How to Navigate a Race

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. 

IMG_0747 updateIMG_0888Race 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!



  1. ID and registration confirmation for packet pick-up
  2. Running clothes (singlet/top and shorts or tights/capris)
  3. Disposable gloves and hand warmers (if start will be cold)
  4. Watch and charger
  5. Race nutrition (including plastic baggies if using)
  6. Salt tabs
  7. Hydration belt/bottle/backpack (if plan to use during race)
  8. Socks
  9. Shoes/insoles
  10. Hat/sunglasses
  11. Sunscreen
  12. Food- snacks, race morning breakfast
  13. Ziplock bags (for nutrition, checked items like phone, etc.)
  14. Body glide
  15. Race belt (if using instead of pinning to front of shirt- not recommended for B-tag timing)
  16. If rain is forecast: trash bag to use as poncho
  17. Dry change of clothes for after race

715IMG_0917IMG_0887 (1)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?





  1. Solid tips. They will work for anyone in general and as you noted they can be individually modified. I take a cup of coffee or two before a run, but I drink a lot of coffee. Salt tabs are amazing!

    My number 1 tip: Relax and enjoy it

    I don’t listen to music while I run anymore but I remember my pace would always pick up when The Rake’s Song or The Mariner’s Revenge Song (both by The Decemberists) came on. The content of the songs is terrible but the feeling, the mood was very energetic (seething maybe) and I often came close to sprinting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is all sound advice. Looking back at my first few marathons, I’d drive myself nuts second-guessing and analyzing pretty much everything I was eating and drinking in the last week before the race. Now, training for Marathon No. 11, I don’t stress about it nearly as much. So I guess my No. 1 piece of advice for newbies would be to, yes, follow all the advice above as much as you can, but at the same time don’t stress about it if you think the percentage of carbs in your last meal is a little off or you only get 6 hours of sleep on Wednesday, or whatever… As long as your training has been on target during the season, you can trust your training above all to carry you on race day.

    Coaching can be a big help, too, I agree. As a motivator as well as for the advice. This season I’m running Boston with the Dana-Farber team, and we’re very lucky to have 1976 Boston Marathon champion Jack Fultz as our training advisor. He is fantastic at taking the time to give thoughtful advice to all the runners.

    You and I share several of the same medals (Chicago, Country Music, Marine Corps…) My personal favorite is the Marine Corps medal you’re wearing above from this past fall. I love the ruby color to it, and the anchor design was very creative. After this April, the Boston medal will be my favorite no matter what it looks like because of what that race means to me.

    Good luck tomorrow, Jane!


    1. Thanks so much for your input, I agree with your points! Best not to stress too much about some of this stuff if you’re new to running– good to experiment to see what works for you! That’s so great you’re running with Jack Fultz– I’m curious what your workouts look like! What’s the max amount of miles you’ll run before Boston, and the max long run? Re- medals, I think I’ll have to agree with you on Boston being my favorite (although I can’t jinx myself, haven’t crossed the finish line yet!).


  3. I’ll admit, I skimmed through and didn’t read it all. As of what I know right now, I agree about everything I read. (I’m nowhere near the runner you or most of your readers are, so I don’t have much to offer myself.) I agree with the ice baths, and have done it myself. I am, however keeping my eye on some research that is coming out suggesting heat. It goes against everything I’ve ever known and practice, but it is suggesting heat over the ice. About five years ago I never would have run without a stretch. I learned about research that has completely changed my perspective there too. I’m not sure if I’ve bought into the heat thing yet, but I’m interested in hearing what others have seen on it.


    1. I don’t blame you for skimming, it’s a long post! As far as heat, I’m no expert, but I find it nice to do some stretching after a hot bath or shower post-run. Muscles are warm and I feel like they recover well with this routine. Good thing to research further!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice. Miami half marathon tomorrow, right? Bet you’re glad to be away from the snow! Have a brilliant time, enjoy the race & I look forward to hearing how you got on!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. All great tips, most of which I either follow, or have followed at some point during race prep…and there’s always a couple that I forget. We keep our own race day checklists, print them out and lay them next to the cases before packing if we are going on the road. Almost always use S-caps for a marathon, and usually for halfs…GU’s, yep…coffee and 1/2 bagel w/peanut butter if I can stand it that early in the morning about an hour before the race. Post-race – if it’s a marathon then I try to grab ice as quick as I can to get on my legs. I don’t listen to music on race day but always train with music and have various playlists based on the type of run/mood I’m in. Favorite medal…tough one, the RnR ones are really cool, but for now, I would have to say the Chicago Marathon is my favorite…my marathon PR and first time running under 4 hours. Best of luck with the half tomorrow…and hydrate early and often!! I just got my own reality check of racing in the tropics after training through a cold wet and icy winter!


