If there is one thing I have done quite a bit in my life, it is race. If you are venturing for the first time or just want to have a more delightful experience, keep reading.
I’ll cut to the chase. Race day jitters are for real. It’s hard to keep our head on straight when the the nerves pop up. You can do several things to help with that, though, and some might surprise you!
- Get to the race at least an hour before the start. This is especially true if you have to pick up your packet. This allows for a wee bit of wiggle room finding parking, warming up, and getting to the start line. You may need much more than this if the race is very large. Check the race’s website. Worried you’ll just be sitting around for a long time? Read the rest of the list. There’s plenty to do before start time!
- Research the course beforehand (and review it again while you are getting ready) to know the exact location of the start. Sometimes it is a distance from the packet pickup. My oh my, the stress of not knowing where the start is can be like a bad dream. Also have general knowledge of the course in case it strings out and it’s poorly marked out. Don’t be another social media story about runners who cut courses (intentional AND unintentional).
- Bring your own toilet paper. I am serious. I cannot tell you how many times the porta johns have run out of TP! Runners use a lot of toilet paper. Also, the lines are absurd, and you can’t always find one when you need one.
- Put your bib on your racing shirt as soon as you pick it up. Whether it’s the night before or the morning of, get your bib on your shirt as soon as you can. I was just talking with a running buddy the other day and we both have forgotten our bibs before. Putting the bib on your shirt right away helps prevent you from forgetting (unless you also forget your shirt, but that’s a different tip).
- Leave the phone behind or have a heavy-duty case for it. I know many people like to take pictures during the race, but you can have your support team and the official photographers take the photos. You can free yourself up, and leave the phone behind (in a safe location of course). If you find joy documenting the journey from your POV, I recommend getting a heavy duty case, in the occurrence that your drop it! You may also want to consider a running belt or phone strap.
- Have a post-race meeting location for your group. Seriously, I don’t know how many times my hubby and I have wandered around looking for one another (even if we DID have our phones with us). Having a meet-up spot is old-school, but it is still a great idea.
- Wear good socks. This is especially important the longer the race. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we do silly things like wear socks that slip down. It hurts so bad to get those heel blisters.
- Start in an honest position at the line-up. This goes both directions. Don’t start too far up so that you get run over by the runners behind you. Also, do not start too far back so that you have to wade through hundreds of others before you can get into your groove. Give yourself the chance to have a solid start to the race. There is usually pace signage at the start of races. Follow it.
- Eat and drink something before the race. Sometimes nerves make us feel sick and we experience loss of appetite. I ran a race one time on two tiny pretzels and it did not go well. We need the fuel. Whatever you do gearing up in training, execute that plan on race day.
- Lube it up! Chafing is horrible. Remember to use lubricant or vaseline in all the places you might need it (this is surprisingly different for everyone, but you learn quickly what rubs when you race a few times). And it’s worse when it’s warmer.
- Check the weather. Many of us do this compulsively on race day. It’s highly important to know how long the warm up should be, what to wear, etc. And on that note, don’t believe advice about how much you should wear depending on the weather. It’s different for everyone. Instead, follow the rule: you can always take layers off (but can’t add more) once you start.
- Don’t go to the start too early. This can be a risky game to play because you definitely do not want to be late, either. But many racers go to the start line too early and just stand around, letting their bodies cool down or tighten up too much (making for an uncomfortable beginning to the race!). That brings up the next one…
- Keep moving at the start. We are often at the start for 10 minutes or more pre-race. It is important to keep moving. Jump up and down, skip in place, jump side to side, do drills- anything to keep your heart rate up before beginning the race.
- Wear throw-away layers for cold weather races. I didn’t follow my own suggestion at my last race and lost a nice pair of running gloves. Sadness! If you know you’ll eventually get too warm for your top layer, make sure it’s something you don’t mind losing forever. (Or if possible, toss them to a spectator you know so that you can retrieve them later.)
- Relax your face. It took me a while to learn this trick, but it changed my running forever. When we feel pain, it’s natural to grimace. Counteract the grimace by smiling or dropping the jaw to release tension. Guys! This is so important! It’s amazing what this small mindful act can do. Our body follows our face, and we have better flow. It may feel silly to smile, but believe me, it works! If you need motivation, just look around at the other racers. There’s bound to be something to smile about.
- Don’t wear new shoes. At least do a workout or two in shoes before wearing them in a race. You’ll see this suggestion out there from many people. If you don’t test them out, you could suffer from blistering, pinching, or issues with your feet or knees or ankles during your race.
- Cut your toenails the night before. Put this on your to-do list forever and always before distance running. I speak from experience when I tell you that if you don’t, it feels like your have tiny razor blades in your shoe. OUCH! (Do you file your nails? This might also be a good habit to take up to avoid any snagging edges.)
- Imagine and visualize the race during the week before, especially if it is an important one to you. Is it a long race? Think about how you are going to take aid or endure the late-race slump. Is it a short race? Think about how hard you want to run in the beginning, middle, and end. This is important because it helps you feel more relaxed and confident on race day itself.
- Gather your stuff the night before. The worst feeling on race day is hustling about looking for something when you need to be heading out the door (of your home, hotel, AirBnB or whatever). Get everything together and lay it out or pack your race bag before the day of the race. That includes drinks and snacks or aid, every piece of clothing you might want to wear, and any information about the course or race location you want to look at again.
- Have fun! Gotta have a cheese ball conclusion. Seriously though, you’re paying to be at the race. It is a gift to have the health and mobility to compete. Enjoy the day.
Races are a reward for all the training. Enjoy!