My Race Day Routine

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

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I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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I still can’t believe that I have six races on my calendar in just as many weeks. Who am I!?! Clearly, I’m a little too ambitious.

With all of this race talk, I thought it would be helpful to share my race day routine since it can be equally exciting as it is nerve-wracking. Here’s how I maximize the enjoyment of race day without stressing out over too many of the details.

THE DAY BEFORE

Pick up my race packet

Picking up my race packet the day before always saves me so much time the following morning. It also makes me feel a lot more prepared and confident knowing that all I have to do is show up at the race and run it. Plus, if there are any issues, I can work them out the day before the race. Also, I’m more likely to get my desired race t-shirt size if I pick up my packet early.

Layout all of my equipment

Laying out all of my running equipment is a huge part of my planning process. I mentally dress myself from head to toe and grab each item as I go. Here’s a list of what I typically bring with me on long runs. On race day, I pretty much bring the same stuff– depending on the weather, of course. (Here’s what I wear on cold weather runs.)

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Create a plan for the morning

I always stress out about being late and missing the start of the race, so I make sure to create a plan for the morning. This means that I:

  • Double-check the start time of the race
  • Get directions and figure how long it will take me to get there
  • Map out where to park at the race
  • Pick a time to leave the house, which will give me plenty of time before the race

Thinking about all of these logistics ahead of time helps minimize stressful situations on race morning. Plus, not worrying about these details allows me to focus on the race.

Drink water

I always worry about drinking too much water on race morning because I don’t want to waste time by waiting in the never-ending restroom line. So, the day before the race, I make sure to guzzle water to help hydrate me for the following day.

Charge everything

It’s the worst when you get to the start line of a race only to realize that your Garmin or iPod is dead. The day before a race, I make sure to charge up all of my electronics needed for the next day.

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Get some quality sleep… two nights before the race

The night before a race, I usually get the pre-race jitters, so I force myself to go to bed early. Even still, there are lots of times that I just can’t fall asleep no matter what I do. I don’t want a lack of sleep to influence my race performance, so I make sure to get some quality sleep two nights before the race. 

Set two (or more) alarms

My biggest worry before a race is sleeping through my alarm and missing the start of the race, so I set two different alarms on my phone. I also double-check that the ringer is turned on and that my alarm is set for AM and not PM.

THE MORNING OF

Fuel up

On race morning, I eat my go-to breakfast of peanut butter and banana on whole wheat bread with an iced coffee, which gives me plenty of energy for the start of the race. This combo is easily digestible and doesn’t give me any stomach issues. I eat my breakfast about 2-3 hours prior to the race.

If you’re a new runner, make sure you experiment with different pre-run foods during your training to see what works (and doesn’t work) for you, so you are prepared for race day. I’m telling ya, you don’t want any surprises!

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Get there early

Even though I create a plan for the morning, there’s always the possibility that something can go wrong, so I arrive early to the race (usually about an hour before the gun start). I give myself plenty of time to find parking, wait in the line for the restroom, check my bag, warm-up, stretch, get mentally prepared, etc.  

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Line up

The start line at a race is crowded and a little crazy with so many people, paces, and corrals. In the past, I wasn’t sure of my running pace, so I’d line up near the middle/back of the pack, which is usually a good place for beginner runners. Occassionally, I’d overestimate my pace time, so I’d end up weaving in and out of runners, but I wasn’t slowing anyone down either.

Nowadays, I know my pace, so if the race has corrals or posted pace signs, I line up there. If not, I ask runners nearby about their anticipated pace. It makes the start of the race much less hectic.

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Stay positive

Before the start of a race, I always get those nervous butterflies in my stomach. Then, I start to hear a little voice in my head that tells I might fail out there on the course. Before I know it, I start to question my training and physical abilities. So, now, I try to stay as positive as possible on race morning. I remind myself that I’ve trained well (trust your training!) and I WILL finish the race. Then, I take a deep breath and wait for the gun.

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DURING THE RACE

Keep pace

I’m guilty of going out too fast at the start of a race. When I do this, my energy fizzles for the rest of the race, so I try to keep my pace steady for the first half of the race and then pick it up for the last part.

Look around and smile

When I’m really dogging it during a race, I look around and focus on the experience of running with whole bunch of strangers. It’s such a weird thing to do, but it’s also very inspirational. I love the we’re-all-in-it-together feeling.