    1. That’s a good idea to print out the checklist, especially when traveling! Is there a reason why you don’t listen to music on race day? I’ve tried to go without but find it so much more motivating to have some fast-paced songs playing! Just curious! Agree with Chicago medal, it’s awesome. And thanks for the good luck wishes!! I don’t think it will be as hot here as Maui, but I agree! Hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip!


      1. No real reason I typically do not use music on race day…most people do and I totally understand why. I guess I try to take in the event as much as I can and enjoy the atmosphere. But, after this past race experience, I may try using some upbeat playlists on the next one! Miami might be just as hot and humid but I’m thinking maybe not as many hills! Have a rockin’ race and crank it up :)


  6. Great post Jane.
    My go to on race day is toast with PB and banana. I also like hard boiled eggs if there is enough time before the run.
    Yes, I listen to music when I run. I don’t like to hear my own breath or other people’s feet hitting the pavement. My songs motivate me.
    Songs on my playlist are:
    Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson
    Boss by Fifth Harmony
    Do it Like a Dude by Jessie J
    Welcome to New York by Taylor Swift
    Pay Day by Classified
    Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boy
    She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds of Summer
    Honey, I’m Good by Andy Grammer
    Sun Daze by Flordia Georgia Line
    Apple Bottom Jeans by T-Pain
    Cheerleader by OMI
    Brave by Sara Bareilles
    Cruise by Florida Georgia Line feat Nelly
    That’s a few…good luck!


  7. This is a great post!!! I am book marking it to remember for my first marathon. It’s funny that I eat most “race food” (bananas, rice, potatoes etc) all the time. Always ready to race hahaha Thanks for the info Jane!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Good advice :-)

    I don’t listen to music when I’m running – if I’m alone then I like to stay alert and if I’m with friends then I like to chat… also headphones are banned in most races in the UK, so I think it’s good practice to run without music. If I’m doing indoor training (such as on my turbo trainer), I like high energy dance music, such as Avicii.

    I love the medals that Phoenix Running (UK) do – they’ve got a series of film themed races this year that have amazing medals:


  9. Great post! I’m three weeks into training for the London marathon in April, having never run a mile in my life until 3 months ago I’m taking all the tips I can, so I look forward to more! Thank you and hope Miami went well x

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for all the helpful advice Jane. Since I’ve started this running lark, I’ve not competed yet but understand all the points raised. Will take them on board. I’ve just done my first marathon distance training run yesterday (Sunday) and ‘took it in my stride’ (pardon the pun).
    Didn’t think about most of things you listed as it was a training run so not competitive. Will digest the info. Cheers.


  11. What a valuable resource for others who haven’t run a race before!! So cool that you’re willing to share your wisdom with others. As a former competitive figure skater, I value the dedication and hard work that goes into training even though I don’t think I could ever complete a race. :P Because of this common bond that we have as athletes, we’ve created a website that brings together former and current athletes and provides a supportive and non-judgmental space for individuals to share their athletic triumphs and struggles with one another (See the forums page and members and events page). We’d love to hear an account of how running has influenced you (anonymously if you would like). Thank you for your consideration! Looking forward to hearing more on your site!


  12. Hi Jane!

    I’m training for my first marathon (on May 29th) – I wondered what’s the furthest you would advise training up to prior to the run? I’ve seen a lot of conflicting advice the more I read!

    Some plans say 13 miles is enough, but that seem’s a little crazy to me! Some say 20 miles. At the moment I’ve just been adding a mile a week, but I’m a little worried because I won’t start getting up to 20 milers until I’m close to the date of the run! What do you think?

    Thanks in advance :)


  13. Very thorough and detailed tips, Jane. Particularly on the carb loading. Many have the tendency to over do it on the pasta the night before the race (being there, done that). Sound advices. Thanks for sharing.



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