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Cooper River Bridge Run Column - February 7th, 2005
Running Races is not Always About Winnin
By Art Liberman

Major league sports schedule pre-season games. Theatrical productions have dress rehearsals. Pilots use flight simulators before they ever take off. What do these have in common with entering a race or two prior to the Cooper River Bridge Run? All provide opportunities to practice skills, learn from mistakes, and prepare both mentally and physically for the big event, whether it be opening night or the Bridge Run.

Many who’ve never pinned on a race number find the thought of entering a race frightening and intimidating. Perhaps the biggest misconception of racing is that it’s a highly competitive event where the objective is to finish ahead of as many runners as possible. Nothing could be further from the truth as only a handful of runners take this approach. The definition of “winning” for most entrants can range from completing the race without walking to setting a new PR (personal record) for that distance.

Regardless of whether you are a true beginner or experienced runner, racing provides a variety of benefits.

Many runners find that entering races serves as great short-term objectives leading to their big goal (The Bridge Run), also helping maintain focus and motivation over the months of their training.

Racing provides an effective means to assess your current fitness level as well as the overall effectiveness of your training program. Your race pace per mile can be calculated from your overall finish time. By also factoring in your perceived exertion level, you will have a better grasp of a realistic pace you can maintain at future races. Experienced runners who include speed workouts as part of their training will find this data very helpful in determining target times for repeat intervals at the track.

A variety of questions and concerns may arise during your training. Some of these unknowns may include your pre-race snack, clothing, warm-up routine, goal pace, etc. Racing provides the ideal opportunity for experimentation as adjustments can be made and mistakes corrected in the weeks leading up to the Bridge Run.

Racing also provides mental benefits. Believe it or not, even the fastest runners experience pre-race jitters. By becoming familiar with the race environment, you will learn to better manage any anxieties that may surface in the days leading up to the event. Many runners find they push harder when they race. And learning to cope with the discomfort of a faster pace helps develop the mental toughness to persevere.

There are a variety of other reasons racing is enjoyed by many. It provides the opportunity to travel to small towns you might not ordinarily visit. You will meet a cross-section of friendly people who share your interest in running. It’s a great way to add to your collection of t-shirts. And you may also be helping others, as proceeds from many events go to charitable organizations and causes.

Race preparation begins well before the event. The following tips will help you get the most out of your race experience.

Pre-Race Logistics

Enter early– Entry fees are usually cheaper by pre-registering. Doing so also saves time upon arrival at the race.

Familiarize – Know the exact location of the race site. Sometimes, the packet pickup area is not located near the start/finish line. Take time to carefully read the important information contained on the entry form and instructions within the race packet. Familiarize yourself with the course layout and in particular, the finish line.

Taper – Make your workout two days before the race a very light one. And rest the day before to give yourself the opportunity to perform your best.

Packing – The day prior to the event, gather everything you plan to take so you won’t be rushed race morning. Don’t forget a towel, change of clothes, and water.

Clothing – Check the weather forecast to determine the range of clothing you may need to warm-up and race in. Above all, don’t overdress when racing. Pin your race number (bib) on the front side of your shirt or singlet.

Nutrition – While you don’t need to carbo-load for a short race, the pre-race evening meal should be a simple and familiar one that you know won’t cause digestive problems. Stay hydrated by drinking water the day before as well as the morning of the race.

Sleep – Try to get a good night’s sleep the two nights before the race to insure that you will be well rested.

Race Morning

Wake up early – Allow yourself ample time to: take care of your personal needs, drive to the race location, check in/register, and warm up.

Rendezvous Planning – If you are traveling to the race with others, determine a specific time and place to meet after the race.

Nutrition – Many runners find that not eating reduces their chances of stomach issues arising during the race. If you must eat, do so early and make sure that it’s something very light and easily digestible. By all means, stay hydrated by drinking water.

Warm-up routine – About 40 minutes prior to the start, do some light jogging for at least 10 minutes and then thoroughly stretch. Doing so enables your leg muscles to perform optimally while reducing your chances of injury. To stay calm and relaxed, many runners take a few moments to close their eyes and breathe deeply.

The Race

Before the Gun – To insure a safe and efficient start, line up according to your anticipated pace (faster runners to the front). Listen carefully to race director’s instructions as important information about the course layout and finish procedures are often provided.

Pacing – Be sure not to start too briskly as the most effective strategy is to run at a steady and even pace throughout. At each mile marker along the course, check your splits (pace per mile). Depending upon your perceived level of exertion, adjust your pace as appropriate.

Fluid stations – It’s important to stay hydrated. If you find it difficult to take water while running, it’s fine to walk. If you need to stop to drink, be sure to step off to the side so others have clear passage.

Finishing kick – If you’ve parceled your energy effectively, you should have just a little oomph in reserve to pick up the pace as you approach the finish line. Note the time on the clock

After the Race

Finish Procedures – After you cross the finish line, keep moving and follow the directions of the race officials. Doing so helps in timing and scoring the race.

Cool down – The race isn’t really over until you jog easy for a few minutes and stretch. You will be less sore the next day by doing so.

Refreshments and Awards – Sticking around after the race is a great way to meet new friends and while recognizing the achievements of runners in all age groups. Now is the time to eat, drink (water and sports drinks should be your first choice before partaking in other beverages), and be merry. And be sure to thank the race organizers for their hard work.

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