You've trained for months and now finally you're about to toe the line and test the effectiveness of your running plan. All the blood, sweat, tears and missing toe nails are now minor details as the bigger challenge of the race takes your focus. But putting down a great run requires more than just being physically ready. The things you do leading up to the gun are just as important and are often critical steps runners don't always get right or consider.
Here's my Top 10 list of Pre Run Race Rituals that will set you up for success.
Days leading up to the race
1. Aid Station review - Most race websites will have a map that outlines where you can find aid stations on the course. You should also be able to find out what type of electrolyte drink will be served, and for longer distances when and if energy gels will be available. You should have a clear plan before race day of which aid stations you plan to stop at and what your want to ingest. Will you take water or Gatorade? Will you carry gels or rely on the race? How many calories do you plan to consume? You definitely need to allow the day to unfold and be flexible, but start with a plan. If the day is super hot you may need to be taking in more fluids and even salt tabs, but it helps to have a clear strategy going in so its one less thing you need to spend mental energy on. Winging it is never a good idea and often the difference between a good race and a personal best, is how well you can execute your nutritional strategy......so make sure you have one!
2. Memorize the course - In the weeks leading up to the race I like to spend time visualizing the course. I like to look at the elevation profile so I know where the hills are and can adjust my plan accordingly. I also look for key spots on the race like the turn around point location so I'm not having to guess where I am, and can just focus on running. Last I like to know which way I'm turning well ahead of time so I can position myself on the road. For example, if the first turn in the race is a right turn, I line up on the right side of the crowd so I have good position. Race distances are measured using the shortest path, so don't add extra mileage by running on the outside of corners. I've often found course overviews on YouTube which are an awesome way to get a feel for the race. The less surprises along the way the better, so do some homework.
3. Plan your splits - There's a good chance you have a goal time for your race and often "better than last time" is the main objective. It's always a good idea to have an "A" goal for your finish time and then a "B" goal as a back up in case things don't go as planned. With your goal in mind, you should break down your race into "splits" which are shorter time blocks that will ultimately keep your pace on track. For a half marathon for example I set a time range for 3KM splits and think of having 7 laps of 3KM times plus a short sprint to the finish to equal the 21.1KM's. A mistake runners often make (count me in as guilty) is watching their time every KM or MILE and try to speed up and slow down accordingly, which usually doesn't work. Know your ideal split times and focus on staying with a pre set time range. If you've got a bad memory, write the times on the back of your hand and stick to them.
4. Pick out 2 outfits - You know that race day is not the time to rock a new shirt right!? A good way to spot rookie runners on race day is looking for everyone that's wearing the free race t-shirt they got in their race package the day before. Unless you have a sick addiction to chaffing, save if for another day. In the days leading up to your race, watch the weather forecast and have a couple options picked out to wear.
Assume that the weather man is going to be right and lay out your gear accordingly. But having a backup is a good plan in case its way hotter or cooler than planned. Don't forget to dress as if it's 10-15 degrees warmer than it actually is.......you are going to heat up as you get going, so plan to start out feeling a bit of a chill. I see so many people WAY over dressed which causes them to spend additional energy running, forcing your body to work harder at cooling down.
5. Have a meal plan - Probably the 2 most important meals you will eat before a race will be the night before and the morning of your race. You don't want to eat too late race eve and risk not being able to digest your meal before morning. Your body needs all of it's energy to run and not to break down calories so eat around 6PM and then put down the fork. In the morning you'll want to eat 2-3 hours before the start time of the race. Keep it light and typical of what you normally eat on training days. And it should go without saying but I still need to call it out....no new food! Don't introduce anything unfamiliar even if you think its "nutritious" and something the pros eat. This can be tough if you're racing away from home and staying at a hotel. I like to do my research on the restaurants in the area for my meals and often will hit a grocery store when I arrive so I can buy my race morning meal and tuck it in the fridge in the hotel. The less you leave up to chance, the better. Are you picking up on a theme yet!?.......control everything you can.
