I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but only in the last 10 years have I been a consistent racer; mostly 5K’s and 10K’s. I can remember my first race, it was a disaster; not only was the race not managed well, but I was completely unprepared from just about every perspective imaginable.
I carb-loaded the night before…big mistake; and it went downhill from there. In reality, I thought about not running races, but I saw so many people having the time of their life I gave it another chance. A friend of mine, a more seasoned racer gave me some advice about race day (much of which is included in this article) and I learned a bit through trial and error.
You may want to go through your own trial and error, but here are some tips I would advise for the new racer and for those who haven’t had the best race experiences.
At the end of the day, these races should be the highlight of your weekend…something you’ve trained for, and hopefully something you find not just enjoyable but rewarding as well.
Below are some tips I have learned and practiced along the way that may help make your race day a little less nerve wracking.
It's OK to take it easy, activity-wise, a day or two before your race. You want to be well-trained before your race, but you also want to have the freshest legs possible for your race. Depending on the length of the race, your “taper” from training may differ but you should set the day before the race as a rest day (or, at the very least just a short warm-up run to keep the legs loose).
Get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your race. I don’t know about you, but I always have trouble sleeping the night before a race. I’m not an elite runner, but I’ve placed in the top 3 in a few of my age groups, and I just can’t seem to turn my brain off the night before a race. If you’re the same, don’t worry about it as the adrenaline of race day will allow you to push through any lack of sleep fatigue you might have. However, make sure you get plenty of rest in the days leading up to the eve of the race so your body isn’t overly tired.
Do not carb load the night before. Have you ever been part of a race where the organizers sponsor an all you can eat carb (usually spaghetti) dinner the night before? If so, and you partook in the “all you can eat” aspect you probably realize the mistake and ended up feeling bloated the morning of the race. Eat well the night before, but don’t overdo it especially for any race shorter than a half marathon. For longer distances, like the half marathon and marathon spread your carb loading over 3 or 4 days before the race and avoid an all you can eat feast.
Nothing new on race day. I can’t stress this one enough; try nothing new at all on race day. No new breakfast foods or pre-race snacks, no new running gear (and definitely not new running shoes) and no new refueling sources. I remember one race where one of the participants tried a new racing goo, and let’s just say he learned his lesson: stomach issues during race day or no fun!
Eat breakfast 2 – 3 hours before your race. You should eat something for breakfast on the day of the race; typically, I’ll have half a bowl of oatmeal and either a bagel with peanut butter or a banana along with 12 ounces of an energy drink with electrolytes between 2 – 3 hours prior to race time. I may drink another 8 ounces directly prior to the race, as well.
Arrive early and warm up. Depending on the race, the logistics of getting to the race; parking; getting your race bib and number; as well as the inevitable long lines at the porta-lets always takes longer than expected. Give yourself an hour to get these things done, and to properly warm up before the race. A proper warm-up should have you breaking a slight sweat without over-taxing your legs; I like to jog somewhere around a mile (slowly) for my warm-up.
Enjoy the day! You’ve trained hard, you’re ready for the race; now, just go out and enjoy it. I always take the time to check out other runners, the father/son or mother/daughter; the group of friends dressed alike in costumes; multi-generations running together. This is what running is all about, so just go out and enjoy it.
Each race brings its own set of challenges, but the most important thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy the experience.
Be safe and keep running!
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.