I also boost my motivation by clapping for musicians along the course, high-fiving kids on the sidelines, and thanking volunteers at the water stops. Having this happy-go-lucky attitude always positively impacts my race day experience and my ability to push through to the end.

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Use the water stops

I used to skip the water stops during a race, thinking that I’d lose precious time, but now I always take advantage of them, especially during long races. If I wait too long to hydrate myself, it always negatively affects my running, which slows me down in the end. Here’s what I do: I slow my pace, grab a cup of water, walk through the water stop, and catch my breath before running again. If you’ve never done this before, here are some tips on how to take water from a hydration stop.

Quick tip: If there are water stops on either side of the course, go for the one on the left. It’s often less crowded and easier to navigate.

Repeat mantras

Mantras are my saving grace during races. They motivate me, distract me from pain, and keep me focused. I use them when the going gets tough on my long runs too, so they become more automatic on race day. Here are my favorite running mantras.

Finish strong

Even if I feel like total crap at the end of the race, I always cross the finish line as strong as I can. At the end of the race, I want to know that I gave it everything I had.

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AFTER THE RACE

Keep the momentum going

After I celebrate my post-race victory, I always end up thinking about the next race. I take advantage of my post-race runner’s high and keep the momentum going by setting new goals for myself and scoping out new races to run.

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What are your race day tips?

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78 Comments

  1. I love this! Especially “look around and smile.” I’m totally with you on making sure everything is charged and ready to go. My biggest race day tip is to wake up plenty early to give yourself time to get moving without being stressed.

    Also important: having plenty of time to go to the bathroom as many times as you need. Sexy? No. Crucial? Absolutely!

    This post got me so excited for my race next weekend! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Good post! I am running my 4th half on Sunday and still have pre-race jitters even though I should feel comfortable by now. I am def going to take time to look around and smile and just enjoy the whole race atmosphere.

  3. This is an awesome post for all runners! I especially appreciate the importance of mantras and finishing strong. I feel like you’ll never be too terribly disappointed in a race (or anything) if you know you were focused, pushed through, and gave it your best at the end. (One of my less profound mantras is: ‘Kick this race/task/etc. in the balls!!!! It works reallly well for me 😉

  4. This is such a great post! I’ve never done a race, but I’m planning to run a 5K next month, and this alleviates a lot of my concerns about what will happen on the day of. I too am a very thorough preparations person. Thanks for sharing!

  5. This is an awesome post–thanks so much for sharing your terrific tips for before, during, and after a race! The one piece of advice I try to stick to on race day is this: don’t do anything you haven’t done before! For me, that means sticking to the same routine (waking, eating, drinking, clothing, etc.) as on my long run days. As you’ve mentioned before, long run days are a perfect time to practice your routine. Whether you’re running a 5k or a marathon, I recommend trying out your routine ahead of time. Knowing what works for me–from actual experience!–makes race day less stressful and more fun.

  6. My biggest race day tip is to make sure you know how you are going to store your fuel. I trained for a marathon in the winter and when I ran it last weekend, it was 60 degrees and I wasn’t used to not having jacket pockets. I stuck in the waist band of my pants and that was an awful idea (holy bleeding chafing!)

    I love your tips!

  7. FYI from someone who is superstitious, but putting shoes on a table is considered very bad luck. Just want to help your race mojo.

  8. This is a great post! I just signed up for a 10K in April and I will definitely use some of these tips!
    When I did my first race, a 5K last year, I made sure to tell myself that it’s important to keep a focus on what I’m doing and not what everyone else around me is doing. I concentrated on my goal time and just finishing my first race and didn’t worry about the seasoned runners who were speeding right past me! 🙂

  9. Great post, you covered everything so well! My biggest tip would follow your stay positive and smile advice. I try and keep good thoughts and also use bystanders and other runners for encouragement. It makes the race much more fun and gives you more adrenaline to really get those legs moving!

  10. This has me really excited to do my first race in July! I have always been too intimidated to enter one, so I’ve face my fear and now I’m looking forward to it! I realised I don’t need to be the fastest ever and that is spurring me on!

  11. One of my big race day tips is to not freak out if you couldn’t sleep well the night before. Most of the time it’s hard to sleep before a “big day”, but you’re adrenaline will carry you through. Plus, you can take a nap when it’s over!

