You’ve put in months of hard work and dedication, consistently sticking to a sound training program, and now your target 5K or 10K is just around the corner. Assuming you have trained properly, success on race day now depends on proper preparation and execution. Make sure you set yourself up for your best race possible by following these tips:
One week before the race:
The week before the race, focus on your sleep and hydration/nutrition. While the amount of sleep needed to be truly rested is very individual, aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. If you are getting good quality sleep on a regular basis in the week(s) leading up to your race, it won’t matter as much if you don’t get a great night’s sleep the night before the race, which may happen due to nerves.
Keep a water bottle with you and make sure you are drinking enough to stay well-hydrated. Our favorite tip on good hydration is making sure your urine is “clear and copious;” in other words, you are going to the bathroom frequently and the color of your urine is pale. Also aim to eat more whole foods in your diet- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other unprocessed foods. These foods will provide you with longer lasting energy and will fill your glycogen stores (your “fuel tank”) for optimal performance. Avoid, as much as possible, sugar, processed foods and alcohol, which will just give you an energy spike followed by a quick crash.
If you strength train, which we encourage, avoid weight training the week prior to the rest. This will further ensure that your legs are rested and recovered at the start line.
If you have not already done so, in the week or two before the race make sure to review all of the race details, including the race course/elevation profile, packet pick-up, race logistics (including parking, gear check, water stops), and the other information typically available on the race website. Don’t be caught off guard on race morning- start planning at least a week in advance!
Day before the race:
Continue to pay attention to your hydration, and plan to eat your last large meal about 12 hours before the race. Make sure that meal includes a higher percentage of complex carbohydrates- if you have been eating properly in the days leading up to the race there is no need to OVERload on the carbs. Instead, just focus on the percentage of carbohydrates and on eating whole foods that will provide you with longer lasting energy. Try and rest your legs as much as possible. Avoid extended periods of walking, if at all possible.
Eat a light breakfast high in complex carbohydrates 1-3 hours before the start of the race. Eat something that you know will not upset your stomach and that, ideally, you’ve eaten before during training. Suggestions include whole wheat toast with peanut butter, cereal, or steel cut oatmeal with bananas or berries. Avoid too much protein as it can lead to stomach upset, and avoid simple sugars that will lead to a spike in your blood glucose levels and then a rapid drop, leaving you with an energy crash at the start of the race. Drink 2-3 glasses of water with your breakfast. Stop eating 1 hour prior to the race to allow your body to digest before running, and drink 6-8 oz of water 10-30 minutes before the start.
Plan to arrive at the race no later than an hour beforehand; for some larger races, you may need to be there even earlier. Give yourself plenty of time- it takes longer than you think to get parked, use the porta-potties, warm-up, etc.
For a 5K or 10K, warm up for at least 5-10 minutes before you get into your corral with some easy running, followed by a few stride-outs. If the weather is colder, take a little more time to warm-up to ensure that your muscles are nice and warm before the start.
Make sure you’ve “seeded” yourself appropriately at the start line. Faster (5-6 minutes/mile) runners should be at the front towards the start line, and slower runners/walkers towards the back. Some larger races have pace signs so you know where you should start, but if there are no signs, just use common sense to start in approximately the right area. If you do not, you risk going out too fast or getting stuck behind much slower runners. If the race is chip timed, you don’t have to worry about how long it takes you to cross the start line because your time will not start until you get to the front.
At the start of a large race, expect to be in a crowd for the first mile (or more!) Don’t weave around runners in front of you, which will waste energy. Find the path of least resistance and run in as straight a line as possible.
Don’t go out too fast! If you feel like you are going too slow (and you may feel this way before the crowds thin out), you are probably running at an appropriate pace. Plan to run a few seconds slower than your projected pace, then ease into your race pace gradually. If you feel strong the last 1/3 of the race, you can push the pace towards the finish line.
Drink at the water stations, especially during races longer than 5K. The amount of time it takes to grab some water is negligible and significantly helps your performance. Even 2% dehydration can lead to a decrease in performance, and once you feel thirsty you are well past this point, so even in cold weather make sure to take water along the course. Grab the paper cup from the volunteer, pinch it to form a spout, and drink it through the corner of your mouth. Even a small swig will be helpful. You can slow down through the water stations, but if you do (or if you stop), move to the right so other runners don’t bump into you from behind.
SMILE as you approach the finish line- there are often photographers there to capture your achievement and you will be able to look up the pictures by your bib number (another reason to have your bib visible on the front of your clothing) after the race.
Continue walking after you pass the finish line- do NOT stop immediately because (1) you don’t want finishers behind you to collide with you, and (2) the blood that went to your vital organs during the run needs time to return to your extremities.
Make sure to grab some water and, within 30 minutes or so, a protein/complex carbohydrate snack. Lowfat chocolate milk is the ideal recovery “meal” with the proper ratio of carbs to protein (4:1), but any snack with protein and carbs will help repair the micro-tears in muscles and restock your glycogen stores.
Stretch and, if possible, get into an ice bath when you get home to help reduce any inflammation.
Take at least two rest days (active rest, i.e., walking or swimming) after the race before slowly resuming running to the level where you were before the race (reverse taper).
Be PROUD of your accomplishment, and set a new goal for yourself!!