The days and morning before a race can be filled with anxiety, even if you’ve raced before. Here are some tips to help you feel more ready and confident on race day.
1. Get your race outfit ready. Check the weather forecast the day before and plan your race outfit accordingly. Lay everything out the night before, so that you’re not rushing around in the morning and more likely to forget something. You should race in clothes that you’ve run in before, so you don’t have any unexpected discomfort or issues like chafing. Nothing new on race day!
2. Get your race bib early. If you have the opportunity to pick up your race bib the day before the race, do it. You’ll be able to pin your bib on (to the front, not the back, of your shirt) at home and not be rushing to pick up your number before the race.
3. Don’t overdress! When selecting your outfit, make sure you’re not wearing too much. A good rule of thumb: Dress as if the weather is 15 degrees warmer than it is, since that’s how much you’ll warm up once you start running. If it’s chilly, you can always wear some warmer clothes while you’re waiting for the race to start. Many races offer a gear check where you can store a bag with your extra clothes for before and after the race.
4. Eat something before the race. Don’t skip breakfast because you think you’ll get a cramp or will have to go the bathroom. You need the energy from a morning meal to fuel your run. As long as you eat something at least 60 minutes before your race, you shouldn’t have any issues. Just keep it simple and don’t eat anything that’s high in fiber, very fatty or difficult to digest. A banana and toast, a bagel with peanut butter, or some cereal with milk are all great options for a simple pre-race meal.
5. Make sure you line up properly. Don’t line up near the front of the starting line. Faster, more experienced runners don’t like to weave around beginner (and likely slower) runners at the start of the race. Some races have corrals based on estimated pace or post pace signs. If you don’t see anything indicating paces, ask runners nearby their anticipated pace. If it’s faster than yours, move further back. It’s easier to run your pace if you’re around people that are the same speed as you. And don’t worry about time lost at the start. Most races feature timing mats that record your net time from start to finish, so any time you lose approaching the starting line won’t affect your overall time.
6. Don’t start out too fast. One of the biggest rookie race mistakes is to start at a fast pace, only to totally lose steam towards the end. Don’t worry about the runners sprinting past you in the beginning – start at a pace that you know you can hold for the entire race distance.
7. Don’t fear the water stops. Some new runners get nervous about dealing with water stops in the race. You may see some runners cruise through, grab a cup, and drink the water, but you don’t have to do it that way. It’s not necessary to keep running through the water stop. Some race participants will take a walk break through the water stop so that they can carefully take the cup from the race volunteer and sip it, without spilling the water or having to gulp it down. If the race conditions are very cool, some 5K racers find that they don’t even need water and they opt to skip the water stop. Other runners carry their own water bottle so that they can drink some water when they need it.
8. It’s OK to walk. Some beginner runners worry about having to take a walk break during a race because they think they’ll look or feel like a failure. They equate waking with giving up. There’s no shame in taking a walking break! You may actually find them to be beneficial. Some race participants find that taking short walk breaks actually helps them achieve an overall faster race pace than if they tried to run the entire distance.
9. Finish strong. As you get closer to the finish line, there’s no holding back — if you feel good, go for it. Keep pumping your arms and looking ahead. Try to “go fishing” and catch some runners in front of you. Imagine you’re reeling them in and see if you can pass them before the finish line.
10. Use a mantra. Pick a short phase, such as, “Just keep moving”, “One step at a time” or “Strong or steady!” that you play over and over in your head while running. Repeating a mantra can help you stay focused and be your inner motivation when you need it most. Mantras can be especially helpful when you’re struggling towards the end of a race and you keep repeating, “I can do this” or “I am tough”, to push yourself to the finish line. Be sure to keep your mantras positive, and don’t say things like, “It’s almost over.”