Day of the race
6. Be early but don't get crazy - Plan your arrival ahead of time and plan to be in the start area 30 minutes before race time. This will ensure that you have time for an easy warm up, bathroom breaks and to get yourself settled and in the right head space. If you get to the race super early you'll likely allow your nerves to build up which is never a good thing. A little nervousness means you're ready to go, but don't allow yourself to over think things by standing around for too long. On the flip side, there's nothing worse than arriving at the last minute and having to scramble to get to the start corrals in time. You'll waste energy and likely create adrenaline that you don't want to have right at the beginning of your run. Spend some time doing your homework on things like parking, travel time to the event, bathroom locations, and bag check to help take away the guess work on race morning. That way you can arrive calm, focused and ready to run like a pro.
7. 1 for the nerves. 1 for the bladder - If you're like me, you'll make more that one trip to the porta potties before making your way to the start line so just accept it.
The first one is always a good idea to ensure you're bladder is clear and breakfast is gone (sorry gross I know, but it's part of the deal) and the second stop in the big blue box is going to be nerves. Do some research on where the bathrooms are located and know you're not going to be alone. You'll have hundreds of other nervous runners right there in line with you, so don't leave it until the last minute to go. When you arrive go right away, map out the territory and double back 20 minutes before start time to allow for any line ups. You can usually find additional bathrooms tucked away from the main crowds which don't get over crowded.....if you can scout these out consider yourself lucky, and keep the secret to yourself!
8. Easy warm up - For half marathon distances and less I recommend a 5-10 minute easy jog followed by ABC Drills and 3-4 Strides to get your legs warmed up and ready to go. Keep your pace relaxed, with the goal simply to get your legs warm, muscles firing and the blood flowing. It's also a great time to run through your race plan in your head and get focused on your goal. You'll want to start your warm up around 30 minutes before the start so you'll have enough time to get loosened up and then hit the washroom one last time before being called to the start corrals. Usually you'll be called to the starting area 15 minutes ahead of time, so be ready to roll and keep your legs gently moving as you stand amongst the crown waiting to start.
9. Pick your place at the starting line - The bigger the race, the more chaos you can expect at the starting line, so plan ahead. Many races will have "Pace Bunnies" who's role is to complete the run in a specific time. I have mixed feelings on whether or not to run with the pacer, but it does give you a good idea about where you should position yourself in the crowd at the start. As the faster runners line up at the front, you'll want to find your sweet spot so you can settle in quickly. Line up too far forward and you risk getting sucked into a faster pace out of the gate that you'll likely regret later on in the race. Start too far back and you'll get stuck behind slower runners and have to spend extra energy dodging around them. Know that in the first stretch of the race you'll likely be running slower than your target pace, and this is ok. Starting out slower and picking up the pace over time is good race strategy, so stay relaxed and find a comfortable place in the pack. Bonus street smarts tip - I mentioned this before, but it's important here and a good time to reinforce. If you know the course, this should also help you to decide what side of the crowd to start on. If there is a turn in the course early you'll want to start on that side, so you don't get pushed to the outside while everyone is running tightly together at the beginning.
10. GPS Off - If you use a Garmin or GPS watch while running, you may want to consider turning the GPS signal off and simply use the timer functionality of the device. Although most reputable races will be accurately marked out for distance, there's a good chance your GPS may be slightly out. Also if you don't run the most direct route on the course you'll add extra mileage to your run. Try and rely on the mile markers on the course to help you manage your pace versus a lap function you may have on your watch.
I've been in races before where my watch beeped to tell me I had completed a kilometre and gave me my lap time, but in actuality I still had over 200 meters to the marker on the course. Weather my measure was right or not, the course is the course and I needed to adjust my pace where I was at. This can be tough, especially if you're like me and rely heavily on your technology.
So if there's one theme to take away here, it's to have a good game plan. You don't need to be OCD on every single detail, but in running there are so many things that can be out of your control, so managing the things you can helps to save both physical and mental energy. If you need some help on your next race plan, we'd love to assist. Shoot us a note any time at firstname.lastname@example.org
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