5 Race-Day Mistakes to Avoid

DISASTER! Asthma Attack

What went wrong and how to prevent it

Hard Breathing Introduces Nasty Invaders: Runners inhale a huge volume of dry, unfiltered air. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests they are more susceptible to allergies than nonrunners simply because they suck down more allergens.

Runners are also more likely to suffer from exercise-induced bronchospasm, (also called exercise-induced asthma). "More than 90 percent of asthmatics suffer from EIB, but about 20 percent of the general population have EIB and no symptoms of asthma," says Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. "And your risk of EIB is higher if you have allergies."

Exercising in cold, dry air can also induce an asthma attack. When you're breathing through your mouth, cold air hits your lungs. This sudden change in temperature can cause the bronchial tubes to spasm, says Dr. Maharam. Whether it's allergies or weather, the following steps can help you catch your breath—and prevent an attack.

More: Breathing Tips for Runners

See an Allergist: "If you suffer seasonal allergies--or suspect you do—an allergist can help you control allergens that spark asthma attacks," says Dr. Maharam. 

Adjust Your Calendar: Avoid racing during peak pollen months if you suffer allergies—or lower your expectations.

Warm It Up: On brisk days, hit the treadmill or gym. Heading outdoors? Breathe through your nose; if you must go hard, wear a face mask. It will warm the air before it hits your lungs.

Keep It Short: "An exercise-induced bronchospasm typically occurs about six minutes into vigorous exercise," says Dr. Maharam. When you're doing interval workouts, keep reps under six minutes.

Provoke It: This sounds dubious, but Dr. Maharam says you might try inducing a spasm, then getting on with your run. "After you have an asthma attack, you're immune to another one for roughly two to three hours," he says. Warm up, then run hard enough for at least six minutes to cause an attack. Treat it with an inhaler (or by taking a break), then continue with your workout or race.

More: How to Maximize Your VO2 Max Training

DISASTER! Heat-Stroke

What went wrong and how to prevent it

A Fast Pace in Hot Temps Spells Disaster: Too often, time goals trump common sense. That mentality can override our body's signals to slow down—up to a point. Avoid coming undone by running workouts on perceived exertion alone. Why? To learn how you feel at every intensity level so you can tap into an appropriate effort for any given condition, says Hamberger. It can take two to six months of consistent practice to hone your inner metronome, so be patient.

More: 6 Tips to Run Through the Heat

Do one of the following workouts once or twice a week. 

The Workout: 5 to 10 x 1000 meters (2.5 times around a track) at tempo pace (a speed that feels comfortably hard) with a one-minute walking rest

The Details: Initially, aim to run each lap within five seconds of each other. Once you can run even splits for each lap and rep, extend the distance, keeping the total volume per workout between 5000 and 10,000 meters. 

The Workout: 6 to 12 one-minute hill repeats as fast as possible (but not sprinting); jog down for recovery

The Details: Run each repeat within three to five seconds, ultimately aiming to nail the same time for each. Gradually add more reps and increase the time to 90 seconds.

The Workout: 4 to 8 x 800 meters at 5-K pace with a three-minute recovery jog

The Details: Whittle down time differentials until you're nailing each rep with the same speed, then add reps.

More: Beat the Heat in Three Easy Steps

Sidestep Heatstroke: Individual responses to hot weather vary, so it's hard to gauge how much you'll slow down. As a general rule, when the mercury tops 800F and/or humidity soars over 80 percent, you should toss your time goals, says Dr. Metzl. Your body simply can't supply enough blood to both cool you off and sustain your working muscles. Avoid illness by following these essential precautions. 

Stay Liquid: The day before your race, drink 90 to 120 ounces of fluid. Race morning, down 12 to 20 ounces of a sports drink to stave off electrolyte loss, says Tara Gidus, R.D., a sports dietitian. During the event, consume six to 10 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. (Learn the Best Drinks That Keep You Hydrated to stay fueled on race day.)

Dress Smart: Wear thermo-regulating clothing to allow heat to escape, and a white cap to deflect the sun, says Gidus. "Stash ice under it to cool your head."

Heed Warnings: Nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath are signs of heat illness, says Dr. Metzl. Find shade immediately, drink, and pour cold water over your head.

Race Within Yourself: Temps don't have to be high for heatstroke to occur, says Dr. Maharam. "People can rev their engines on race day higher than they can handle and generate a huge heat load that they can't dissipate." Maintain the pacing strategy you practiced.

More: The Truth About Hydration in the Heat

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