Race week can bring a mixed set of feelings to runners, from anxiety, doubt, and impatience to optimism, confidence, and excitement. Some research even suggests that your emotional intelligence is a better predictor of race times than your training! So what should your pre-race routine be to regulate your emotions and run your best race?
I'll cover pre-race training, nutrition, and mindset as well as an exhaustive race checklist that you can pick and choose from.
There is not much you can do the week before a race to improve. While you may have successfully pulled all-nighters in school to cram for tests, that approach doesn't work for running! You should "taper" to allow your body's energy, strength, and health to return to optimal levels. Incorporate strides at the end of your final easy runs to practice a quick turnover, avoid weight training to keep your muscles loose, and stay off your feet in the two days before a race to conserve energy.
Before the race, set goals and a pacing strategy to achieve them. I know; it’s easy to say but hard to do! Break the race down into digestible segments, such as four 10ks for a marathon. This approach will help you relax and hold back early to avoid spiking your heart rate and lactic acid levels in order to have a strong and fast finish.
A strategy that I usually suggest is negative splitting. This means starting slower than your goal pace and easing into goal pace for the first half, then working harder and perhaps exceeding your goal pace in the second half. Be conscious of weather that could affect your goals and any turns and hills that could affect your pacing. And run your race and not anyone else’s: that could mean not wasting energy bantering with a cheery runner trying to pace off you.
Have a race nutrition plan and stick. to. it. Easy to say and...easy to do! This could be your energy gel of choice and water every 4 to 5 miles and sports drink every 2 miles after the first gel. Treat nutrition as your performance boost instead of something you despise. Avoid trying anything new, especially at the expo where you'll be greeted by wonderful folks promoting the latest organic bar or speed-boosting drink.
Make carbs a large part (70 to 80%) of what you eat before a race—bagels, oatmeal, pasta, potatoes, bananas—to increase energy stores. At the same time, tapering your training includes calories consumed too. A huge meal the night before is a myth. Have carbs, some protein, limit dairy, spicy, fatty, or high-fiber foods.
Hydrate with electrolytes, especially the day before and the morning of the race. Plan your race morning breakfast 2 or 3 hours before, leaving enough time to digest. I like a bagel with almond butter, a small energy bar, a piece of fruit, and water with electrolyte tabs. Visualize the crisp and refreshing post-race beer!
Being in the right mindset is arguably the most important part of a pre-race routine and often the difference between a good and great race. As Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner of all time, says, "If you don't rule your mind, your mind will rule you." There will be moments in a race when your body is screaming "no." It's in these particular moments where you can get your mind to say "yes."
To adopt a calm and confident mindset, start your race by treating it as a celebration of all your hard work. While your training could have always been better, focus on the speed workouts, long runs, and tune-up races where you expanded your limits and got that runner's high! Picture yourself overcoming hard parts of the course, and smile as much as possible, beginning at the start line.
Lastly, recall what you've told yourself to get you through training. Use mantras in the race that speak to you:
"Arms, Arms, Arms!"
"Time to fight!"
"Easy, light, and smooth."
"This is what you came for!"
"When it hurts, just smile :)"
Remember it. Write it on your hand. And recite it out loud when it's tough. Research shows that repeating a mantra will prevent you from getting caught up in obsessing in those moments of “no” and instead produce a "calming effect." Change your mindset, and you'll change your performance.
Racing Shoes and Orthotics
GPS Device and Charger
Warm-up Top and Bottom Layers
Head-wear (beanie, hat, visor)
Extra Plastic and Garbage Bags
Anti-chafing (balm, cream, nip guards)
Daily Vitamins, Prescription Medicine
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
Pre- and Post-race Fuel
Energy “Gels” (non-caffeine and caffeine)
Electrolyte, Salt tabs
Other Massage Tools