Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the weekend in beautiful Central Oregon, running the Cascade Lakes Relay. 216.6 miles through the high desert and all the heat, smoke, and trail dust that implies. I've done this race several times but it's a challenge every year, so as we're approaching the fall race season (and Hood to Coast) I thought I would share some of the things I've learned along the way to make it a safe and FUN experience.
1) Hydration. Staying hydrated is one of the simplest ways that you can avoid many of the problems that make your run a suffer-fest, rather than a fun-fest. Don't go crazy and drink gallons and gallons but listen to your body and drink before you're thirsty.
Good old plain water is your best bet. You really only need electrolytes if it's hot/humid or your run is over an hour.
2) Fuel. This one is pretty simple too. Don't buy a bunch of gels, chews, or goos that you aren't familiar with, just because they are next to the register at the running shoe store.** Focus on real food that you know your body will able to easily digest. We packed our cooler with Fit Kitchen Direct meals, fruit, and snacks (simple and complex carbs). And so much chocolate (soy, coconut, cow) milk. Honestly! It has a great balance of carbs/protein for post-run recovery.
3) Cool down. I know everyone is excited to jump back in the van and get rolling. But don't be afraid to take 5-10 minutes to walk around, cool down, stretch, and get your water bottle refilled. Jumping right back in the van is a recipe for stiff and sore muscles on your next leg.
4) Rest. The week prior to your race, focus on going to bed on time. Pack those hours in, because you won't get many on the course. Race weekend - grab a few zzz's whenever you can. Even 20 minutes here and there will make you feel a million times better.
5) Have Fun! Remember to smile. High-five a another runner. Thank a volunteer. Don't worry if some elite runner passes you at 6:00/mile. Everyone is running their own race.
** Related to hydration and fuel: avoiding the dreaded "runner's gut." If you want avoid having to use every portable restroom along the way because of cramps and diarrhea, there's very simple solution: Don't eat too close to your run, don't load up on the sugars (fruit juices and "sports" drinks especially), and make sure you are drinking enough water!
If your body is trying to process too many simple sugars without enough water, it creates an imbalance in your gut that leads to the pain, nausea and... well, we don't need to describe the last part.