This page covers the information contained in episode 6 of The Blind Sport Podcast found at blindsportpodcast.com/6 and was created to hopefully provide you with a few hints and tips that you may find handy when participating in distance running events.
No matter how big or small the event is that you have entered, I hope that some of the below information can be useful. I have created this resource based on such events as half marathons and further, but again, if there is anything that you can take out of it that is relevant to shorter events that you are planning to do then that is great.
Most of the information listed is general non-blindness specific tips, but I do include a few hints specifically for the non-sighted participant.
I have separated this into the following sections:
1) In the weeks prior to the event
2) In the days prior to the event
3) The day before the event
4) The morning of the event
5) At the Pre-start
6) During the event
7) After the event
In the weeks prior to the event
Firstly, enter the event, then tell everybody that you know that you are doing it. This way there is no backing out of it.
Have a structured training plan that will build you up to a point where you are ready for the event. If you are not sure of where to start with this there are many options to try from the internet, a local running club or private running coach.
Familiarity is the name of the game. Basically you want to limit the amount of unknown variables that can affect how you do on the day. This means be prepared for as much of the following as possible.
Shoes. On race day you want your shoes to be in good condition, but it is not recommended that you run in brand new shoes. You want to know that your race day shoes don’t give you blisters and will be comfortable for the distance. Make sure you have done at least a few long runs in the shoes that you plan to run in on race day.
Clothing. Make sure that you have run in the clothes that you plan to race in. That means everything. The last thing you want to find out at the half way mark is that those new shorts or top rub in the wrong places or just feel uncomfortable. A common mistake is to run in the event T-shirt that you got with your race pack. It makes you look like a rookie runner as well. LOL!
Weather conditions. Find out about the general climate that you may be running at that time of year in the event location. This may determine what you plan to wear on the day.
If you think it will be hot and therefore will be wearing a cap then train with a cap. Again, keep everything familiar. You don’t want to find out that your hat makes your head too hot for you on the day. You may like to try wearing a visor instead of a cap. Likewise, will you be running in full-length compression tights if the event is in summer. The other extreme is the cold. Will you need to wear gloves or thermals?
Discardible clothing. As you may be hanging around the start area for a while and it may be cooler, it can be a good idea to arrange to take some warm clothing that you can throw away just before the start. This also saves you needing to carry a jacket etc all the way around the course. Some people even use a plastic rubbish bag with arm holes cut out as a wind/rain protector. It’s not very classy, but who cares.
Practice running at the same time of day that the race will be held and also follow the same nutrition plan that you are going to use.
Research the course. If it is a local event, then you may like to run sections of the course as part of your build up training to get familiar with the terrain. Is it flat? Where are the hills and how hard are they? If it is not a local event then you may want to check out a course map on the events website to find out this information. This information may affect how you train. For example, if it is going to be a hilly course then you might want to start including a few hills into your training plan if you don’t already.
Another useful website is www.mapometer.com (short for mapping pedometer) which is an international site providing runners, cyclists and walkers with an easy way to measure the distances of their runs or rides using Google maps. It also provides training logs, altitude and elevation measuring and the ability to share routes. It is not very accessible for blind computer users, but can be a great tool.
When visiting the event website, check out other things such as when and where do you register and pick up your race pack. Where exactly is the start and finish area and the drink station and toilet locations.
Drink/fuel stations. Find out the number and distance between drink stations and what refreshments are available. Water and some kind of energy drink such as Gatorade are usually provided.
If you feel the drink stations are to minimal, then you may like to carry your own drink. If so then train wearing your drink belt or bum-bag/fanny-pack. Also get use to drinking on your training runs. If you are planning to carry refreshments, then find a bum-bag/fanny-pack that will be able to carry all of the items that you plan to run with and make sure that it is easy to access these items while running.
Find food or energy gels that you like and that your stomach can handle. How easy are they to open and consume on the run? How many will you need for the event?
Transport. How will you get to the start area and home again from the finish.
Practice a few different guiding techniques. Running in crowds of people and confined spaces can be quite different and somewhat unnerving if you are not ready for it. If you run with a tether rope or strap then practice running with it loose for when the road is open enough to run freely, but also practice holding the rope/strap close (wrist to wrist) so the guide has instant control for tighter environments.
