Finlay races long distance triathlon and has lots of experience racing in competitive events at home and abroad. He shares some of his top tips for minimising stress and maximising your performance.
When I race abroad I start by sussing out specifics of where the event will be held. International events quite often spread across various locations around the city (the expo for example in a different place to the start line), so it’s important to stay in an area that that’s well-located, safe, and easy to get to and from. I usually stay at a race official hotel or find an Airbnb close by. Spending lots of time walking around and wasting energy is a surefire way to make yourself irritable and cranky before a race!
I often race in hot countries so I look at the weather forecast for that time of year and plan accordingly. This is everything from clothing to training. For example, preparing to go a hot country when you live in Scotland is not ideal but not impossible. Using an infrared sauna in the lead up to an event in a hot country can help you acclimatise for it and allow you to perform better. I have my race kit planned out well in advance of race day, have tested it and know it will work. I wear clothing that has a cooling technology in it to beat the heat. This even extends to what socks I’m going to wear as well. Nothing is overlooked!
Lists are your best friend when it comes to packing. Write a definitive list of everything you are going to need during the time you are out there. This takes the thinking process out of it, reduces stress and makes sure you won’t leave anything behind. Preparing in this way has been shown to have psychological benefits for the race as it increases our ‘readiness’ for an event and starts to build the event up in our minds.
Lay out your kit and check off each item.
Pack your gels in something protective so that they won’t burst. Take the nutrition you have used in training with you. Do not rely on the nutrition at the event unless you know what it is and have used it before.
I usually take some light technical clothing as if you’re travelling somewhere warm this will let your skin breathe and make you feel more comfortable. Steer clear of cotton; it is a terrible fabric for running. Not only does it absorb the moisture, it traps it against your skin, making you feel damp and hot as you sweat. Some socks have anti-bacterial properties which means they don’t need washed every time (Hilly Marathon Fresh for example). A bit icky perhaps… but perfect for saving some weight and space in your luggage!
If it’s going to be cold or raining then I take thermal clothing that is lightweight and can be layered. Wearing 2-3 layers traps heat and insulates us better so it is easy to create extra warmth like this. I also take a lightweight waterproof jacket.
Top tip: My best tip for packing is to think about what’s going to happen on the other side of the trip. I take plastic bags so that I can put my used (pungent) clothing into bags, ready to go straight into the washing machine at home. I always pack the morning of the day before I travel so that I can rest the evening before I go away and relax. Pack some snacks that you normally have as it’s often quite hard to get your ‘normal’ food when you are somewhere new.
Flying to a race is a massive stress on the body. When you put it like this: getting on a 30,000 ft compression chamber to sit next to people who may be ill is an easy way to get a mystery cold before your important race. Do not underestimate the impact that flying has on your body. Everything in an airport and a plane is a breeding ground for germs. Take hand sanitisers with you so that you can keep your hands clean. There are even some throat sprays you can get which can help stop a respiratory tract infection being brought on. I even take a supplement in the 2 weeks leading up to an event which boosts my immune system and helps prevent any illnesses.
Better early than late
Get to the airport early. Rushing to an airport and checking in luggage at the last minute will reduce how much rest you can get and add unneeded stress to the trip. Book flights which get to your destination at a good time. Flying at awkward hours of the day is not good for your body and won’t leave you rested. I always plan time so that I can sit down and relax in an airport before flying. There’s quite often a substantial wait when you get off a plane and if there’s a lengthy transfer to the hotel then you might struggle to get food for a while. It’s a good idea to have a good meal before you fly and have snacks with you in case there is a delay.
Compress for success
Wearing compression on a flight is a good idea as this stops the blood from pulling in your legs and making them inflamed. Compression will help your legs feel a bit fresher and stop them from feeling so heavy. I usually take a resistant band with me too so that I can do some exercises when I get to the hotel which activate my glutes and stop me from tightening up.
Save your trainers for race day
Contrary to what a lot of people do, don’t wear your trainers for travelling in or walking around. Most people don’t count the standing or walking that they do in a shoe as mileage but it ruins running shoes. Standing in them for prolonged periods of time crushes the cushioning and compromises the protection and feel. Keep them fresh in your luggage. I have a second pair of trainers, which are new, that I use for walking around in.
Know where you have to go to register and collect your race pack. The location of registration at events is quite often in a different place from the race venue. Big events will be busy, so getting there early will minimise the time on your feet. Expo with caution as walking around for hours the day before the event is not always advisable. I do always go for an easy jog when I get settled though as it helps to keep the legs loose and can make you feel more normal.
Eat as you would at home
Try and eat meals which you are used to. Try and keep everything as normal as possible. So many people decide to suddenly do everything differently from what they have done in training the day before a race. For example, don’t eat 500g’s of pasta the day before the race if you don’t eat 500g’s of pasta in training. Practice what you’re going to eat before the race in training and then stick to similar foods when you’re away. Eating really salty foods like pizza will dehydrate you and make you feel bloated. I always look at where will be good to eat before I go to an event and book it as there will potentially be thousands of other runners looking for somewhere to eat too.
Lay off the sauce
Hydration is key if you are going somewhere hot. Don’t drink plain water as this won’t hydrate you as well as including some electrolytes. Drinking too much water can actually flush out the electrolytes and decrease your performance. Using an electrolyte tablet will hydrate you much better. Additionally, don’t drink any sugary or alcoholic drinks. These will also dehydrate you.
Top tip: My top advice for the day before the race is to get registered early, don’t walk around too much, plan your meals, keep hydrated and get back to your accommodation early so that you can rest up.
Allow ample time
Get up early and start eating your pre-race breakfast so that you have time to digest it. Not eating a good breakfast is a bad idea as you need energy to perform. Eat what you know works for you and don’t try anything new. Get to the event site early so that you aren’t rushing around. This will give you plenty of time to use the toilets and warm up properly. There will be queues for these but don’t stress. There is no point in getting annoyed about something which is out of your control and you can’t do anything about.
Top tip: Always take toilet roll with you though in case the one in the toilet is finished. Take a bin big with you if it’s cold or raining as you can throw it away and it’ll keep you insulated and dry.
Racing abroad is a great experience and it can be a great way to see a different city. Use some of the tips above and you’ll have a more enjoyable race. Planning every detail of a race away minimises stress and will keep you fresher for the race so that you can do the best time possible.