Planning your prerace snooze plan may help lower anxiety—and, according to researchers in the U.K., may even improve your running performance.
"A big reason people don't PR at a big race is that their sleep was off mere nights before," says Christopher Winter, author of The Sleep Solution, who studies the link between fitness and sleep. That rule is especially true for destination events, where you're in a different time zone or an unfamiliar hotel. Planning your prerace snooze plan may help lower anxiety—and, according to researchers in the U.K., may even improve your running performance.
Unlike your iPhone, your body doesn't auto-adjust. If you're racing away from home, you have to tinker beforehand or you can count on a bad night before your big day. Two weeks pre-race, alter the lighting in your home to simulate when the sun goes down in your race location, says Winter. So, for example, if you live in Mountain Time but are racing in Eastern, you'd draw the shades and dim your lights as the sun sets over the East Coast. "Then go to bed and wake up when you will for your race," says Winter.
Getting up early to run or ride in the dark before work can be an exercise in the art of suffering, but if you're always hitting the gym after work, listen up: Your body "adapts" to perform at its peak during the time of day you regularly work out, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. If you're primed to run fast at 7 p.m., for example, you'll be ill-prepared to PR when the starting gun fires at 7 a.m. At least a month leading up to the race, says Winter, train at race hour a minimum of twice a week.
Forget counting sheep. Use those last few moments before falling asleep to get your head in the game—literally. At least a week before race day, lie in bed with your eyes closed and play a mental movie: See yourself feeling great as you maintain your goal pace, PR'ing at the finish line. It might sound far out, but it's scientifically proven to boost athletic performance. One study found that people who visualized performing a strength exercise for 15 minutes a day for 12 weeks increased their strength by more than 13 percent even though they didn't actually lift a weight.