The sport of running is a great way to move and push yourself, explore a new city or trail, workout with friends or alone, and sleep more soundly and live with more energy. Running generally adds some pep in your step, so why not take it one step further and run in a race? Whether you’re a novice or veteran of the sport, a race of any distance can reinvigorate your running routine. (If you need some further convincing, see the previous post "8 Reasons to Road Race".)
You’ve signed up for a road race. You’re registered, and are ready to run. Now what? While certain elements of your race day situation, such as the weather, may be out of your control, you can do a lot to ensure race day itself goes smoothly. The following has a lot of advice which will be especially helpful for new racers--and a tip or two for the pros.
1. Set out your race day outfit and pack a race day bag the night before.
Look at the weather forecast and choose your outfit accordingly. This should ideally be something you’ve worn before, so you know you’ll be comfortable, able to move well, and won’t get any chafing (this last point is especially important for the longer distances!). Bring a spare set of race day clothing just in case. You never know—someone could spill a Gatorade all over you as soon as you get there; while this is unlikely, a backup set of race clothes will make you feel more prepared and as a result more confident. Set out your entire outfit in a good spot in your room the night before. I recommend keeping this near your race day bag just so you don’t forget anything.
If you might be dealing with rain or inclement weather, pack another change of clothes in your bag for after the race—this way you can change and head straight to post-race brunch without going home first. Regardless of the weather, include appropriate layers for warming up and cooling down. Even if the race will be warm, bringing a long-sleeved top and pants is always a good idea; you may up end staying around for post-race activities and you don’t want to be chilled from getting sweaty or if you end up at an air-conditioned restaurant. For winter races, inside my race bag, I leave a big plastic closeable bag full of bonus accessories like gloves, hats, and arm warmers just in case.
2. Bring a water bottle with your favorite pre-tested workout beverage.
Don’t show up without a drink (or two) which you’ve used regularly before. While the race will nearly always provide water after the event, you don’t want to start dehydrated. If you’re traveling to the race, the bonus drink almost always comes in handy on the way home too.
3. Know what and when you’re going to eat for your race day breakfast.
Once you find something that works, stick with it! You should ideally test out your intended breakfast for a morning run ahead of time. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so what works for your running partner may not work for you. Generally speaking, bananas and peanut butter are good foods to try, as are oatmeals, toast, and certain protein bars. Stay away from citrus fruit and apples which can upset your stomach. Have coffee if that is part of your typical morning routine. The golden rule of race day is to not try anything new, clothing, nutrition, hydration, or otherwise!
4. Have your pre-race timing down! Know where you’re going and take the traffic and parking situation into account. Arrive with enough time to both warmup and pick up your race day packet if needed.
Maybe this race starts down the street from your home and the travel situation couldn’t be simpler. But, maybe it’s in a new part of town. Put the correct destination into a navigation app the night before so you’re not scrambling to figure out where to go.
Sometimes running events, especially the larger ones, have packet pick-up the day before the event. If this is an option and you can conveniently get your packet ahead of time, do that to make race day itself more straightforward. Otherwise, just be sure to arrive to the race with plenty of time to get your packet. (Most races will also advertise when packet pick-up opens on race day.) Your packet will have your race day bib, which gets pinned to the front of your shirt or shorts, and any other race day goodies like a t-shirt included with your registration.
(Occasionally, for large events, you should be aware that sometimes NO race day packet pickup is available; you can ONLY get the packet in advance. Of course if this is the case, definitely get your packet ahead of time and make sure you’ve got the hours of pick-up correct! The race organizers usually do a wonderful job of communicating all of these details to you through emails ahead of time, so this will all be information you have ready at hand.)
5. If your race has a bib number, pin it on diagonally for the best fit!
Pin on your bib by starting with one of the top corners. Then pin on the opposite bottom corner, pulling the bib taut as you do so. Finally, secure the remaining two pins. Presto! Your bib will be straight and not billow out awkwardly as you run.
6. Warmup! Cooldown!
If you’re running a marathon, you don’t actually need to warmup; instead just be sure to keep the first couple miles the slowest of your race since you’ve got quite a way to go. For all other distances, go for a little 10-15min. jog to get moving beginning at about an hour to 45 minutes from the race start time. Stretch after your warmup too.
Likewise, don’t neglect your cooldown; even 10 minutes of jogging around will go a long way towards decreasing any post-race soreness.
7. Know your race day goals.
Whether you want to hit a particular pace, negative split your miles (i.e. run faster as you go), finish, or win, have some idea of what you’d like to accomplish by racing. Just having this in your mind goes a long way towards actually achieving that goal.
8. Have fun!
Being able to complete and compete in any race is an awesome thing. Go you!
Part of having a successful race day is being flexible if something doesn’t go exactly your way—even athletes at the Olympics have to contend with interruptions to the perfect race day scenario. That said, just a little bit of planning and preparation can ensure you arrive at the finish line without a hitch. Have an outfit ready to go, know where you’re going, what you’re eating, and give yourself enough time. Don’t try anything new on race day, have a goal in mind, and go out there and get ‘em!