Editor's note: Dianne Villano, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and president of Custom Bodies, has spent 17 years dispelling fitness myths and helping people reshape their bodies. Over the past five years, she also has become a familiar face on the Tampa Bay race scene as she crosses finish line after finish line carrying 15 to 25 pounds of gear in honor of fallen Marines. She's finished 80 races, including 17 half marathons, a marathon and 15 triathlons — all in gear. We asked Villano for her best race-day tips for those running in next weekend's Gasparilla Distance Classic.
The Gasparilla Distance Classic is, by far, one of my favorite races ever. It was the sight of my first 15K, and over the last five years, I've done all of the races in every combination. I have never been disappointed with the amenities, the course, the spectacular organization of the race or with the fantastic sportsmanship of the other athletes.
As a newbie to the Gasparilla series, there are many things I wish I'd have known ahead of time and, as a more seasoned athlete, many things I wish others knew.
♦ The weather at the start of the first race, or when you get there at 4 to 6 a.m., is vastly cooler than the weather at the end of the race, with a typical 10- to 15-degree variance. If you are doing both races each day, it could be 50 degrees when you hit the start line and 70-plus when you cross the second finish line. I believe it was over 75 the first year I did the 15K. I am a hydration freak because of all of the gear I carry, but I often see runners with cramping and other heat-related issues on the course, and I've given away water and electrolytes more than a few times over the years.
♦ Hydration is key to a successful race when you get above the 5K distances — particularly if it is an unseasonably hot or humid day, as is often the case here in Florida. What you drink the day before and prior to the race will make all the difference between a painful or prideful race day. Avoid alcohol and salty food the night before to avoid dehydration and drink plenty of water.
What to wear
There are several apparel options, ranging from free to $25 to $40. Even if the weather remains fairly cool, YOU will not. As your adrenaline kicks in and your muscles start producing heat, you will warm up regardless of the temps. To me, “cold” is anything below 72 degrees, and still I have been known to strip down to bare arms in temps as low as 40 once I'm into a race.
♦ If you are running and not walking the races, I recommend NOT wearing the race T-shirt provided, as they get very hot. A poly-cotton or wicking fiber will keep you chafe-free and comfortable.
To keep warm until your body (or the weather) heats up , there are several choices
♦ Bring a throw-away sweatshirt or long-sleeve T-shirt. This is exactly what it sounds like, a cheap, old T-shirt or sweatshirt that you don't mind tossing aside and never seeing again.
♦ Try throwaway sleeves. You can use a basic long sleeve T-shirt or sweatshirt. Simply cut the sleeves off at the top seam and wear them with the wrist end on your upper arm with the large part toward your hand. As the weather heats up, you can just pull them down and stow them in your waist band or toss them aside.
♦ Arm warmers can be purchased for $25 to $40 at any running or bike store, or online. These are skin-tight and made of wicking and race-friendly materials. For me, personally, they are the best investment I've ever made.
Dealing with the crowd
I cannot stress enough that you should GET THERE EARLY. If you are doing the 5K, remember: There are almost 5,000 people who are running the 15K before your race. They and their cheering squads already will have parked and be on the course long before you arrive. Arriving 1½ hours or more before your start time is not unreasonable if you want a calm start to your race. If you have not picked up your race packet the night before (which I highly recommend), plan to be there two hours before your race, so you can get down to the starting corral, stretch and warm up before your race starts.
My first year at Gasparilla, I did the 15K, and afterward I found some friends who were walking the 5K and joined them. I went from a race course filled with approximately 5,000 other athletes to a race course with close to 15,000. Having never been at a race of that size, it was a shock and complete mayhem, and my only thought was: “I'm glad I'm not running this for time.”
This brings me to what I feel is the most important aspect of race day for everyone's enjoyment and safety.
The corrals are set up based on race pace, with the faster/seeded people up front, the slower runners at the back, and various paces in between. If you don't want to be responsible for someone not having a personal record or getting injured, pay attention to where you line up. If you line up too far back for your pace, it's very easy to move up once the race starts. But it is downright hazardous for the very fast runners to dodge and weave around slower runners as they try to keep their pace. I always start at the back of the pack and work my way up to a comfortable pace so as not to impede the faster athletes.
As a general rule, slower runners should stay to the right while faster runners are coming up on the left.
Other things to keep in mind
♦ Look over your shoulders to assure you are not impeding anyone's line or cutting them off if you are cutting tangents, stopping to tie a shoe, fixing your iPod or if you suddenly realize the water station is on the other side of the road. I almost had a race season end because a group in front of me stopped dead in the middle of the course and walked across the road to a water station. Not only did their quick stop throw off my stride and rhythm, but I twisted my ankle pretty good trying to avoid running into them.
♦ Look behind you when spitting or throwing cups. Please. Getting pelted with someone's spit or slipping on a cup tossed in front of you as you are running is no fun and can end someone's race season.
♦ If you are taking a leisurely, enjoyable approach to the race, the safest line is on the right-hand side so as not to impede other runners trying to keep a pace.
Many elite runners aren't so concerned with cutting tangents because they're more worried about things like drafting , characteristics of the road camber or tactics with relation to the runner they are trying to best, but I wanted to include it because it is something often talked about in running circles.
The idea is to always take the shortest line between two points. Over the course of a race, even a 5K, you can save many steps that way, and over the course of a 13.1- or 26.2-mile race, you can add or save up to a mile depending on how the course is laid out (as I've learned the hard and painful way over the years). On shorter or very crowded races, I don't worry so much about it, but on longer races, it can really add up.
Always look down the road and take the most direct line. For example, if you round a corner, always be looking ahead to the next corner. You want to take the shortest route to that next corner.
You can grab a free copy of Dianne Villano's special report “22 Big Fat Lies Keeping You From The Body You Want” or submit a question at http://www.mypersonalfitnesscoach.com/fitness-freebies.html.