Note: We're going to specifically talk about the National Championship weekend, but the tips also apply to the regional semi-finals that are being incorporated this season.
I have competed on the national stage at the Hofbrau Masskrugstemmen National Championship at the NYC Central Park Oktoberfest and Steuben Parade four out of the last five years and I can definitely say that it has been a surreal experience each time. There have been a handful of other competitors that have been there multiple times, but I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences and some special game-day preparation tips for the big show. If you've never been there before and had the experience, it can be hard to adjust and you may end up being disappointed with your performance without the proper planning and preparations.
The best piece of advice that I can give to competitors at the national finals or even the regional semi-finals is this: do you best to plan out the days leading up to the competition so that you can stick as close to your normal training routine as possible. You should enjoy the experience for sure, but it's VERY easy to get caught up in the excitement and neglect your normal training and preparation habits. To be fair, it's probably going to be a little hard to even believe what is happening to you, but here it is: a 400+ year old German beer company has flown you New York City and put you up in a hotel to compete in a Bavarian beer steinholding competition. Go ahead and think about that for a second. Maybe even say it out loud so that it really sinks in. A 400+ year old German beer company has flown you New York City and put you up in a hotel to compete in a steinholding competition. If you're anything like me, one of your next thoughts is probably going to be something like: this is completely awesome and ridiculous.
Good. Now that you are ready to move on, think about your normal eating, sleeping and training habits. Under the best of circumstances, travelling makes it really hard to maintain a healthy routine and travelling to the NYC Oktoberfest will not be any easier.
Food: As I discuss in our game day prep guide, you want to make sure you are monitoring your calorie intake to make sure you are getting plenty of excess calories the day before and the day of the competition. In addition to that, strongly consider going to the grocery store and pick up the normal kind of healthy snacks that you would be eating and make yourself a little stash to keep with you. As ridiculous as it seems, I have set my own personal records at the National Championships in 2014 and 2015 and I attribute it to this kind of preparation. I brought a backpack with a cooler bag to hold Greek yogurt, fruit and protein bars to snack on all day leading up to the competition. To give you an idea of exactly how it went for me, about an hour and a half before the 2015 championship, I was sitting on a bench in Central Park. Even at the time it occurred to me how bizarre my actions were and I made a note to myself in my phone because the experience was so surreal. The note read:
"I'm sitting on a bench alone in Central Park outside of the NYC Oktoberfest. I can hear the sounds of people having fun and the band playing, but I'm force-feeding myself Greek yogurt, power bars and kale even though I'm not hungry and I've been nauseous for about two weeks straight."
It was weird at the time and it's still weird looking back at it, but I am certain that taking the competition really seriously and giving it the respect it deserves as an athletic event gave me a significant edge. As I said, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement and just have fun without thinking about performance, and that's fine. If you want to be a loser.
Sleep: Sleep is going to be a challenge too. Sleeping in a hotel room is never easy, but try to get as much sleep as you can for two or three nights leading up to the competition day. There is a debate among athletes about the importance of getting a good night sleep two nights before a competition, and science is still figuring it out, but why take a chance? Sleep as much as you can.
Alcohol intake: Heavy alcohol intake the day before and the day of a competition is probably going to hurt your ability to compete at a high level, especially if you don't regularly drink. Alcohol has been shown to reduce your ability to enter REM sleep even if it may seem to help you fall asleep faster, which is a bad thing. This means that you won't be getting the full restorative effects of sleep. Also, alcohol is a diuretic which means that it will dehydrate you. If you're dehydrated, your performance will be impacted for sure and you are also at a higher risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Am I saying that you shouldn't drink alcohol at an Oktoberfest festival? Hell no, that would be un-American (un-German?). But I would wait until after the competition and then get loose in celebration. I also gave up booze for the month leading up to the competition during my most intense training phase since alcohol is also shown to impact muscle recovery. If you drink the night before, make sure you drink tons of water that night and throughout the day of the competition. And speaking of water...
Hydration: Hydration is key with any type of athletic activity. If you're dehydrated, your body isn't going to be working up to its full potential. On the day of the national finals, you're going to be standing on a parade float in the sun for a while, walking around Central Park and the day will fly by while you're representing your hometown as a Masskrugstemmen champion in New York City. This is the type of situation that's probably way outside of your normal routine so it's really easy to forget about hydration. Set yourself a reminder or alarm in your phone to make sure you're drinking a good amount of water throughout the day. Bring a backpack with some water bottles. The Central Park Oktoberfest rules allow ticket-holders to bring sealed water bottles into the festival, and as a competitor you'll want to make it a point to take advantage of this.
Keep these tips in mind and plan ahead and you'll be able to perform at your highest level. Don't forget to check out our other articles on Masskrugstemmen training. Every year there is intense competition and the best of the best from across the country will be on stage looking to capture the national crown and shooting for a new national record. Win or lose, it's always an awesome event for everyone. If you're competing, good luck and most of all, enjoy the weekend. I'll see you there!