After having run in races, every year, since 1958, I’ve come to believe that success comes from getting the “little things” right. As you prepare for the big day, you will be organizing yourself, gaining mental focus, reducing tension, anticipating problems as you gear up to solve them. All of this sets you up for success.
Rehearsal. Use your speed workouts as “dress rehearsals” for your big day. Since you may be nervous, bring your checklists and go through each item as you will do at the race itself. If at all possible, run on the race course several times. If this is not possible, visit the race website, study the course profile and description, and try to find venues in your area that are similar. You want to feel familiar with every aspect of the environment surrounding the venue. Success may depend upon a feeling of confidence - that you own the road on race day.
If this is an important race that is out of town, it helps to run the course and even stage a successful workout there. You’ll learn the driving route, where to park (or which rapid transit station to exit), and what the site is like. If you will be driving, drive into the parking area several times to make sure you understand how to go exactly where you need to park. This will help you to feel at home with the staging area on race day, reducing race day anxiety. If it’s a road course, run over the last half mile of the course at least twice--the most important part of the course to know. It’s also beneficial to do the first mile of the course to see which side of the road is best for walk breaks (location of sidewalks, etc.).
Rehearse your line-up position. Enter some local 5Ks, which could be run instead of the “magic mile or MM” weekends. Practice running in the crowd, getting over to the side of the road to take walk breaks, taking water at the water stops, etc.
The Afternoon before. Don’t run the day before the race. You won’t lose any conditioning if you take two days off from running leading up to the race. This is a personal issue and the number of days you do not run before a race is your choice. I recommend no more than two days of no running.
Some races require you to pick up your race number, and sometimes your computer chip (explained below) the day before. Look at the website or the entry form for instructions about this. A few races allow you to pick up your materials on race day, but be sure.
Race number. This is sometimes called a “bib number.” It should be pinned on the front of the garment you’ll be wearing when you cross the finish line. Make sure you have 2-4 safety pins.
Computer chip. More and more races are using technology that automatically records your finish and split times along the course. You must wear a computer chip that is usually laced on the shoes, near the top. Some race result technology companies attach the chip to a velcro band around the ankle or arm. Read the instructions to make sure you are attaching this correctly. Be sure to turn this in after the race. The officials have volunteers to collect them, so stop and take them off your shoe, etc. right after the finish line. There is a steep fine ($) for those who don’t turn in the chip.
The carbo loading dinner. Some races have a dinner the night before. At the dinner you will usually chat with runners at your table and enjoy the evening. Don’t eat much, however. Many runners assume, mistakenly, that they must eat a lot of food the night before. This is actually counter-productive. It takes at least 36 hours for most of the food you eat to be processed and usable in a race, usually longer. There is nothing you can eat the evening before a race that will help you.
But eating too much, or the wrong foods for you, can create a real problem. A lot of food in your gut, when you are bouncing up and down in a race, is stressful. A very common and embarrassing situation occurs when the gut is emptied to relieve this stress. While you don’t want to starve yourself the afternoon and evening before, the best strategy is to eat small meals or snacks that you know are easy for the body to digest, and taper down the amount as you get closer to bed time. As always, it’s best to have done a “rehearsal” of eating so that you know what works, how much, when to stop eating, and what foods to avoid. The evening before your long morning runs is a good time to work on your eating plan so that you can replicate the successful routine leading up to race day.
Drinking. The day before each goal race, drink about 8 glasses of water or sports drink throughout the day. If you haven’t had a drink of water or sports drink in a couple of hours, drink half a cup to a cup (4-8 oz) each hour. Don’t drink a lot of fluid during the morning of the race itself. This can lead to bathroom breaks before the race or the desire to do so during the race itself. Many races have portajohns around the course, but some do not. This is another reason to preview the venue and note the locations of bathrooms. It is a very common practice for runners that have consumed too much fluid that morning to find a tree or alley along the course. The best solution for most runners is to drink 6-10 oz of fluid about 2-3 hours before the race. Usually this is totally out of the system before the start, but practice to make sure.
Drinking Tip: If you practice drinking before your long runs, you can find the right amount of fluid that works best for you on race day. Stage your drinks so that you know when you will be taking potty breaks, comfortably, before the start of the race itself, especially if you drink coffee.
The night before. Eating is optional after 5 p.m. If you are hungry, have a light snack (or two) that you have tested before and has not caused problems. Less is better but don’t go to bed hungry. Continue to have about 8oz of a good electrolyte beverage like Accelerade, about 2-3 hours before you go to bed. Avoid salty food the day before long runs and the race itself.
Alcohol is not recommended the night before because the effects of this central nervous system depressant carry over to the next morning. Some runners have no trouble having one glass of wine or beer, while others are better off with none. In any case, alcohol will result in some dehydration at the start of the race.
Pack your bag and lay out your clothes so that you don’t have to think very much on race morning.
watch or timer, set up for the run-walk-run ratio you are using
· A pace chart, or wrist band, with lap times, or mile times
· Pin race number on the front of the garment in which you will be finishing
· A few extra safety pins for your race/bib number or number
· Water, Accelerade, pre-race & post race beverages (such as Endurox R4), and cooler if you wish
· Food for the drive in and the drive home
· Bandages, skin lubricant, any other first aid items you may need
· Cash for registration if you are doing race day registration (check amount, including late fee)
· $ 25-40 for gas, food, parking, etc.
· Race chip attached according to the race instructions
· A few jokes or stories to provide laughs or entertainment before the start
· A copy of your “race day checklist”
Sleep. You may sleep well or you may not. Don’t worry if you don’t sleep at all. Many runners I work with every year don’t sleep a wink and have the best race of their lives. Of course, don’t try to go sleepless . . . but if it happens, it is not a problem.