Run your best race at the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run

The annual Cherry Blossom 10-mile race is April 6, and two running coaches have tips on how you can run your best race. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Julie Sapper and Lisa Reichmann
WTOP Fitness Contributors

WASHINGTON — On April 6, more than 18,000 runners will convene on the National Mall to run the 41st annual Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-mile Run.

After training for months in one of the most brutal winters in recent memory, runners should be rewarded with milder temperatures and the opportunity to run a personal record on this fast, flat course. With that in mind, here are some things you can do over the next few days to run your best 10-mile race:

Pre-Race Prep

Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Nutrition and Hydration: Take time over the next few days to nourish your body with whole foods that provide an extra punch of carbs and protein. Ideally, each meal or snack you consume over the next few days should be light, easily digestible sources of carbohydrates, paired with a small portion of proteins.

Some examples of carbohydrate sources include root vegetables (try sweet potatoes), fruits (try bananas) and grains such as pasta, bulgur, rice or quinoa. Whichever carbohydrates you choose, make sure to pair them with a smaller serving of lean proteins.

Instead of stuffing yourself with a large bowl of pasta the evening before the race, evenly distribute your calories throughout the day to fuel your glycogen stores without overdoing, which can leave you feeling full and lethargic at the start line on race morning.

Lay off the alcohol and refined sugars during the days leading up to the race and pay particular attention to your hydration. Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day and hydrate consistently.

Sleep: “I slept like a baby the night before my race,” said no one, ever.

Don’t fret: Studies show that poor sleep the night before a race has little impact on race performance. However, quality sleep two nights before the race can improve your race performance, so plan to get seven to eight hours.

Gear: Before you head to bed on Saturday night, prepare all of your gear, nutrition and clothing (including the race bib) for Sunday morning. Plan to dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer than the expected temperature at the start (we recommend shorts or capris and a light short-sleeved tech shirt).

Don’t forget to charge your GPS watch if you choose to wear one, and clothes and/or a trash bag to toss at the start to stay warm while waiting in your corral.

Race Morning (Sunday)

Breakfast: Plan to eat your race-morning breakfast approximately two hours before race start, so around 5 or 5:30 a.m.

Eat something you’ve had before during training; race day is not a good day to try something new. A bagel or a banana with a little bit of peanut butter and/or steel cut oatmeal with berries are two popular and effective options.

Make sure to start drinking water as soon as you wake up, but stop drinking about an hour before the race and plan bathroom stops accordingly. Stop eating by 6:30 a.m. to allow your body time to digest before racing.

Arrival time and pre-race warm-up: Arrive at the race site at least one hour (or more) before the race start, as lines for porta potties and baggage claim can be long. The walk to the race corrals can also take more time than anticipated.

Make sure you enter your assigned corral to avoid overcrowding and awkward pacing. Once you are in your corral, we recommend doing simple dynamic movements such as high knees, butt kicks and running in place to warm up. If you can find an open area, jog for a few minutes with several 20-second strides (fast surges) to get your legs moving before it’s time to start.

Pacing: Race smart and resist the urge to start too fast, as it’s easy to allow others around you to influence your pace. The first mile of the race is a fast downhill, so just remember you have 9 miles more to go after that initial mile.

Stick to your personal race plan and start out at a pace that is reasonable and aligned with your goal finish time (we recommend 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than your target race pace for the first 1 to 2 miles). Do not weave through the crowds, as this will just waste energy and add more mileage to your race (and who wants that?).

Speaking of which, make an effort to run the tangents on the course. To do this, when the course curves, don’t run along the curve. Instead, make a straight bee-line for the next curve you can see. Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If you don’t follow tangents, you are adding a small but not insignificant amount of mileage to your race.

If you are feeling great, pick up the pace during the last 5K of your race. Otherwise, stick with your goal race pace and focus on ticking off each mile with consistency and success. The best executed races are those that result in negative splits (a faster second half than first half).

If you have not run the race, or practiced on the course, before, know that the last half mile is one of the few hills on the course. Just anticipate it and know that after you make that final push up that hill you’ll be at the finish line.

Nutrition and hydration on the course: Regarding nutrition and water on the course, make sure you have a solid plan based on what you practiced during training.

Race day is not the time to try something new in terms of nutrition or otherwise. We recommend taking nutrition approximately every 45 minutes, washed down with water (not sports drinks, which can overload your gut with sugar and lead to stomach distress).

Try to drink at least a half cup of water at every water stop, even if you’re not thirsty. If this means taking short walk breaks through the water stations, that’s fine. It’s better to slow down momentarily to take in hydration than to hit the wall toward the end of your race because of dehydration.

A well-executed race, including pre-race preparation, can help you translate all of your dedicated training into a strong performance on one of the best courses in the country!

Editor’s Note: Julie Sapper and Lisa Reichmann, certified running coaches, regionally ranked runners and co-founders of Run Farther & Faster, provide personalized group and individual coaching to runners of all levels throughout the D.C. area and beyond. Check out more of their tips on Facebook and Twitter @Runfartherfast.

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