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Aisha Praught’s weekend race strategy

Racing season is here… The awesome Aisha dishes some tips on how she prepares for her best results…

Aisha is an Illinois state graduate and represents Nike Oregon Track Club Elite. Find out how she prepares for a killer race, as she shares with Belle Lap her pre-race rituals, travel prep and call room self talk.

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BELLE LAP: What are your priorities when packing for a race?
AP: I always pack the essentials first. In my carry on are things I absolutely need for race day that I couldn’t buy or borrow if my bag got lost: Nike Zoom Mamba Spikes, my OTC race kit, Run Gum, SOS packet. Then I fill in the empty space with my favorite travel easing comforts: a great book, water bottle, lip balm (I’m in love with Kiehl’s Travel Tested Eucalyptus Lip Relief I picked up in a duty free shop!), a softball for rolling, healthy snacks, my laptop (Willy- my BF usually loads it with movies) and ginger tea or candies. I am a coffee drinking maniac, and ended up nearly coffee-less in Beijing this summer. Luckily some friends brought their own stash, so now I am always packing Marley Coffee and a method of preparation.

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BELLE LAP: How do you stay hydrated on the plane?
AP: I try to alternate SOS and sparkling water, at least 16 ounces every hour. My goal is to need a bathroom break once per hour (I have a tiny bladder!).

BELLE LAP: How do you ensure your legs stay fairly fresh whilst traveling?
AP: Move around!! I ALWAYS snag an aisle seat so I’m not “that girl”. I get up once an hour at least, walk around, lightly stretch.
Always keep the sock game strong! I wear compression socks that aren’t too tight, like the colorful over the calf ones I get from Nike.
My secret weapon, however, is ginger. I go nuts for natural anti-infammatories, and find ginger especially helpful during travel. I will bring my own packets of ginger tea, chew on some dried ginger or even eat ginger candy. If you ain’t got time for that, just order ginger ale in flight. (You can usually find these things at any grocer, but Asian grocery stores have the best dried ginger and candy selection.) It also helps with any motion sickness or upset stomach from eating weird food while traveling.

BELLE LAP: Do you ‘shake out’ when you get to your hotel?
AP:I am an advocate for the shake ever since my college coach forced us on begrudging 15 minute shake out jogs, even if we arrived at an absurd hour. I still jog gently for 15-20 minutes when I arrive at a decent hour. Since I’m not so young anymore, I make sure to take a walk if I’ve had a bad travel day or it is late. Even though it seems like the last thing I want to do, I always thank myself the next day.

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BELLE LAP: What do you do the day before a big race?
AP:The day before the race I do very little. I go through my warm up routine about 24 hours before the race, jog/stretch/drills/strides and then a light warm down. During this time I take note of the check in process, warm up areas and the water jump so there are no surprises the next day. I use this time to visualize my race plan. Occasionally I will do an additional 15 minute shake out in the morning or evening just to keep my body in my twice a day rhythm.

BELLE LAP: What do you eat the night before a race?
AP: If I am too particular, I set myself up for failure, as you are seldom in total control of food situations at meets. I am lactose intolerant, though, so that does eliminate certain possibilities. I try to steer myself toward easy digestion. For me, that means fish, veggies and a quick carb like white rice. If I am racing at Hayward Field and get to cook, I’ll make salmon (bonus points if we caught it), a colorful green salad with nuts, seeds and avocado and a mound of white rice (a big mound—I learned that one from my Kenyan friends). My body loves healthy fats, so I will usually add an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to my meal.

BELLE LAP: How do you clear your mind the days leading up to a race?
AP: Finally accepting that nerves are okay and even helpful really eased the tension for me leading into a race. When nerves and excitement race into my mind, I take a few slow, deep breaths to lower my heart rate and picture myself succeeding. I acknowledge my feelings, try to flip any negativity to positivity, then breathe them out and let them go. I try to keep life light and fun and surround myself with positivity and people who make me laugh.

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BELLE LAP: How do you kick off your race day?
AP: I always shake out! I’ll do 15-20 minutes jogging, less than 5 minutes of stretching, drills and the occasional stride or two. It is fluid throughout the year and based on whatever I feel I need on each particular day.

BELLE LAP: Do you have any pre-race rituals?
AP: I’m not what one would describe as a “girly-girl” (for lack of a better term), but on race day I definitely go for it. Look hot, race hot is one of my silly race day mantras. That means nails, hair, makeup are on point, and usually applied while blasting some power songs.