  12. I am running my first Half Marathon this upcoming Sunday. While I already follow many of your race tips, the one thing I am very unsure of is how to dress. I tend to overdress on my long runs. I usually am shedding a layer within the first 2 or 3 miles. The weather on Sunday is 58, mostly sunny and breezy. With a 7am start, I know it will be much colder, but I want to be sure I’m dressed correctly for the entire race. My plan was to wear shorts and short sleeve top, which is something I frequently do in 50ish degree weather. Do you think that I should start off with a long sleeve to??

  13. Great tips Tina — I make an effort to drink lots of water each day, but I really guzzle it down a few days before a race. If I don’t, I end up with a major headache. Sleep is also important — although I don’t usually get much sleep the night before a race — I’m too excited!

  14. My routine is very similar to yours! I always lay out my gear the night before and do as much as I can to reduce the stress in the morning. For breakfast, I stick to the same thing (dry cereal, an apple, water, and a cup of tea) because it just seems to work!

  15. I love, love, love everything about race days and getting ready to rock them. Something you left off the list? After the race: celebrate! My celebration usually involves lots of food, good beer and chilling with other racers. And, if I do really well, I like to reward myself with new running gear or a lulu splurge.

  16. Great tips! As a triathlete, I have so much gear that I need to take with me so I definitely use a checklist to make sure I have all my gear. I practice laying out all my stuff on a transition towel, and practice doing transitions too!

  17. Great post! Thanks for all of the great tips! 🙂 I am running my first half marathon on May 1st. I have done a few 5k races prior to this.

  18. I’ve only run a few 5Ks, but my tips are:
    1) don’t start off super fast like everyone else, especially if you run at a slower pace and it’s your first 5K. If you feel good you’ll naturally start to speed up throughout the race. I ran a 5K with some girlfriends that had never done one before, and I encouraged them to slow down a bit and not just go with the crowd, especially since we weren’t even warmed up yet…they would thank me later. They did!

    2) Don’t go out the night before. Ummm…being the responsible 26 year old that I am (haha) I went out partying hard once before a 5 K, got about 3 hours of sleep and was dehydrated, and even though I finished at a good time for me I maaaay have almost fainted on someone at the finish line. 🙂

  19. Cani just say i LOVE reading your blog. Its crazy how so many things youve said resonate with me, i.e. your weight loss story (i also eat healthy), the marathon weight gain (i also have the exact same problem, overeaten and need to lose it…but its so hard!). so thanks for sharing and the tips!
    One thing i like on race day is have a plastic bag with holes for head and arm- keeps warm during chilly AM but disposable. i also have body glide.

  20. Sunday is my first race. It is 5 miles. I do not run outside. This post is super helpful but now I am so stressed out as well. My biggest fear is needing to go to the bathroom with NONE around. AHH!

  21. This post is great, Tina. With my first race coming up April 3rd (which PS even if I don’t catch a glimpse of you or Caitlin anywhere I’m so excited we’re running the same race), these tips are so helpful because I know I’m going to be stressing out majorly when I pack to go home. Luckily, I’ll be going home Thursday night so I’ll have a couple of days to relax there as well. I’ve had a checklist in my planner of things I need to remember since February haha!

  22. PS since you get so much traffic, is it possible for you to advertise a fund raiser? Im doing an ironman to raise $ for american cancer society:
    Main.acsevents.org/goto/texastriathlete
    Thanks for your consideration!!

  23. One of my race day tips is to just think of the race as a normal run. Sometimes I get so hyped up about PRing and I get so nervous a psych myself out! If I just think of the race as a “usual” run, the nerves go away and I put less pressure on myself. I think that actually helps me to keep a steady, challenging pace, so I end up doing better than if I let my nerves get to me!

  24. Love the tips, Tina!

    I try to keep it all in perspective that although I really want to have a great race, that I have worked sooo hard for this…in the end, if things don’t go as planned…oh well. There will be another race 🙂

    But I love how organized you are. I am the SAME way. Everything laid out and well planned. I am detail oriented, and then some 🙂

  25. I haven’t raced yet but plan to someday hopefully soon! Oh woww when I saw those pics, my heart started beating fast! Out of nervousness and excitement. It was the same feeling I got when I was in xcountry, right before the gunshot! lol

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