x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A race to the start

I also learned that race day is not the day to eat new foods, try new shoes, or wear new clothing.

I am training for the Standard Chartered Dubai race, which takes place early on Friday. At my current pace, it will take about an hour and 10 minutes to run the 10 kilometres. Normally, I'd be perfectly happy with that, but friends will take care of my baby girl during the race, and she can be pretty grizzly in the morning. This only just dawned on me, so I've been frantically researching the internet for last-minute training advice, pre-race diets and how to maximise race-day performance. I am very motivated to improve my speed. Can I run 10K in under an hour, and can I improve my time in just a week? I decided to troll through running forums, magazines and websites to find out.

It turns out that running twice a day allows faster training, especially for novices like me who can't sustain long mileage. Apparently, many African training guides double up hard runs as a standard practice. There was some debate among running nerds as to whether the second run should be paired with an easy day or a hard day. Most agreed that they should be added gradually on easy days to avoid injury. They also talked about "recovery" runs of seven to 10 kilometres and average weekly distances of 120 kilometres. I felt out of my league - but that won't stop me.

I also learned that race day is not the day to eat new foods, try new shoes, or wear new clothing. Most experts, including the long distance runner Dean Karnazes, say to eat at least two hours before a race. Since the Dubai race starts at 7.15am, I won't bother with breakfast. Instead, I'll focus on eating carbohydrates the day before, including bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables. Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates optimise glycogen blood levels, which make energy readily available to muscles during aerobic activity. And I won't sit down to one big meal. Research shows that most athletes tend to perform better if they eat smaller, high-carbohydrate meals more often.

A common refrain in the running forums was the role of individuality: train according to your lifestyle, fitness, ambition and ability. Experiment to find eating patterns that suit your running. And everyone agreed on these two factors: drink plenty of fluids, including a small cup of water about 10 minutes before the race starts; and allow for complete muscle recovery by resting two full days before the race.

Many runners provide a cautionary tip: for any race longer than five kilometres, start out slower than you think you should. If you conserve energy during the first half of a race, you can finish strong. Now we'll see if my husband can keep up. Men build muscle strength faster than women, and conserve it longer. It might just be a tie.