Other guiding styles may include running behind your guide with a rope or loose belt around their waist. This technique can be good sometimes for crowded street events or off-road running as the guide only requires to find a single-width path for you both. Work out a few vocal commands that work for each of you.
If it is a big event then consider running with a few guides or support runners. In crowded events, it is easy to get people cutting you off or trying to run between you and your guide which makes it hard to get a running rhythm going and can increase the risk of being tripped up etc. (and who needs that extra stress).
Some of my most enjoyable runs have been with a support group. This has consisted of a primary guide, a secondary guide to cover my other side to stop people cutting in front of us, another person behind acting as a blocker to stop people running between me and my guide and even another person running in front as a clearer who finds the gaps to run through or notifies the crowd of a blind runner coming through. It may seem a little like a presidential motorcade, but it can work well and be a lot of fun. If you think this could be useful then you may like to trial the concept before race day.
A second guide can also double as drinks person so they can run ahead to a drink station, get your drink and then meet you at a point after the frenzied water stop.
In the days prior to the event
Eat your big pasta meal two days before the race. Don’t try and carbo overload the night before the race. You could end up with an upset stomach the next morning. Instead have a fairly modest meal � sure enjoy a pasta dish, just do not overdo it. In fact I recommend not eating anything too much out of the normal for the whole week before the race.
Cut your toenails a good few days prior to the event. That way if you cut them too short and your toes are painful, they have time to heal.
Rest well in the few days leading up to the event. Fight the urge to train hard during the last few days as it is very unlikely to assist your race result.
Get as much sleep as possible. The night before the event may be a little hard to sleep well due to nerves, but if you have slept well in the previous nights, then this will not matter too much.
If you must go to the event registration or race expo, then do it sooner than later. You probably do not want to be rushing around on the day before, or your legs may pay the price for this on race day.
Put your name on the front and back of your shirt. You will be amazed how much both participant and spectator encouragement will affect how you do and feel during the event. I have put my name with “Blind Runner” under it and it is simply awesome how uplifting the screams of support can be when you are at that stage of the race where you really might be doubting if you will ever be an Olympic medallist.
The day before the event
Prepare and lay out all of your gear and things that you will take to the event on the night before. The more ready you are the night before, the better the chance you won’t forget anything as well as you might actually sleep better.
This starts with all of the clothing that you plan to wear. You don’t want to wake up on race day to find that your favourite lucky pair of undies are in the wash. Shoes, socks, underwear, shorts, T-shirt/singlet, compression garments, hat, etc.
Attach the race transponder/timing chip to your shoes. This is a chip or tape that you tie into the laces of one of your shoes that will record your actual race time as you cross over the timing mats at the start line, finish line and sometimes at specific distances during the course.
Pin on your race number to the front of your shirt, making sure that it does not block your name.
Pack your bum bag/fanny pack with all of the items that you plan to run with. This may include:
• Energy gels and/or food snacks that work for you.
• Drink bottles if you plan to run with fluids.
• Money. Taking some cash may come in useful.
• Painkillers. Not that I am promoting drugs here, but a mild painkiller when life is getting pretty tough near the end of the race can help a lot.
• A spare tether rope. If you use a tether rope then taking a spare can get you out of a bind should you and your guide both lose hold of it at the same time, and doing a reversing manoeuvre may not gain you many friends with thousands of people chasing your backside. As my brother and I crossed the finish line of the New York Marathon in 2007 we were both so glad to finish that we both dropped the rope. Lucky it was at the finish ay?
Other items to organise:
• Watch/Stopwatch. If you plan to keep an eye on your time during the race. Personally, I get my guide to do that job.
• Extra warm throw away clothing. For the pre-start area should it be cold or wet. This may also include a plastic rubbish bag with arm holes cut into it that can keep out the wind and rain. An old pair of socks can be great makeshift gloves that you can throw away once you get warm.
• Something to sit on. At the pre-start you may want to sit down and get off your feet while you wait. So taking a plastic rubbish bag or something soft to sit on can be good.
• Pre-start food and drink. There may be quite a period of time between when you eat breakfast and when the starting gun goes off. So taking something to eat and drink for this waiting period might be an idea.
