Nail Your Pre-Race Prep

One of the most essential parts of race training is consistency.  I talk a lot with my athletes about staying on their plan, wearing the same shoes, using the same clothes, and eating the same foods before a run.  The reason for this is relatively simple; running is a beast of a sport and even on your best days it can sneak up on you and leave you chafed or bent over with cramps.  Finding the right foods and clothes that make the sport work best for you is key.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that you need to stick with this consistency right up until the race gun goes off.  The reason you practice wearing the same clothes every long run is so that you can wear that exact same outfit on race day and know that it won’t chafe or leave you with a major wedgie starting at mile 15 of a marathon.  You wear the same shoes for weeks up until the race so that when you run that race you don’t discover new blisters all over your heels and toes.  This means, you need to wear that gear you practiced in on race day!

I preach about eating a proper breakfast each morning before your long run so that over the course of your training you can learn what foods work (and what doesn’t).  Ryan Hall eats pancakes before his long runs.  I used to do that but discovered that somewhere past 16 miles they no longer work for me and my stomach will revolt.  Now I know that a bagel with peanut butter and jelly is key for me.  Therefore, on race day I eat that bagel and peanut butter and jelly.  And I do it 2 hours before the race starts because during my practice sessions I know that my stomach needs that long to digest before I run.  I know getting up two hours earlier for some people sounds incredibly annoying, but it is worth it to not end up searching for a port-a-potty on the race course.  That means, you need to eat the same foods you ate during your practice sessions on race day.

Another factor that often gets forgotten about is the meal you eat the night before.  Believe you me, what you eat in the hours leading up to your run can either make or break you.  It is the fuel that will keep you going and it is the fuel that can leave you sick on the side of the road too.  It is essential to figure this one out!

If you are running a 5k, 10k, or even possibly a half marathon you do not need to carb load.  I repeat, you do not need to carb load.  Your body has enough glycogen stores already to get you through the race.  And if you are running a marathon you do not need to carb load the night before.  If you are waiting to do the loading then, you already missed the boat!  Carb loading should take place a few days before the race and does not require massive bowls of pasta and bread.

Most importantly, you really do not need a heavy pasta dinner the night before your race unless that is what you ate every night before your long runs.  If you didn’t do it before, don’t think that big pasta dinner is going to be your key to setting a new PR.  In fact, a big bowl of pasta will more than likely sit heavy in your belly throughout the night and into the morning when you start your run.  This means, you should eat the same foods the night before a race that you did during your training.

Finally, don’t leave anything until the last minute.  Act like a Boy Scout and prepare yourself the night before.  Rarely does anything ever go as planned.  Remember when Jerry Seinfeld tried to help a buddy out the night before the NYC Marathon and he missed the alarm?  It happens!

Prepare1 Prepare2

Lay everything out and ready to go the night before.  Make yourself a “flat runner” that includes the outfit you are going to wear (with the bib already pinned onto your shirt or singlet).  Put our your socks, shoes, running belt, head band, GU’s or other fuel, and headphones.  Leave it in the room you are sleeping in so that in the morning you can pop out of bed and get yourself ready in a flash.

Finally, never assume you will find what you need when you wake up.  This is an important lesson we learned during the Boston 13.1 last year.  If you know that you need a bagel and coffee in the morning, don’t assume Panera opens at 6:00am.  Call them and find out.  Ask the front desk when coffee will be ready in the morning.  You know what stinks?  Waking up and running all over Boston searching for coffee because you need it to wake up and get your digestive system going.  You know what else stinks?  Watching the clock tick as you run all over Boston trying to find said coffee!

Do your research and if you must, get that bagel the night before and keep it in your room.  Buy a coffee and leave it in the fridge.  Maybe it won’t be toasted like you prefer it or perhaps the coffee won’t be hot, but at least you will have what you need to get you going.

What are your race day rituals on the night before/morning of?

14 thoughts on “Nail Your Pre-Race Prep

  1. Great tips! I pin my bib on the night before. This way I’m not worried about whether I can find safety pins and I can take plenty of time to get it on straight – I hate when it’s crooked. I also charge my phone and my iPod and make sure I know where I’m parking.

    • Those are all excellent plans. I heard of someone who was in a rush for a race and realized when we ran to a port-a-potty that he had pinned his bib to his shorts and shirt. Uh oh! Always good to get that on right and early!

  2. I wish every beginner running book included these tips! I usually run in the morning on an empty stomach unless going more than 10 miles. That’s what works for me. But when I first started running 5 and 10ks I’d eat an enormous bowl of pasta first thinking that’s what to do before a race and always felt awful surprise surprise. Now I rely on chia bars for extra fuel.

  3. This is pretty much my rule book.
    It is counter intuitive that at most big race expos they hand out all kinds of samples of the latest food products. I guess a small sample is okay, just don’t eat two or three of the great new energy bar.

    • That’s a great point. It’s a good time to stock up on fuel samples to try later but don’t give them a go until after the race. That’s a big no no for race day. Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Great post! I think you nailed it. One other thing that I make sure to do the night before is charge my GPS watch and iPod. One of the most annoying things is your watch or music dying on you mid-run. That’s happened to me before and I ended up tossing my headphones. I didn’t want to run with them for the rest of the race if they were worthless. In hindsight I wish I hadn’t done that, but you live and learn. Right?

    • I once ran a marathon with one iPod plugged in and another on standby for that very reason. However, the GPS could be even more annoying if it died! Excellent points and sorry to hear you lost your headphones. I would have done the same thing though.

  5. great post! It is the day before a gnarly 12 mile trail race for me. Another important ritual is to rest up to be ready to go hard on race day!

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