They say practice makes perfect, and in most cases, that’s true. Practicing your instrument makes you a better musician. Practicing your second language makes you a better world traveler. Practicing martini-fueled karaoke with your best friend on a Sunday night makes you a better Anchor Brewery tour guest the following morning.
Sure, there’s talk of beginner’s luck and of first times being charms, but in nearly every situation, you actually get better with practice.
Which is why, after 56 timed running events, I feel like I know a thing or two about race days. For those of you just starting out on the running circuit, I wanted to share with you my tips for getting from the starting line to the finish line with a smile on your face. I’ve gathered these over the years from magazines and books and word of mouth, plus the good old fashioned way — making terrible mistakes and vowing never to make them again. This advice may not work for everyone, but here are the things I wish I’d known when I first started out.
This may or may not become a recurring feature, depending on 1. If I keep racing and 2. If I ever get a dog myself and this running blog quickly transforms into an adorable photo blog, a la Ali on the Run, my internet spirit animal. Assuming I do this again, I’ll just focus on one element of the race day in today’s post: the water stops.
Without further ado, my unsolicited advice on drinking on the go:
- Water stops can get very crowded and slow you down. As you approach, scan several yards forward to see how long the table is. At many races, runners bunch up at the start of the water stop, leaving the second half of the table free and clear. In the NYC marathon, these stations can go on for the better part of a city block, so bide your time. The patient runner gets the drink without slowing down.
- Another tip for smooth sailing at the refreshment stand — make eye contact with a volunteer handing out cups and (as rude as my fiancé will say this is) point at them (and smile at them) as you approach. They’ll know you’re coming straight to them, and the beverage handoff will be oh-so-much smoother.
- On that note, thank the volunteers as you power through. This step is non-negotiable.
- Plan to drink something at every stop, even if you don’t yet feel thirsty. The race gurus have positioned these water stops in the right increments; trust them. Alternate water and Gatorade at every other stop if they have it. The exception to the must-stop rule: if you only have a mile left to go, feel free to skip the final stop and really drop the hammer speedwise. The exception to that exception: if it’s a heatwave.
- On particularly cold days, watch for fresh ice in front of the water stations. These are the days to slow down and walk, or risk a bruised tailbone.
- Practice drinking water on the move out of a paper cup before the big day. I used to have to walk through all water stops because I always coughed when the water went down the wrong tube, but then my friend Leigh-Ann taught me a useful trick: pinch the paper water cup in half at the top, bring it to the side of your mouth, tilt the cup up and use one half almost like a straw. I realize this sounds crazy until you try it, but I can now run through a water stop and imbibe without spilling or choking. Win win.
What are your tips for getting through a water stop on race day unscathed? Seasoned pros, share your tips!