• Post-race bag. You may like to take a bag with some items which you can pick up after you cross the finish line such as warm dry clothing and refreshments. Even just a dry t-shirt or sweat shirt can feel great. Likewise some food to help with your after race recovery can be awesome. Sometimes savoury food can be better as you may be sick of sugary drinks, gels or foods. It can be amazing how good a packet of salted potato chips can taste.
• Toilet paper. Have you ever sat down in a porta-loo to find out. . . Guess what?
• Hand sanitizer. I thought this was so girlie until I was introduced to event porta-loos.
• Sunscreen. Yes, even runners get sunburn.
• Chapstick. Cracked lips. Ouch!
• Hat. To keep the sun off the head.
• Sunglasses. If you prefer.
• House/car keys. Because you always lose these when you are running late.
• Plasters/tape to protect your feet in the morning.
• Anti-chafe cream/gel/Vaseline for the morning.
Prepare your breakfast. Keep to what you know works for you so avoid anything out of the ordinary.
Set your alarm or book a wake up call. There is nothing worse than training for months just to sleep through the starting gun.
The morning of the event
Eat Breakfast. Enjoy it. You will need it.
Plaster/tape your feet. If you suffer from or wish to lower the risk of blisters then try putting plasters or tape over the areas at risk. Count all of your toenails. This may be the last time you see them all alive. Some people even rub Vaseline all over their feet including between the toes to protect them from rubbing.
Apply anti-chafing options. Cover those at risk areas with anti-chafe cream/gel or Vaseline. If it is a long run then you may be amazed what parts of you can chafe. A plaster over the nipples may be better than a cream. You might be surprised to know how many people finish an event with bleeding nipples staining their shirts. Ouch! Not nice.
Get on your race kit and additional pre-start warm clothing.
Leave with plenty of time to travel. Allow for busy traffic or road closures because of the race.
If you have pre-determined split times that you want to keep to, then you might like to write them on the back of your hand or the hand of your guide. Not on their face. They don’t like that. LOL!
At the Pre-start
Be prepared for the mental rush of the crowds, the noise, the colour and the excitement. Some runners find it vastly encouraging, but the first time round it just may stun you. Reserve your energy despite the hyped upped atmosphere.
Eat your last food well before the start of the race. Have your last drink one hour before the race and then go to the loo a couple of times in that last hour. This certainly stops me from needing to make a toilet stop during the race.
Get off your feet if possible. This is where the plastic bag or old shirt may be useful to sit on.
Find the porta-loos/porta-potties and note how long the cues are. You may need these due to pre-race nerves.
Drop off your post-race bag to the trucks that will transport them to the finish area.
During the event
The start will always be the most crowded part of the race. It is important to be close to your guide and keep alert for people trying to cut between you both as well as trying not to stand on the back of the ankle of the runner in front of you. They probably won’t be your best friend if you cause them to lose a shoe right at the start. Been there, done that, Oops sorry mate (Smile). This is where if you have the luxury of a support team then they can give you the protection and running space that you require.
If somebody does try to cut between you and your guide, then raising the hand with the tether rope soon puts a stop to that idea. Nobody wants to be clothes-lined.
Be ready for discarded clothing. Depending on the conditions, other runners may have discarded their extra warm clothing at the start area. Tripping over this would not be the ideal start that you were planning on. If this is the case then run with high knees until you are past this mine field.
Keep to your race plan. It is easy to come off the start line full of energy and excitement and run too fast at the beginning. Keep to the pace that you planned for in your training. Remember to pace yourself. As a veteran marathoner once told me, “If you think that you are running a slow marathon and feel good at the 20+ mile mark, then you can always sprint the rest”. Yeah right, thanks. Likewise, if you are feeling pretty stuffed at the halfway mark, then you may want to back off the pace a little to ensure that you finish.
Remind yourself to run loose. Tension drains your energy, and you might just need that extra energy in the near future.
Stay alert. Your guide has a lot to concentrate on and may not always notice everything. Things like potholes or catseyes in the road that you can trip up on come out of nowhere. Your guide is running as well and as amazing as they are, they apparently get tired as well.
