The day of the race is not a time to start experimenting in the kitchen.
4. Get over excited
With all the adrenaline flowing on the start line it’s easy to be carried along with the crowd, go out too fast and suffer big time in the middle and end.
I’ll admit it, I still do this and I’ve run dozens of races. The biggest mistake I made was on my 50th Parkrun — a 5km. I hadn’t had much sleep the night before, woke up late and therefore ate late. I started off faaaar too fast and blew up. My kilometre splits went 3:50, 4:10, 4:15, 4:40, 4:30 [totalling a highly respectable 21:25 yet her personal best is 18:40]. I finished but my strategy was appalling.
It’s much more fun to overtake all the people you let pass at the start of the race.
The best way to guard against this is to practise your target pace over 500m and 1km distances so you know what it feels like to run at that speed. Better yet, use a fitness tracker or sports watch to monitor your speed and stick to a pace you know you can sustain. That way you’ll be able to overtake all the people you let pass you at the start of the race — it’s much more fun that way.
5 Drink too much (or too little)
Most of the hydration you need for a race should be done the night before. Gulping down lots of water just beforehand can lead to a stitch and discomfort. Instead, if you drink lots the night before (and by drink, I mean water!) you’ll feel so much better in the morning.
Unless it’s a scorching hot day, you don’t really need to drink much during the race. If a race lasts less than 75 minutes I won’t drink during it at all, so only if I’m running a half marathon or going on a long, slow training run.
After a race I always have a chocolate milk or Upbeat to kickstart recovery.
Once you pass the finish line, then it’s important you drink up — try to resist the congratulatory pint until you’ve rehydrated properly. After a race I always have a chocolate milk or Upbeat for some protein and carbs to kickstart recovery, and a bottle of water to replace fluids. Only then is it time to celebrate.