I had a teammate once explain race routines like this:

You do all this work, all this training–we’re talking hours upon hours, miles and miles–just to throw down in maybe a handful of races here and there. I’m just saying that maybe you make sure you get to that start line in the best shape possible to run the race of your life.

You’re not going to run the race of your life every time you toe the line, but I bet you don’t want to finish the race wondering, “What if…?”

What if I would have eaten a better dinner?
What if I would have stretched a little more before bed last night?
What if I would have gone to bed instead of watching two more episodes?

Both Andi and I are now entering the final weeks of our marathon preparation, and that means race season. Naturally, it got us thinking a bit about how life looks differently during the days preceding a race, so we put our practices to words and have shared that below.

LMCU Bridge Run 

As many of you know, Andi and I ran the Bridge Run Sunday. She ran the 5k and I the 10 mile. 

Kyle Cutler: Race Director

What better race than LMCU Bridge Run that weaves over the beautiful bridges in downtown Grand Rapids? It’s put on by a vibrant running club in our area, RunGR. We highly recommend it, and in fact, after quite a bit of digging, we finally discovered exactly how many times I have run the Bridge Run 10 mile – six, to be exact (there’s your answer, Erin). 

Our intent was purely strategic on the road to the Chicago Marathon because while the key to building fitness most definitely lies in the aerobic conditioning phase, the key to peak racing (assuming that aerobic base is built) is in the fine-tuning.

Racing at submaximal effort is one effective way to dial in the system.

So we did that. And it went quite well. More on that in a bit.

Race Routines and Prep

Both of us having just raced seriously for the first time in months (my last serious race was May… or June, but for Andi, it was March), we found ourselves quite automatically rolling through a near-ritualistic series of activities and behaviors during the couple days prior to the race.

Here’s how it went, from each of us.

Everything begins two days before the race. Since this one was a Sunday event, my race focus started Friday.

Two Days Before.

Three things start to adjust a bit when we get close to a race:

  1. Focus
  2. Fuel
  3. Sleep

1. Focus

  • Check Details: Mentally confirm the details of the day.
  • Prepare Bag: Find, clean, and prepare all race-day items.
  • Revisit Goals: Set the mind’s eye on the vision for the race.
  • Research Race: Look through the course maps again, check some past results (always interesting to just see where things shook out), and do a whole lot of hypotheticals and number crunching about pace, strategy, conditions, etc. (because I love that stuff!)

From Andi…  
Formulating my expectations to meet my ultimate goal was challenging! Because I hadn’t done any fast work to that point, I knew the race could have gone a variety of ways. Before the race I had to make peace with every scenario. I had to let go of my manipulative mindset to set up THIS race within the bigger picture, training through to the Chicago Marathon. I kept asking Zach if I could do a workout to check my speed. He said no. So this race was run blind, no clock, no pace (I wore my watch but was not supposed to look at it – and didn’t!). … Loads of fun!

2. Fuel

We don’t go about changing everything in our diet but are careful to not eat the things we know make us suffer later. Like dairy. And salad. I’m not sure why, but it’s bad news for me for racing.

3. Sleep

The fact persists that one or two nights of solid sleep can’t make up for a week of sleep deprivation, but assuming we’re getting decent sleep before this point, we double down on bed time two nights before the race. 

Why not the night before? Because two nights of good sleep are better than one. Also, there’s some compelling material about how two nights before is more important than the night before. I tend to think it simply boils down to this: it’s often hard to sleep the night before an important race. Nerves, excitement, concerns… who knows. But that’s why it is even more important to sleep two nights before (while I still can!).

And a bonus one… 

Both Andi and I also visited Adam at Endurance Rehabilitation for some ART (Active Release Technique) in the morning on Friday. Whenever possible, we try to make that happen the week of a race (or every week, really).

The day before.

This one is unique. I do a few things differently the day before a race. 

