To the uninitiated the answer is, of course, “Run faster”. but it really is not that simple.
After training a little bit, and we are only talking a couple of times a week here, your performance improves dramatically. Maybe you do some regular parkruns and get a few PBs. Soon enough the PBs stop coming. Maybe you haven’t plateaud but it really is hard to get another PB. you know in your training you are faster yet translating it to improving on the day is very difficult. And I am talking about people here who run 5k in OVER 20 minutes ie those who are doing times that either you can do or to which you realistically aspire without too crazy an effort. The same applies of course to athletes who run 5k in 15 minutes…it’s just even harder for them to achieve what their body is able to do.
What to do on the day then? Your body is capable of a certain speed after training how do you eek every second out of your potential on the day when it counts?
1. Probably BEFORE the day in question you need to have recovered. You will need AT LEAST one day of doing nothing. If you are in your 30s maybe 2 days if you are in your 40s maybe 3 days. Scaling down your training so your body can recover and perform on the day is called tapering. and it is important. NOT TAPERING will cost you several % of your potential.
2. A good night’s sleep. Maybe a beer (not wine which narrows your arteries) might help you get a good night’s sleep. Probably not 2 beers though!
3. Lightweight kit. The kit probably does not make much difference. Maybe only a few second for a lighter pair of race day shoes (running flats)
4. An empty stomach. Don’t eat too much putting in a few kilos of food the night before and for breakfast will slow you down. Yet eat enough to avoid feeling sick (if that affects you). If you don’t need to eat or drink…then don’t.
5. Breathable kit. The type of kit you have, particularly your shirt I believe is important. Firstly for comfort to avoid too much sweat next to your body. But secondly you need to be cool. If your body is not as cool as it could be then your heart is wasting a few beats every minutes keeping you cool rather than concentrating on your muscles. So get the right kit for the weather and ensure you keep cool (or warm of course if it is cold outside…am writing in July!)
6. Those tight socks. Compression socks I think they are called. Apparently the physiological effect they are supposed to have does not exist. However there appears to be a psycological factor and people do run faster. The physical factors are supposed to be that they either stop your muscles wobbling and/or boost blood circulation.
7. Human pacer. that often works eg as for world records
8. Watch pacer. I find that whenever I try to match my pace to my sports watch I can’t quite keep up and look at the watch too much. Not the same for everyone though.
9. Caffeine. About an hour or so before your run. It’s supposed to boost your concentration. Works for me sometimes especially when combined with a shower to wake me up.
10. Warm up run. It seems to be good that before your race you warm up very lightly and do a few small sprints at race speed to get your muscles ‘in the mood’. Doesn’t work for me though. I prefer a slow cycle and 100m jog.
11. Stretch. I favour the don’t stretch too much before a race regime. The theory being that if your tendons, etc are uber flexed and relaxed then they won’t hold all the bits in place properly and then TWANG, something goes.
12. Food. Along with my caffeine I would have a banana or a piece of toast. If I haven’t got time for that one lucozade sport seems to do the trick. they are about 60p if you get a job lot at Asda.
13. Psychology. I think this is what it all boils down to. I’m sure if there is someone there on the finish line with a shotgun to their head which will go off unless you beat your PB by 15 seconds or a pot of gold if you do the same…then I’m sure you would do it. Me included. Unfortunately the pot of gold has to be created psychologically.
14. Pacing. Pacing yourself is surely important. An even pace must be best. BUT when you do that yo ualways have enough juice in the tank for a sprint finish so your even pace was too slow! I struggle on my 3rd and 4th Km. So should I go slightly easier on the first two and try to get the 3rd and 4th up to the right pace and get the PB by maxing out my 5th? You get the picture I’m sure. You have to try the various strategies.
Training undoubtedly is what gives you long term improvement. For me I would say that what has given me the edge on the days when I have made a PB are, in approximate order of importance (best first): tapered training; human pacer who starts off too quickly; breathable kit; caffeine &/or beer. you of course are different! Good luck