Simple Race-Day Strategies

Are you anxious or unsure about what to do on race day? Here are race-day strategies to make your big event fun and stress-free.

street marathon

If you’ve trained for a race, you want to race well. You also want to be demonstrate compassion and a sportsmanlike attitude.

There are often factors that affect your performance beyond your control, such as the event route or weather conditions. But there are a few things you can anticipate and address. Here are some simple race-day strategies that can help you feel confident and focus on your performance.

Familiarize yourself with the event site and rules before the race

Don’t wait until race day to get ready. Take a few steps sooner rather than later so you’ll be calm as you make your way to the starting line.

Find the starting point

If the race is in an unfamiliar area, find the starting point and review the parking situation before the race.In my community, a couple of big races draw hundreds of people to areas with limited parking. One requires participants to walk (or run) about a half mile to the starting line. Another requires you to park on the street in the neighborhood. Figuring out the parking situation before the race can save loads of angst.

Check out the race course

Depending on your race goals, check out the race course itself. You are likely to find people running the course on the days leading up to the race. Notice hills, turns, etc.Plot your strategy according to your strengths. A reasonable approach is to race at a consistent pace throughout the event. But you might also note where you could safely speed up (such as sections with a gentle downhill grade) and where you might sprint toward the end of the race.

Pick up your packet early

Race organizers typically allow you to pick up your packet before race day, either at the race site or a sponsor’s location (like a running store). The contents of these packets vary but usually include race bibs and/or timing chips along with commemorative shirts and sponsor trinkets.By getting these early, you save yourself time on race day. You’ll have all that you need for timing purposes plus you won’t have to haul items before starting the race.

Nail down details that affect your physical well-being and mindset

You can’t plan for every race-day scenario, but you can be ready for typical circumstances. The day of your big event will involve executing plans developed while training.

Wear the right clothing

You might be racing in freezing weather during events in February or through heat and humidity in August; whatever the conditions, dress accordingly. Usually, you’ll heat up within a few minutes after the race starts. A good rule of thumb, then, is to wear lighter garments than usual or have a way to peel off layers while racing (for example, stuff gloves in the pockets of your running pants).

Before the event, experiment with various types of clothing to see what works best for you under what conditions. Try technical shirts vs. cotton t-shirts or running shorts vs. compression capris. Wear what feels best on race day.

Bring your own food

Organizers typically let you know what types of food will be available prior to, during, and after the race. However, there are often glitches that can leave you hungry.

For example, the organizers of my first half-marathon failed to plan for the thousands of pre-registered participants. They ordered just a few boxes of pizza at a time and though competitors were routed through a line to get food, there was a free-for-all to get a slice. After running 13.1 miles, I didn’t realize that I was going to have to fight for a post-race treat and so lost to more aggressive competitors.

In other situations, organizers are surprised by the number of people who register on the day of the event and are simply unprepared for the influx of people.

Even if the registration and pit stop areas are well-stocked with bananas, water, sports drinks, etc., you can still benefit from bringing your own food. Items such as gels or protein bars can come in handy if food supplies are low.

Plan your food and drink intake

Though not a morning person, I like to get up early before a race or big event just to get my mind and body ready for action. I have developed a routine that works for me: get coffee first and then consume a fruit smoothie (yogurt, orange juice, banana, and blueberries) well before race time. If I happen to be hungry right before the event start or know I will be competing for a long time, I may pick up pre-race treats.

Getting fed and hydrated well before the race is helpful so my body is focused on the event.

Understand how the race is timed

If you are aiming for a personal record or age-group award, pay attention to how the race is timed. Many organizers will tout chip timing but whether there is a chip-timed start and finish or simply a chip-timed finish is often unclear.

Behave as if your race time is the difference between the gun time and your chip finish, unless you are told otherwise. Position yourself in the lineup so you’ll get credit for your real time (as close as possible).

Don’t try anything new

Race day is not the time to try out new shoes, energy drinks, or anything else. You don’t want to have to deal with a reaction from the new thing (like blisters or upset stomach) along with race-day jitters.Plus, if you happen to feel sick on race day, you can more easily pinpoint the cause and not worry about whether something (new) has made you feel queasy.

Test new gear, foods, and drinks while you are training. You’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t in a low-pressure environment.

Warm up

When I first started competing in races, I was puzzled to see runners get ready by running at speeds that seemed quicker than my 5K pace. For years, I thought they were expending too much energy waiting for the race start.

These athletes were seriously warming up, not just burning off excess energy. They were getting their blood flowing and raising their heart rates so they would be ready to go when the starting gun went off.

Now, I take a short jog around the parking lot and/or race course before we get started. Before an event, warm up in a way that is consistent with your race length.

Be kind on the race course

I often have to remind myself not to get totally lost in the excitement of a race before the start (when I am often most anxious), during the race, and afterwards. Some runners are racing or participating for the first time; not only are they excited but they may also be fearful and awkward. Some are competitive and vying for race or age-group awards. I can be kind to everyone.

One of the ways I remember to be kind is to focus on my own race. My goal is to do my best, not to beat someone else. Admittedly, I’ve had to train myself to ignore the competition. Hebrews 12:1 (World English Bible) helps with this practice: “Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Know that your race-day strategy doesn’t stop when you finish the race

Just because you’ve crossed the finish line doesn’t mean that you are finished for the day. Take a few more steps to prevent injury and keep yourself strong for future events.

Cool down

Take a few minutes to run slowly, rather than stopping immediately. Stretch before the end of the day to avoid tight muscles that often occur from extreme exertion.

Get something to eat and drink

Grab some post-race nutrition and hydration as soon as possible after finishing. Consider getting carbs and protein to aid in your recovery.

Figure out what works for you before, during, and after runs, rides, swims, etc. while training. Plus, get yourself positioned as quickly and efficiently as possible the day of the event. These simple race-day strategies allow you to focus on the race and perform as well as possible. In addition, it may be helpful to remind yourself why you showed up: to celebrate your work and be part of a community of people who love running.

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