Most Important Preprations the Days Before a Race


So tomorrow I have a good friend of mine who is going to be doing his first ever half-marathon up in the Seattle area.  He has been nice enough to send me a few updates on his preparations for what is the biggest running event of his life to this point.

The feelings of anticipation that I had the night before my first race were very similar to the feelings that I had the night before my first half, full, and ultra marathons.  It is sort of a weird feeling of anticipation and apprehension.  You are excited that what you have worked towards for so long is finally here but at the same time your head is filled with all sorts of uncertainty.

There are a lot of things that I have found that you can prepare for in advance of the race that can set you up for success on race day.

Two Days before the Race

Two days before the event is actually the most important day for your race preparations because this is really the last semi-normal day that you will have.  The next day is when reality is going to sink in so today is the day you will actually be able to sleep and eat well.

Today is certainly a day cut back on your training mileage.  How much you cut back depends on the race distance you are running.  Typically, if I am running a half-marathon or shorter, I usually will do an easy 4 mile run.  If I am running a marathon, I will usually end up taking the day off all together.

I know you have probably heard that you are supposed to “carbo-load” the night before the race.  Unfortunately, the night before the race you are often a bit to wound up and that can impact your appetite or upset your stomach.

Look for more opportunities to incorporate carbohydrates in your diet.  I often do the whole pasta thing a couple of nights before and I do not worry too much about going back for seconds, or thirds, or whatever.

For me, this is also the day I start hitting the Gatorade hard.  You are going to want to hydrate well starting today.  I usually down a few Gatorades and will accept the fact that I am going to be hanging out in the men’s room more than I would like.  Gatorade or Powerade are good since it is basically part of the carbo-loading process.

Try to get to bed early.  This is the night when you need to get the most rest.  You are going to be filled with anticipation the next night but there is something psychological that usually lets you actually rest well a couple of nights before.

Before you go to bed, plan on stretching out some.  Not only does it increase your flexibility it always seems to help relax me.

Plan to get at least 8 hours of sleep tonight.

The Day before the Race

Ok, so the race is tomorrow.  Whether you like it or not, now is when your mind starts going wild with anticipation.  Plan on having a good breakfast and lunch filled with all sorts of carbohydrates.

A lot of people would usually not plan to run today but I find that I am better prepared if I do a very easy mile or two the day before the race.  I go super slow – I mean SUPER slow.  Basically, all I am trying to accomplish is to keep my body from forgetting how to run and keep things somewhat limber so I am not sluggish tomorrow.

The day before is when you want to pick up your race packet if at all possible.  Usually I will swing by after work and pick it up on my way home.  If the race is out of town, I try to travel to the race destination in enough time to still get my race packet.

The race packet usually includes your race number, shirt if the race is giving one out or if you purchased one, and some ads for upcoming events.  It is good to get your race packet in advance as it is just one less thing to deal with on race morning.

Night before the Race

Dinner tonight should basically be all sorts of carbs but it is good not to over eat at this point (the previous night is the time for that).  One word of caution – NEVER try anything for dinner you have not had before.  Pasta is always a good choice.

Throughout the day keep hydrated. I am usually drinking a couple of 32 oz. Gatorades and am continuing to visit the facilities so to speak.

Before bed make sure you lay all of your running gear out for the next day.  This helps make sure you do not forget anything.  I usually lay out my clothes, load up my iPod with tunes on a race-specific playlist, and pack my bag for the next day.  Not only is this just good advanced planning but it starts the process of getting me zoned in for the event.

It is probably about bed time at this point.  Make sure you try to get to bed at a reasonable hour as it is likely going to be an early morning the next day.  I usually try to stretch out a bit and “massage” my legs before hitting the sack.

Your nerves might really start to set in and you are going to have all sorts of uncertain thoughts about the race the next day.  One thing I have found is that if know I have prepared for the race, opening up my training log and looking over all of the work that I have done to get ready for the race usually will put my mind at ease that I am prepared.  Plus, you know what they say, “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”

I can promise you that you are likely not going to sleep well tonight but it will not really hurt you if you slept well the night before.  You are going to be thinking a lot about the festivities the next day and if you do sleep, you are going to be up several times looking at the clock.  Also, that whole hydration thing is good for getting you out of bed at least once during the night as well.  Whatever you do – DO NOT take a sleeping pill.  It is just going to mess with you in the morning when you need to be alert.

Race Morning

Race day is here!  Try to arise early so that you can get your body nice and awake before the race.  For me, I try to get up about 3 hours before race time.

Once you get up and shower, try to fuel up with a smaller carb-laden breakfast.  For me this usually consists of a PowerBar, a bagel or two, and a 32 oz. Gatorade.  The Gatorade will likely top off all of the hydration you have been doing so expect yet another trip to visit the facilities.

After breakfast, it is time to get dressed for the race.  Once you put on the race number it is all going to start feeling incredibly real.  At this point grab your bag and start heading to the race.  I usually end up trying to be at the starting area no later than 45 minutes before the race to get warmed up.

Once you are there, you will start to pick up the race atmosphere and that will get you locked in.  I have some other thoughts of what has worked for me in terms of warming up and getting myself to the starting line primed and ready to go but I will have to save for another time.

Most Important Insights

Here are the 5 most important “non-running” things in my opinion that you can do in the couple prior to your race that can help make sure you are prepared and ready to hit is hard when that gun goes off:

  1. Two days before race time make sure that you have started to hydrate well and have your “carbo-loading” dinner.  This is the meal that you want to go back for seconds on.  The night before you should still focus on carb-laden food but try not to over eat as this can impact you the next day.  Keep your hydration and carb intake up until race time.
  2. Two nights before the race make sure you get lots of sleep.  You are likely not going to rest well the night before so this is the night you need to get your sleep.
  3. If at all possible, pick up your race packet the day before your race.  Lay out your clothes and get your items gathered for the next day that evening so you do not risk leaving something important or have extra things on your mind in the morning that keep you from focusing on a successful race morning ritual.
  4. Get up around 3 hours before the race and eat a somewhat light, carb-based breakfast.  Getting up early allows your body to wake up and eating not long after you get up allows your food to process some before the race.  Get to the race area no later than 45 minutes before the race.
  5. If you are stressed out thinking you are not going to do well or filled with other doubts, take a look at your running log and reflect on all the preparation you have done.  If you do not keep a running log, reflect back upon what you have done in advance to get ready.  When you reflect on all of the effort you put into your preparation you cannot help but be filled with confidence.

1 thought on “Most Important Preprations the Days Before a Race”

  1. Stephen, great tips here for someone wondering what to do leading up to a race! I follow a similar pattern to what you have laid out here, and it works well. I like the idea of looking over your training schedule to see what you’ve accomplished…I might have to steal that idea!

    I also never sleep well the night before a race, but this pretty common and I don’t think its ever affected my running the next day.

    Anyway, great tips…thanks for sharing!

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