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Tips for Runners to Maximize Race Day

BY Jennifer Van Allen

Of course you need to plan ahead and train hard to reach your goal. However, along with the miles there are some tips and ideas you can use just before and during the race to give yourself a better chance of success.

Even for seasoned racers, the days before a race can be stressful. With all the hope and hard work that you’ve invested in your goal event, you want to arrive at the starting line feeling calm, healthy, and ready to run your best. Here are a few reminders to keep you on track in the critical days and hours before the starting gun fires, and to help you recover after you cross the finish line. For more great tips, and all new 5-K training plans from Runner’s World, the experts in training and racing for more than 40 years, click here.

Pre Race

Stop Stressing

5Ks are hugely positive community events. You get to spend a morning with strangers cheering you on, feeding you and offering water, and celebrating doing something healthy for yourself. Everyone fears that they’ll be last, but don’t worry. In all likelihood, you won’t be. People with a very wide range of abilities and levels of fitness do 5Ks, and many people just go to walk them from start to finish.

Cover the Route Beforehand

If you can, work out on the route where the race will take place so you can get familiar with where you’ll need to push and where you can cruise. Finding the race start beforehand will prevent you from getting lost on race morning!

Get Ready the Night Before 

Lay out your gear and get as much sleep as possible- aim for eight hours.

Don’t do Anything New

Race week isn’t the time to try new shoes, new food or drinks, new gear, or anything else you haven’t used on several workouts. Stick with the routine that works for you.

Get Off Your Feet

In the days before you race try to stay off your feet as much as possible. Relax and leave the lawn mowing or shopping or sightseeing for after the race.

Put Your Hands on Your Bib

The night before the race lay out your clothes and if you have your bib, fasten it on. That’s the one thing you need at the starting line. Don’t show up without it!

Race Day

Limit Your Sipping

Yes you need to stay hydrated, but no major drinking 30 minutes before the gun; sip if your mouth is dry or it’s particularly hot out. Your best bet is to stay hydrated throughout the day. Aim for half your bodyweight in ounces. So for instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces of calorie-free fluids like water each day.

Arrive Early

Get to the race at least one hour before the start so you’ll have time to pick up your number (if you don’t already have it), use the porta potty, and warm up. You don’t want to be running to the starting line.

Identify Yourself

Put your name, address, cell phone number, bib number, and e-mail address clearly on your race bib, or better yet, use a RoadID, which you can wear on your wrist or shoe.

Bring a Trash Bag

A heavy-duty trash bag can provide a nice seat so you don’t have to plop down on wet grass. If it’s raining at the start, you can use the trash bag as a raincoat.

Bring Extra Tissue

The only thing worse than waiting in a long porta potty line is getting to the front and realizing that there’s nothing to wipe with.

Don’t Overdress

It will probably be cool at the start, but don’t wear more clothing than you need. Dress for 20 degrees warmer than it is outside. To stay warm at the start, you may want to bring (expendable) clothes that you can throw off after you warm up.

Set at Least Two Goals

Set one goal for a perfect race and another as a backup in case it’s hot, it’s windy, or it’s just not your day. If something makes your first goal impossible halfway through the race, you’ll need another goal to motivate you to finish strong. It’s best to also set a third goal that has nothing to do with your finishing time. This performance goal could be something like finishing, running up the hills rather than walking them, or eating the right foods at the right time and successfully avoiding GI distress!

Fix it Sooner, Not Later

If your shoelace is getting untied or you start to chafe early in the race, take care of it before it becomes a real problem later in the race.

Line up Early

You don’t want to be rushing to the starting line so don’t wait for the last call to get there.

Start Slow and Stay Even

Run the first 10 percent of the race slower than you normally would with the idea that you’ll finish strong. Don’t try to “bank” time by going out faster than your goal pace. If you do that, you risk burning out early. Try to keep an even pace throughout the race, and save your extra energy for the final stretch to the finish.

After the Race

Keep Moving

Get your medal and keep walking for at least 10 minutes to fend off stiffness and gradually bring your heart rate back to its resting state. Be sure to do some post-race recovery stretches to stretch out your legs, back, and hips.


There are usually snacks at the finish line but what the race provides may not sit well with you. To recover quickly, bring a snack with a combination of protein to rebuild muscles and healthy carbs to restock your energy stores. Consume it within 30 minutes of finishing the race. You might try a sports recovery drink, energy bar, or other packaged food that won’t spoil, spill, or get ruined in transit.

Get Warm

Change out of the clothes you ran in and get into dry clothes as soon as possible. After you cross the finish line your core temperature will start to drop fast and keeping sweaty clothes on will make you cold.

The Next Day, Get Going

As sore as you might feel the day after the race it’s important to do some sort of non-impact activity like swimming, cycling, or working out on the elliptical trainer. The movement will increase circulation to your sore muscles and help you bounce back sooner. Just keep the effort level easy.

These tips can be the final additions to your training plan. Use them to optimize your effort and make race day the best it can be.

The Complete Marathon Training Guide

Complete Marathon Training Guide

Training Guide

This guide is designed to be used as you train for a marathon, with in-depth information on every part of the process. Each chapter is packed with tips, workouts, and insights from expert running coaches, to give you all the tools you need to succeed.

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About Jennifer Van Allen

Jen Van Allen is Special Projects Editor for Runner’s World, where she manages their training programs, including the Runner’s World Challenge, the marathon and half-marathon training program, which has graduated over 6000 runners. She is a USATF & RRCA-certified running coach and she has written three books, including the Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training. To get more great tips and training plans to run your best race, check out the marathon and half-marathon training plans from Runner’s World, the worldwide experts on training and racing for more than 40 years. For training plans, and access to the RW experts on training, nutrition, and injury-prevention, consider taking the Runner’s World Challenge, Runner’s World’s online marathon and half-marathon training.

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