Race day countdown: how to prepare

“Gearing up” for race day can mean a lot of different things.  Maybe you’re talking about the ten-week training program you’re using to get ready for the big day or just your morning routine on the day of the event.  Regardless of where you are in your training or when your next race begins, we’ve got some advice to help you be as prepared as you can be.

One month out.  Depending on the kind of shape you’re in and the type of race you’re planning to run, one month can be all the time in the world.  Our Ease into 5K program gets you from the couch to a 5k in just 8 weeks, so it isn’t insane to be just reaching the half way point a month before your race.  Our shorter programs like Bridge to 10K can also do wonders to prepare you for the big day.  Regardless of where you stand, there are some pretty universal thoughts to keep in mind if you’re 4 — 5 weeks away from the starting line.

  • Have a plan.  We rattled off a few Bluefin training plans above and there are certainly more.  But even if you aren’t in the midst of a formal training program, it’s important to have a plan as you close in on your race.  At the very least, sketch out the next four or five weeks and make some decisions about how hard you want to run and what kind of distance you want to put in.  Laying it out in writing can help keep you on track and avoid either overtraining or preparing too little.
  • Hone your form.  Lousy running form will suck the life out of you on race day, making you work harder for every step and fatigue more quickly as a result.  If you’ve developed any bad habits — weak posture, short strides, tight shoulders — they aren’t going to disappear overnight.  Make some changes while you still have a few weeks to tinker with your running from.  We’ve written a couple of detailed posts about it…check them out here and here.
  • Eat like a champion.  Just like you aren’t going to repair slouchy posture overnight, you can’t fuel up your body by gulping down an energy bar an hour before your race.  If you’ve managed to dedicate yourself successfully to the healthy lifestyle of running, hopefully you’re up to eating well, too.  There are obviously tons of resources out there on the topic, but our old post on optimal nutrition for runners isn’t a bad place to start.

One week out.  Okay, so it isn’t quite race day, but you’re definitely getting close.  A lot of us don’t realize just how important those last 5 — 7 days really are.  Phoning in those final workouts or pushing yourself too hard just before an event are both common mistakes that are paid for with a slower time and a more frustrating race.  Here’s how to prepare with one week to go.

  • Find your race pace.  One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself before you hit the race course is to develop a good, solid feel for what your race pace feels like.  With the excitement and adrenaline of the big day coursing through your system, it will be very easy to forget your usual race speed and feel very out of sorts as the starting pack begins to spread out.  Using a pace calculator like this one from Run the Planet can help you decide on a goal time and training with that in mind can help your body learn what race pace feels like.
  • Taper appropriately.  Two temptations are coming to mind right now: running obsessively to prepare for your race and stopping altogether in order to rest up.  Both are mistakes.  Elite athletes know that a HUGE part of performing well on race day is managing the taper — adjusting your workout intensity as a race approaches in order to be at your best when it matters most.  Check out this post from Runner’s World for a nice overview of what your workouts might look like on each of the seven days before a race.
  • Get your ducks in a row.  The week before your race is also a good time to make sure all your paperwork is in order and that all the little logistical issues are worked out in advance.  Check your registration, figure out how parking works, and get your race day bag packed.  The last thing you need is unnecessary stress or confusion when you’re trying to focus on your race.  The more you can do in advance to get ready, the fewer distractions you’ll have.

One day out.  The day before a race isn’t really a time to get faster or make any dramatic changes to your running philosophy.  You’ve already put in the work and all that’s left is getting out there and doing your best at the fun part.  Still, there are some things to keep in mind in those last 24 hours that can help set the stage for a successful race.

  • Eat smart.  As we said above, there isn’t anything you’re going to eat right before a race that’s going to dramatically improve your performance.  We’ve covered the basics before, but the best pre-race diet advice we can give you is to avoid surprises.  Stay away from unfamiliar foods and those that have a history of disagreeing with you.  You don’t want to be feeling last night’s dinner as you work your way to the starting line.
  • Hydrate.  Again, hopefully this one is a habit, but it’s important to keep in mind the day before a race.  Keep that water bottle handy so that you go to bed at night well-hydrated.  If you’re feeling thirsty or experiencing symptoms like chapped lips, you’ve already waited too long to drink.  Grab some water ASAP!
  • Get excited!  Whether you’re a world-class marathoner or a weekend 5k warrior, race days should be the highlight of your training season.  There’s excitement, competition, and tons of camaraderie among runners, so be sure to milk the experience for all that it’s worth.  You’ve earned it!

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