Tuesday, April 17, 2007

13 miles, with extra cheese

I frequently run with a little group of girlfriends, two of whom are doing the 10K portion of my race Sunday. This morning one of them made the mistake of asking me a single, simple question about races. For the next 20 minutes, the poor thing had to listen to me be a big fat blabbermouth about racing tips and running advice and a multitude of race-day do's and don'ts. God, it was annoying - who likes a know-it-all? But sometimes I can't help it. I just get so excited when I talk about this. And even though I have only been running a few years, I have built up a solid collection of tips. Here are some hints I picked up from other runners - or learned myself, often the hard way:

1. Chewing gum when you run will keep you from getting too thirsty. I prefer Orbit, either Original or Wintermint. Citrusmint is good, if you like the flavor of puke. Also, I take a couple of spare pieces on race days, because one time I got nervous and accidentally shot the little wad of gum right out of my mouth, like a bullet. It was really weird.

2. Take two ibuprofen before long runs. It'll help with the pain before it starts.

3. If it's possible, pick up your race number and packet the day before. Last thing you want before a race is to stand in a huge line (unless you need the porta-potty). Plus you'll usually get a big bag of free junk you won't want to carry around before or after.

4. Don't sweat it if you don't sleep well the night before. I never do. And several times, I have read that Scientific Studies have shown that how much you sleep the night before a race does not affect performance.

5. Fight the urge to gulp water at every single stop during a race. They'll have stands far more frequently than you actually need, and there are few things more unpleasant than running with too much liquid burbling around in your stomach. I personally force myself to skip at least every other water station. At LEAST.

6. If you start to get a cramp in your side, slow down a little and take very deep breaths through your nose. Crazy, exaggerated deep breaths. Really focus on pushing that air as deep into your gut as you can. I actually try to visualize the spot where the cramp is, and I mentally "aim" the gush of air right into that spot. If I do this for about a minute or so, right when the cramp begins, I can usually make it go away.

7. Sometimes they hand out little energy gel packets, or maybe you want to bring your own. In either case, do not - I repeat, DO NOT - eat them unless there is water nearby. That gel is the consistency of melty hot glue, and if you don't wash it down with water right away, the inside of your mouth will be a sticky, goopy mess. Not fun when you are already kinda thirsty.

8. Walk through water stops. It's a great excuse to slow down for a teeny break, and you won't spill all over yourself. Plus your legs will feel rejuvenated when you start back up again.

9. If you fear you'll be too cold at the start of the race, bring a crappy old sweatshirt or jacket, something you don't really care about. You can wear it while you're standing around waiting for the gun to go off, and by the time you reach the first water station when you are all warmed up, just peel it off and toss it into a trash can.

10. Use your brain. Over the years, I have compiled dozens of mental tricks to preoccupy myself during a tough run. Sometimes I sing songs in my head, trying to recall complete lyrics and using my feet to punch out the beat. Or I'll carefully study my surroundings, like enjoying the beautiful trees, the breathtaking skyline, or graffiti. My current favorite on a sidewalk in Los Gatos Creek Trail: "Fuck the coks." But my favorite way to pass the time is to think about the delicious meal I will enjoy after the run. I'll think about all the calories I'm burning, and how I can spend those calories on, say, a scrumptiously cheesy cheeseburger. I mean, I REALLY revel in this. I think about the greasy, stringy strips of bacon cloaked in melted cheddar cheese. Or the way my teeth will sink through the sesame seeds and into the toasty, warm bun. Or how the crisp, chilly lettuce will feel nestled in a biteful of piping hot ground beef. I absolutely let myself get lost in the yumminess of it all, and before I know it, HOLY CRAP! Look at all those miles I just ran! Seriously, nothing makes me want to get healthier than cheeseburgers.

And there you have it, 10 ways to make running suck less! Try one or two, and let me know if they work for you, too!

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