BELLE LAP: What do you eat before a race?
AP: The night before the race I make a timeline in Notes on my phone. I decide when to eat, shakeout, nap, drink coffee, leave the hotel and any other action I might take during the day. I’m not a great digester while nervous, so I usually eat simple foods, consuming my “last major food” around four hours before race day. I ran a massive PR in Japan this year after eating one of my favorite Japanese food combos, an omelette with rice, so I have honestly eaten eggs and rice four hours before a lot of races in 2015. An hour before I warm up, I drink coffee and nibble on either this Omega 3-rich trail mix we buy from Trader Joe’s (mostly walnuts, pistachios and dried cranberries), or some sort of dairy free carbolicious bar. I will usually eat a little nibble of those Powerbar energy chews or (seriously) a couple of Willy[my boyfriend]’s Haribo gummies aka power pellets after I warm up if I am feeling low.

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BELLE LAP:  What do you think about in the call room? 
AP: In the call room I drench my mind with positive self-talk. I remind myself I am prepared, breathe deeply and stay focused on what I can control.

BELLE LAP: Do you have an intense mindset or a relaxed approach to racing?
AP: I am generally quite intense, so I am constantly trying to keep those energies in check and focused on the actual race. I remain as calm as I can, smile and chat, until I get on the track right before the race. Then I let my instincts loose!

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BELLE LAP: What do you focus on during a race?
AP: During a race, I focus on my predetermined cues regarding my race plan and my technique over hurdles. I try to completely lose myself in the act of racing, i.e. who is moving up, who is breathing hard, how much gas is in my tank, when to move and etc. In the last couple laps I make sure I’m in position to leave it all on the track.

BELLE LAP: How do you stay focused on your race goal?
AP: It is most helpful for me to focus on the race process to achieve my end goal. I developed this weird strategy of writing my race plan on the hotel notepad and carrying it with me. I focus my energy on what I can control, and then visualize my actions with as much detail as possible the night before the race. On race day, I try to block out any garbage thoughts and focus on what I WILL do to make the race mine.

BELLE LAP: What have you found has negatively impacted a race from past experience?
AP: I favor a race instead of a time-trial. If I am stressed about splits, I might as well forget it, so I’ve learned (and am still learning) to ignore the clock and just go!

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BELLE LAP: If you have rounds, what do you do right after the first round to prepare for the final?
AP: This time is crucial to performance. I will drink as much SOS as I can right off the track, warm down 15-20 minutes to get the junk out of my legs, then immediately start whacking in more SOS a recovery drink, and food. I try to get a massage, or at least spend some time on the foam roller, then hop in the ice bath (2 minutes in, one minute out for about 12 minutes). I then eat a similar meal to my pre race meal.

BELLE LAP: How do you celebrate a great race?
AP: Oh, baby. Let me be the first to tell you I love a greasy bacon burger (hold the cheese) and salty fries post race. Then pour me a crisp pale ale or a nice glass of wine, tell me a couple of funny stories, and let me sleep for nine hours and I am one ridiculously happy lady.

BELLE LAP: How do you pick yourself up and stay positive after a bad race?
AP: Kind of the same way as a good race, except I’ll probably smash my cool down out of frustration and crush my morning run to clear my negative thoughts, usually chatting through my mistakes with Willy. If I’m feeling really torn up I will reach out to my “elders,” my friends who have ridden the crazy wave and are immensely successful on the track for some wisdom (Sally Kipyego is one of the wisest souls around). If all else fails, I call my Mom, because she thinks I am way more awesome than I am.

 

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*HAVE FUN! Once I let go of a ton of race anxiety, I begun to really enjoy race day. Nerves are helpful, but races shouldn’t be scary, they are opportunities to show how much of a badass you are.

*Stress is stress, no matter if it is physical, mental or emotional. If you have terrible travel or your buildup to a race isn’t ideal, LET IT GO. You’re doing yourself a favor by conserving your energy.

*Make a power playlist, songs that make you feel unstoppable (if any songs are from the Pitch Perfect soundtracks, we can definitely be friends). Listen to it whenever you need to block out some garbage thoughts.

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Run Gum, Mint
SOS, Mango
Kiehl’s Travel Tested Eucalyptus Lip Relief
Gin Gin’s Ginger Chews
Emergency stash of Dark Chocolate
Marley Coffee Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
iPod Shuffle
OTCE Race Kit
Nike Zoom Mamba Spike, battle wounds included
Nike Over the Calf Compression sock
Softball for rolling
Will Leather Goods “Winfield” Passport Case with two Passports, Jamaican and American

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Photo: Jordan McNamara

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