In any case, I thought I might as well share my recipe for personal bests!
(Other than dedicated training, which of course should be your main focus in the weeks/months leading to the race. And by training I do not solely imply running. I have learned the hard way that for many people, becoming/improving as a runner also necessitates strength training, stretching, mobility exercises, and, in some cases, even physio. Then there are the speed workouts. Try running multiple reps of flights of stairs. Yes, you will suffer. But it works. I promise.)
1) Go to bed early
And DO NOT have any amount of alcohol. The last thing you want is to wake up tired and/or hungover! (A generous piece of caramel cake, however, just proved to be fine... I gather some call it "carb loading"?)
2) Fill yourself up with good fuel
I've tried a few things in the past. What works best for an early pre-race breakfast is either a bowl of oatmeal, or those delicious homemade muffins that I made with
- whole wheat flour
- bran buds
- wheat germ
- squash puree
- flax seed
- pumpkin seed
- hemp seed
- and of course the milk, eggs and oil
Cut in two, spread some peanut butter, and enjoy with a glass of milk.
When I struggle during a race, it's usually because I am not paying enough attention to my breathing. I feel much better when I take the time to exhale completely, in a slow fashion and through a "rounded mouth" (see picture below). There's no way I can forget about my asthma, but I can pretty much thumb my nose at it.
4) The big cliché: listen to your body (and to your breathing)
Some people only swear by target heart rates. I've tried to follow the guidelines, but my heart beats faster than it's supposed to. So does my friend A's heart. (I like to think it's because we are so young at heart: when we do the calculations with an age 10-15 years younger than our actual age, it works perfectly!) As long as your heart rate at rest is slow (like under 60), and as long as your recuperate quickly, you know you're in shape. So pay attention to the way you feel more than to the numbers. Personally, I know I am pushing myself too much when my breathing starts making funny noises.
During the race, stop at all water stations and grab a water cup. You might splash half of the contents on yourself in an attempt to drink without slowing down, but that's ok: you'll feel rehydrated AND refreshed. Plus you'll look like you're working REAL hard: people will think you're sweating so much! Just don't make the mistake of pouring a cup of Gatorade on your head; I came very close to doing just that once (it was a very hot race). Thank goodness I noticed the "water" was orange first!
Did you ever read about the revolving doors approach to port-a-potties? The principle is simple: after you've used the port-a-potty once, you go to the back of the line again. Repeat as many times as needed. Ideally, have a friend with you so you can chat while waiting in line. You can also use that time to do some dynamic stretching. Nothing's worst than "having to go" in the middle of a race. Make sure you're empty beforehand.
A race is not the time to start wondering if you're schizophrenic. If you feel like talking to yourself, do it. (Ideally, do it silently to avoid alarming fellow runners.) I like to tell myself "You can do it!" "You're almost there!" and "Some people can't even walk, what are you complaining about!". Sometimes I also like to insult the hills: "If you think you're gonna stop me, you effin' hill..." Reminding myself of the pains of childbirth also helps tremendously in relativizing the pains of running.
This is very personal, for we all have our own music recipe for running well. D and I have very different tastes in music and if we were ever to exchange play lists by mistake, it would be so unbearable we would probably both end up throwing ourselves from the edge of a cliff instead of finishing the race.
I have put together a race play list. Apparently, today it decided to play in alphabetical order, and that worked pretty well for me (especially the finish with Countdown to extinction!!!) Here's what it sounded like:
Ain't no mountain high enough - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Any way you want it - Journey
Avec tes yeux pretty face - Roch Voisine
Basket case - Green Day
Beat it - Michael Jackson
Boom boom boom boom - Vengaboys
Breathe - The Prodigy
Bulletproof - La Roux
Callgirl - Nanette Workman
Cover me - Bruce Springsteen
Dancing in the dark - Bruce Springsteen
Danger zone - Kenny Loggins
Deal for life - John Waite
Don't call me baby - Kreesha Turner
Everlasting love - Gloria Estefan
Final countdown - Leif Garrett
What are YOUR tricks... and YOUR music favorites?