Warning: this is a long post but is a helpful guide for first-time racers (or could spark discussion with experienced runners!)
My incredible running coaches have helped me in many ways. They make my job easy-all I have to do is run! But in all seriousness, hiring a running coach has been so beneficial for me. Lisa and Julie of “Run Faster and Farther” have helped improve my finish times and have given me that extra motivation that I have needed during this winter training cycle. Running coaches aren’t just for elite runners! Lisa and Julie have helped push me to my capacity (and I am not yet at the peak!), injury and stress free. Plus, they are a huge source of information about all things running, including race day planning. As I get ready for my next race on Sunday, here some of the tips they’ve provided.
Week before race, start to focus on:
- Hydration: Be conscious of hydration and try to drink water regularly.
- Sleep: Go to bed early and get at least seven hours of sleep starting one week out from the race. If you get good sleep in the week leading up to the race, you won’t have to worry if you do not sleep well the night before race day. This is common, and does not affect overall performance.
- Nutrition: Start to focus on increasing your percentage of carbohydrates (simple and complex). Do NOT OVEREAT- eat carbs in moderation and to fullness. Focus on quality, complex carbs such as quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. Try and avoid sugary foods that cause rapid increase and depletion in blood sugar/energy. Also, avoid high fiber foods that may upset the stomach and cause digestion issues. Eat foods that are high in electrolytes, including bananas, oranges, and peaches (potassium), dairy products (calcium), breakfast cereals (magnesium) and even some processed meats and snack foods in moderation (sodium).
- Logistics: Plan travel logistics and timeline for race morning, review course map.
Race expos are fun!
Day Before race:
- Hydration: continue to drink fluids regularly.
- Packet Pick-Up: Review logistics for bib pickup. Many races don’t offer race-morning pickup, so you’ll need to plan to arrive to race location ahead of time.
- Nutrition: There is no need to OVERload on carbs. Instead, eat several “mini meals” or snacks throughout the day on Friday that are high in carbs. Examples include raisins/dried fruit, mini Larabars, or other snacks that you are used to eating. The night before the race have your last large meal 12-14 hours before race (approx.. 5-6 p.m.) and consume a higher percentage of calories from easily digestible carbs (70-75%). An example of a good pre-race meal: sweet potatoes, pasta or rice (75% of plate) with salmon or chicken (25% of the plate). Simple carbs are actually good pre-race food because they are more easily digestible than complex carbs. Do NOT try anything new, spicy or otherwise “risky.”
- Logistics: Lay out everything you will need for the race (see checklist below). Make sure Garmin or other watch is charged. Set alarm and use wake-up call as back-up. Package your nutrition in a way that will make it easy to access on race day (e.g, pin gels to shorts, open packaging or put energy chews in a plastic baggie).
- Sleep: Plan to try to go to sleep about 7-8 hours before you need to be awake.
Morning of the race:
- Plan to eat your pre-race meal 1.5-2 hours before race start time. Eat something you know will not upset your stomach, e.g., something you have eaten prior to training or racing before like the whole wheat bread, peanut butter and banana. A good guideline is to have 50g of carbs per hour before the race, so 100g of carbs 2 hours prior to the race or 75g of carbs 90 minutes before the race.
- Drink 2-3 glasses of water (or Gatorade, if you are used to this) with the early morning meal. IF you have tried it in the past, you can consume some caffeine about an hour before the race, as well. Caffeine has an ergogenic effect and is a performance enhancer, but can also lead to GI problems, rapid heartbeat and other side effects so if you have not experimented with this in training, do not try it on race day.
- Go through checklist to make sure you have everything you will need for the race.
- Aside from small sips of water, stop eating and drinking half an hour before the race to avoid cramping. 10 minutes prior, you CAN have 4-8 oz (see below) to avoid that first crowded water stop.
- Do not eat simple sugars in last hour before race start. If you eat mostly simple sugars such as candy or sweets, your blood glucose levels will spike and then drop rapidly, leaving you with low glucose levels at the start of the race.
- Bag drop: Plan to drop your bag with warm-up or post-race warm clothes (if needed) 15-20 minutes before the start.
During the Race:
- Start out on the path of least resistance and do not weave from side to side in order to make your way through the crowds. Typically the far outside of the pack is less crowded, but if you are running along the side make sure to watch your footing for any potholes, gutters, grates, etc. and remember to still aim to run the tangents of the course (see below).
- Plan to start out 10-20 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace, then gradually ease into goal race pace by Mile 2-3. If you feel like you are going too slowly at the start, you are probably running at precisely the appropriate pace!
- Try to follow tangents on the race course to avoid adding extra mileage to the course. To make sure you run tangents, when the course curves, do not run along the curve- rather, aim for the next curve that comes into sight. For a good description and illustration of running tangents, check out this article.
- If it is windy, draft. When you are running into the wind, find someone about your size or larger, or a group of people, and tuck in behind them. Just be careful not to fall into their pace, either too fast or too slow. Common race courtesy is to offer to swap places leading (and taking the wind) with others, so if you find yourself doing this take a turn at the front, as well, but drafting will help you conserve your energy.
- Follow your nutrition plan based on what worked for you in training– do not make any major changes in what you eat or the timing. As a general rule of thumb, you will need 30-60g of carbs per hour. Aim to take nutrition before you hit an aid station so that you can then wash it down with water.
- Consider using salt tabs, especially if they have helped in the past. Even when it is not very hot out, salt tabs can help regulate your hydration and prevent you from bonking due to low electrolytes. We recommend one salt tab per hour.
- Drink at the water stations. We advise you to avoid taking Gatorade at the water stop following taking nutrition as the double hit of sugars may cause GI distress.
- Do not rely on your Garmin/Strava for pacing splits. Go by elapsed time at particular mile markers instead.
Finish Line and Post-Race:
- Continue moving once you cross the finish mat.
- Try to consume a meal with carbs and protein within 1-2 hours after the race.
- Take an ice bath after you get back to your home/hotel. Start with cool water and then gradually add ice. Soak for 10-15 minutes.
- Follow training calendar for recovery– take at least two rest days (active rest, i.e., walking is fine) following race.
- Be PROUD of your accomplishment!
RACE DAY CHECKLIST:
- ID and registration confirmation for packet pick-up
- Running clothes (singlet/top and shorts or tights/capris)
- Disposable gloves and hand warmers (if start will be cold)
- Watch and charger
- Race nutrition (including plastic baggies if using)
- Salt tabs
- Hydration belt/bottle/backpack (if plan to use during race)
- Food- snacks, race morning breakfast
- Ziplock bags (for nutrition, checked items like phone, etc.)
- Body glide
- Race belt (if using instead of pinning to front of shirt- not recommended for B-tag timing)
- If rain is forecast: trash bag to use as poncho
- Dry change of clothes for after race
Finish lines @Marine Corps, Philadelphia, and Chicago Marathons
Readers, what do you think about these tips? What’s your number one pre-race, race day, and post-race tip?
Do you listen to music while you run? Favorite songs/bands? I need suggestions for tomorrow!
What’s your favorite race medal you’ve received?