With every race that I participate in, I tweak my pre-race routine based on my prior experiences. Although I have participated in three half marathons already, I am still learning on what to do (or not to do) to ensure my comfort level and performance throughout the race.Below are some common issues that runners experience while racing and a few solutions that have worked for me:
Caused by a repeated motion, chafing is a painful stinging or burning sensation.
Solution: Before going for a run (imperative for long runs) make sure to apply Body Glide or Vaseline on vulnerable areas. I always apply Body Glide behind my ankles, between my thighs, and in my biceps. Also make sure to wear wicking materials and snug clothing to prevent lose fabrics from rubbing against your skin.
The body uses mainly carbohydrates and fats to provide energy during exercise. The carbs used during exercise are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Energy loss occurs when the glycogen level is depleted.
Solution: In order to have high levels of glycogen during a run, many athletes carbo-load up to three days before the race. Personally, I always have a light pasta plate (no creamy sauces, not oily) the night before and eat a protein bar an hour and a half before the race. Out of all of the protein bars I’ve had Cliff’s Mojo Bar is my favorite. It is a very tasty granola bar that does not have cardboard texture and is easy to digest. In addition, many runners also consume an energy gel before or during the run. I usually bypass this step, but for my last half I needed to fuel up midway and thankfully there were Cliff gels passed at the ninth mile. Out of all the gels I’ve had this is by far the best (other ones are just too sweet and too concentrated). It is best to take a sip of water right after consumption to prevent the sticky, sweet, taste during the race.
Being dehydrated caused blood volume to drop, which lowers your body’s ability to transfer heat evenly and makes it difficult for it to meet aerobic demands.
Solution: Hydrate with water and other sports drinks before a run (8-16 oz two hours before a run, or 4-8 oz fifteen minutes before). For a long run, the colder the liquid the better, as it lowers your body temperature and allows you to perform better, longer. For me, I always make sure I am drinking plenty water the day before the race, especially before going to bed. As soon as I wake up, I take sips of both water and Gatorade while getting ready and usually around mile 8th I tend to sip on some water from water stations or pour it on myself while running. Listen to your body, if you are feeling dehydrated stop as many times as needed to rehydrate. It is better to take various sips of water during a long run than one big gulp.
Side Stitches or side cramps are muscle spasms of the diaphragm. It feels like an intense stabbing pain under the rib cage and it is presumably caused by shallow breathing or an electrolyte imbalance.
Solution: Breathe evenly and deeply through your belly, exhale evenly. This might be a placebo, but I always use Kinesio tape to tape my abs (video) and as long as I’ve used that I have not had any side stitches. I also make sure to be mindful with my breathing while running and keeping it at an even pace. For more information on relieving side stitches, read here.
Pain behind or around the kneecap. Can be caused by overuse, misalignment, weak thigh muscles or injuries.
Solution: Rest your knee and ice it before any runs. Practice strengthening exercises such as squats to make your muscles stronger. During a race, I always tape my knees with Kinesio tape (video) and use compression socks just in case.
Caused by friction (usually between your socks and your feet), blisters can be a painful obstacle while running long distances.
Solution: Use synthetic socks that will wick away any moisture. Apply Body Glide or Band-Aid Blister Block Stick in sensitive areas. Wear the same shoes and socks that you are used to. I prevent blisters by applying Band-Aid Blister Adhesive bandages in the areas where I know I usually get blisters and avoid them altogether.
Although every body is different, I hope these tips will help you solve any issues that you might encounter while racing. Your race should be memorable and not because of the pain you felt but for what you were able to achieve.