This isn’t going to be a conventional race report because, well, I’m not sure it would be that interesting. Suffice it to say that the Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames is a very pretty and flat half marathon, much of which is along the river. Like many smaller and shorter events it could have done with more drink stations, and it would have been nice to have something other than water, but at least the water was in bottles not cups so you could run with it in between stations. It desperately needed more toilets at the start (and possibly en route, I only saw one toilet stop during the race, though I personally didn’t need it despite the crippling hangover and having eaten a curry the night before – more on which later); the one or two ‘provided’ (actually they were the ones in the market anyway) weren’t remotely sufficient and there was a long queue. Support along the route was pretty minimal but that’s often the way for half-marathons, especially if they are mostly not in residential areas.
Anyway. Here are four things not to do when running a half marathon (or any distance really). I tried them so you don’t have to, and I can tell you they don’t enhance the race experience.
1. Don’t be hungover.
Specifically picking a race because a good mate lives nearby and you therefore have somewhere to sleep, shower and leave your car is quite smart. However if spending an evening with said friend will inevitably lead to heavy drinking, this may be less smart. Sure, there’s something satisfying, in a macho and masochistic way, about proving to myself that my running has progressed to a point where I can do a half marathon with a hangover and still do ok, but it’s not wise if you want to do well in the race.
In all seriousness. Alcohol disrupts sleep, dehydrates you, messes with your digestion, and also affects mood and motivation which is not ideal for training. There’s no need to give up alcohol to be a successful runner, but don’t drink the night before a race you want to do well in, and be prepared to moderate your drinking a bit while you’re in heavy training for an important race. It’s common sense really.
2. Don’t be late.
Perhaps because I’ve done a fair few races now, I’ve got fairly blasé about my planning for them, especially for smaller ones where there won’t be a closed starting pen, and where I will probably just show up in my race kit with no need to check a bag or anything. The trouble is that one can always be too blasé and forget the benefits of being there well in advance and able to prepare. Having to do a ‘warm-up jog’ to the race start area because I only had 15 minutes to get there, and then realising I didn’t have any safety pins for my number, or any water, and hadn’t been to the toilet suddenly made me feel a lot less smug about what a terribly experienced runner I am. In the end I found some safety pins from the registration desk and queued for so long for the single toilet that I crossed the start line slightly late and was much further back in the pack than I would have preferred. And with no water. All my fault of course.
Again, if a race really matters to you and you want to do well, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time, no matter how experienced you think you are with the whole process. A bit of extra time gives you an opportunity to deal with any kit issues, drink some water, warm up and stretch properly, go to the toilet, get to the right place in the start line for the pace you want to go off at, and generally get your head into the right place. It makes a huge difference.
3. Don’t have a curry the night before.
Along with my beer and wine, I had a range of delicious malaysian curries the night before. Lovely evening; thoroughly enjoyed myself, but everyone knows curry is not the right thing to have the night before a race. Fortunately (for myself and those reading this and wondering if they should skip ahead to point 4) I didn’t suffer any of the digestion problems one might have expected, but a) I still didn’t feel brilliant setting off and b) being anxious about possible problems is almost as disruptive as actually having digestion issues.
I don’t need to labour the point – you all know not to have curry the night before a race. But what should you have? A lot of it is down to personal preference but most people go for relatively plain pasta, with a minimum of sauce, especially things like onion and garlic. White rice should also be fine, and so potentially could be potatoes as long as they’re boiled or baked not fried. The one thing I would say, though, is don’t let worry about eating the wrong thing and regretting it during the race prevent you from getting the nutrition you need. You need to eat well the night before and you need to eat something on the morning of the race. As my malaysian curries have proven, your guts won’t go into melt-down the instant you stray away from plain pasta, and sometimes when you are racing away from home you may not be able to get plain pasta, so just do the best you can and listen to your body on the day.
4. Don’t forget race food and drink.
In my total lack of any preparation for the race, I didn’t check any of the race information but just vaguely assumed that some kind of nutrition and water would be provided, because it usually is. Well, the aid stations had no gels or snacks, and water was provided but the first station was a few miles in and there was none at the start. Neither of these are criticisms of the race; both are perfectly reasonable decisions that any well-prepared runner would have had no issue with since they’d have bought their own water and, if they wanted them, their own gels. Fortunately I’m not overly bothered with gels for a short race like a half-marathon (though I was hoping for a half banana to settle my stomach, so that was a shame) but I obviously could have done with some water.
The lesson, even for those who will never show up for a race quite as unprepared as I did for this one, is not to make assumptions about what the race will provide. Check what the aid stations will have, and where they are, as most races will publish this well in advance. Even then, if you rely on having a particular gel, or a pre-race drink, or whatever – take it with you. Aid stations have been known to run out and you’re always better off being as self-sufficient as possible. This is particularly true with nutrition, in my opinion, when it’s important to be able to have it when you need/want it, and not to be desperately waiting for the next aid station so you can top up on carbs.