  1. A second round of rolling, AIF, and a couple other mobility things
  2. Elevate my legs (I like to do this periodically, but especially the day before a race)
  3. A distraction, something that keeps my mind off the race for chunks of the day
  4. Clip some nails (I refuse to let something like a snagged or bloody toenail be the thing that ruins an otherwise awesome race)

Naturally, I also tend to need to do things like wash some laundry (it always seems that some of our essential race stuff is miraculously dirty the day before a race) and do some dishes (must have the right water bottle and coffee cup on hand). 

From Andi… 
I was feeling pretty bad the week of LMCU Bridge Run 5k. The day before the race, I did all the above which helped mobilize my body. I took an ice bath right after. On Sunday, race day, I felt the best I have in weeks. In hindsight, I should have been more aggressive loosening up earlier in the week. However, Adam’s ART and the intense rolling plus ice bath saved my race.

Race morning.

After a night of tossing and turning, I’m always glad when race morning finally shows. 

It’s like back in high school choir when you’re singing your lungs out and that conniving choir director holds her hand out, daring you to stop singing that note before her hand drops. Then her hand drops just long enough for you to fill your lungs with blissful oxygen before she throws it 6 feet up for a final fortissimo fine.

Not a choir person? Sorry.

Here’s my routine:

  • Wake 2-3 hours before start time (less if it is a super early race).
  • Get a slow and easy start to the day (often with some gentle rolling and AIF).
  • Do some reading (it’s a great way to keep the system calm and the breathing steady) .
  • Dress and pack final items for the race.
  • Drink some coffee (oh yeah).
  • Head to McDonald’s – race breakfast for me is always a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel from beneath the golden arches. From 5k-half marathon, it hasn’t let me down yet (granted, this Chicago will be my first full marathon on a bacon bagel, but I have no doubts).
  • (Andi eats a bagel with peanut butter and could not imagine eating McDonald’s before a race. To each their own!) Meh. Bacon bagel’s better.
  • Fuel up 90 minutes before the race (less for the marathon) and wash it down with coffee and water. Generally, that’s on the way to the race (unless I’m staying close by).
  • Arrive about 90 minutes before start time if I need to get my bib. If I already have it, I can spare another 15 or 20 minutes.
  • Warmup begins 1 hour before the race (for shorter distances, that is 2-4 miles; for the marathon, that’s basically a brisk walk).
  • After a jog, launch into a comprehensive mobility and activation routine that takes about 10-15 minutes. 
  • Finally, don the spiffy racing sneaks and head toward the start.

So, how did it go?

Well, to be direct. Here’s the fact sheet:

Andi’s Race

Photo credit: Stellafly

Distance: 5k (results here)
Place: 1st female (4th overall, but Andi doesn’t want me drawing attention to that)
Time: 17:25 (New personal record!)
Pace: 5:36/mile (3:29/kilometer)
Reaction: I didn’t expect that. I certainly wasn’t specifically trying to run a PR (I wasn’t looking at a watch at all). Zach told me to run hard but to leave something in my legs. My big takeaway is that the training build up for this marathon is definitely making me fit and fast, even without any kind of race-specific workouts.

Zach’s Race

Photo Credit: Stellafly

Distance: 10 miles (results here)
Place: 1st overall
Time: 49:23
Pace: 4:56/mile
Reaction: I learned days before the race that there might be some unexpected competition, and that knowledge helped me prepare for a grind I might otherwise have feared. The simple truth is that I wanted to do most of the hard work before 7 miles and as little work as possible in the final few miles. That led to an aggressive pace early on that did not take nearly as much out of me as I thought it would. My big takeaway is that there’s more in my legs than I have been believing.

Special shout-out to Andi’s running buddies for their speedy races! And Mama Sue for wrangling the boys!

Here are more articles on racing that may interest you:

Race Day Tips! Maximize your race experience! atozrunning.com

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Learn the lingo and some valuable race tips for race day!

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Hey guess what? Our podcast is really taking off and we would love for you to join us! LISTEN TO THE A to Z Running Podcast on our website, or on your fave podcast platform.

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