The chill in the air can mean only one thing: racing season is upon us. Before you pin on a bib and head to the start line, we asked a few of Canada’s fastest women runners to share their strategies for success, from training tips to mental-game advice. Whether you’re racing your first 10k or going after your BQ, here’s how to chase your PB like a pro.
1. See the upside of pain.
“Before big races I spend some time making a list of positive words, like ‘relax,’ ‘focus’ and ‘smile,’ that I can use during the most painful parts of a race. On the morning of a competition, I accept the fact that the race is going to hurt at points. Accepting this helps me associate with the pain when it sets in, and work through it. [Pain] is positive since it means I am working hard.”
—Rachel Hannah, Canadian champion in the 10k, half-marathon and cross-country (2014) and Pan Am Games bronze medalist in the marathon (2015)
2. Don’t sweat what you can’t control.
“Weather is an uncontrollable factor, so there is no sense in stressing over it. What helps me best is to think I’m not the only one dealing with it. [If it’s rainy], choose items that fit closer to your body because loose clothing can become quite heavy when wet.”
—Melissa Bishop, Canadian Olympian (2012 and 2016) and Canadian 800m record holder
3. Remember, this is what you trained for.
“When things start going differently than you envisioned—you fall off the pace or you get passed by your competitors—rather than allowing the frustration to snowball, keep digging deep. When I reach the most challenging part of a race, I know I can endure it because I have put my body and mind in the same place over and over again in training. Staying present in your body sometimes helps keep you out of your mind, and makes you more resilient to negative thoughts.”
—Kate Van Buskirk, Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in the 1500m (2014)
4. Practice your carb-load.
“Nutrition is important during all training weeks leading up to race day. In the two days before, I will include more carbohydrate-rich foods, but not drastically change my diet. I prefer eating an early dinner the night before racing because that is what I am used to, and I want to facilitate an early digestion. Keep it simple and practice ahead of time so there are no surprises.”
—Krista DuChene, Canadian Olympian (2016) and Canada’s second fastest woman marathoner in history
5. Know the end goal.
“I think it’s so important to have something to work towards; it’s like a deadline. You know what you’re training for, [whether it’s] a 10K or a marathon. Some people can do it for exercise. I always need something to work towards, and I think most of us are like this.”
6. Don’t neglect your work off the road.
“Physiotherapy exercises are something I do daily and they have been helping me minimize injuries. This includes hip and foot drills since both are so essential for running health and good form. You can’t run if you’re not healthy, and the best way to improve is to run a lot. I spend an average of 20-25 minutes daily doing this, in addition to other core and strengthening work. I also get a treatment almost every week from either a physiotherapist or massage therapist, and I visit a chiropodist monthly for foot health.”
7. Prep for the final stretch.
“I often break down the last part of a race into sections and focus on a specific phrase. With 5k to go, it’s ‘You can do this.’ At 1k to go, ‘Almost there!’ and in the 400-metre finale, ‘Woo hoo, I can see the finish line!’ Even after crossing the finish line, I’ll remind myself that I may be glad it’s over, but I can’t wait to get back to training to do it all over again.”
8. Exercise with intention.
“Sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in a workout: you are often rushing from work to the gym or out for a run, then rushing back to be with family or attend a social engagement. This can prevent you from getting the most benefit and enjoyment from your training session. Take a couple of minutes between your workout and whatever previous activity you’re coming from to set your intention for your workout, to connect with your body, and to get focused. It can keep you more engaged throughout the session and help you get closer to achieving your goals.”
—Kate Van Buskirk
9. Fit in a quickie.
“Nap. Most everyday athletes have full-time jobs that make it difficult to include napping in their daily routine. But I’d suggest closing your office door or heading out to your vehicle during your lunch break as a way to help you accomplish this. There are so many benefits to a short and simple 20-minute power nap!”
10. Be strategic about your pre-race breakfast.
“Choose low-fat, low-fibre and low-protein, and high-carbohydrate. I eat a plain bagel with jam or honey a few hours before racing. I once used peanut butter instead, and even that small amount of protein and fat caused some discomfort. And remember to drink water throughout the morning to aid digestion.”
11. Keep your mind on your body.
“[When racing] I focus on how my body is moving, like having quick feet, making sure my arms are driving strong and maintaining my form. The second I lose that focus on my body, I always lose time. In training I’ve been on long runs and tempo runs where I get to that hurt zone, so I focus on breathing and relaxing my shoulders. [That’s how] I get through the next five minutes, and the next five.”
12. Remind yourself that you’ve come a long way.
“Looking back at my workout notes in my build often gives me confidence. Not only do I write about pace, but I also write about how I felt that particular day and structurally how things were going. I try to think about all the training I have done and reassure myself I am ready.”