You may like to have a strategy of how you want to approach the drink stations. From experience this is the zone where mild mannered citizens turn into frenzied panicked animals who think they will absolutely die if they don’t get some water. Because of this most people run to the start of the drink station so if you aim for the end of the tables then it is usually easier to get a drink.
If you have the luxury of a second guide then you may want to get them to run ahead, grab the cups and then meet you again at a point after the drink station. This way you can miss out the rush of the drink station all together.
It is much easier to walk while you drink. You will not lose much time at all by doing this and it beats spilling sticky Gatorade all over yourself. A few seconds of walking can refresh the legs quite nicely also.
Stick to the drinks that you are used to. This is where if you have found out earlier that the event will provide certain energy drinks then you can try them out before race day to make sure you can handle them. Remember, keep as much to the plan as possible.
I have found that if I am needing to take an energy gel, then do it just before the drink station so you can wash it down with a few mouthfuls of water. They do the job, but can be pretty gluggy to get down when you have a dry mouth.
On the bigger more crowded events I have found that getting my second guide to announce there is a drink station coming up when we are about 100 metres away gives us time to do three things.
1. Decide if it is a good time to take an energy gel.
2. Tell the guide whether I want water, Gatorade or both.
3. Plan where to meet them after the drink station.
You may find it better to have a mouthful or two at each drink station rather than a whole cup or two when you feel thirsty. You want to stay hydrated and the golden rule is that if you feel thirsty, then you are already dehydrated. Also taking on-board lots of fluids at once while running can play havoc with your stomach.
Be aware of the road surface at and after the drink stations. The road will be wet which means it can be slippery, but also sticky if there is Gatorade. Also there will be millions of discarded cups to run through. Other hazards can be water sponges, empty gel packs and squashed bananas, which get really slippery should you land on one.
The finish line photo. For many events it is possible to purchase a photo of you crossing the finish line. So in the final hundred metres make sure that the camera guy gets the best opportunity to capture a clear shot of you and your guide/guides. You do not want to be hidden behind somebody else or even worse, seen to be beaten by the guy in the gorilla suit or by your Grandmother. Shame!!
As you cross that finish line, enjoy the moment. This is what you did it for.
After the event
Keep walking. It is natural to want to stop moving once you cross the finish line, but it is better to keep walking. As soon as you stop, you will start to stiffen up. Walking is a good way to cool down the body and try to flush the Lactic acid that builds up in your legs. Do some stretches. Start with dynamic stretches rather than static stretches which will also help with the lactic acid.
Eat and drink. Getting refreshments into you soon after the finish will assist your recovery. Depending on the event, you may have lost litres of fluids and body salts so getting them back in your system sure makes you feel better. Sometimes even a Coke or coffee can just give you the boost required to fight the crowds and get back home or to your hotel. Put foods that you like in your post-race bag that you pick up from the truck at the finish.
Warm dry clothing. Keeping warm is important as you do not want to get a chill by wearing wet clothing just after you have given your body a hiding. Getting a cold as a reward for completing the event is a bit of a raw deal.
Ice the legs. Cooling your legs will help with your recovery. Ideally try having a cold water or ice bath. It can be a little uncomfortable, but does wonders for the legs. Your screams will keep your family amused as well. If you can not get a cold bath, then use an icepack or running cold water for your legs.
Elevate your legs. Get off your feet and raise your legs to assist with the draining of acids that have built up.
Massage. If you can get a massage at some stage then this will certainly help your recovery from the aches and pains.
Celebrate your finish. All of that training and the effort of the days result deserves a celebration. Anything from a coffee with your guide to a full on party with your guides and supporters. Remember to show off your injuries because you earned them. LOL! Toe nails are over-rated anyway.
Get moving on the day after the event. You may not want (or be able) to do a small run, but at least walk, swim, aquajog or cycle to get the body moving again. Do some dynamic stretches rather than static.
Well, I hope this page has been helpful and has not scared you off from doing an event. Events and races are great to do and you will find that the better prepared you are, the better you will enjoy it.
The above information is a basic transcription of Episode 6 of The Blind Sport Podcast, Entitled Event Preparation found at blindsportpodcast.com/6. Give it a listen.
If you can add any further tips to this page then please feel free to share them with me via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Give it heaps and good luck.