Preparing for a big race can be very stressful. Here are a few things you can do during your training and leading up to race morning to minimize stress and help you arrive at the start line with confidence and ease.
Know the course.
Study the race course and elevation chart. If you are local, try to incorporate parts of the course during your normal training runs. If you are travelling for the race, try to at least drive over the course before race day. Visualize yourself out there and come up with a plan of how to tackle the distance.
Check out the video below for Cape Cod Marathon specific race strategies…
Practice pre-run meals.
Training is the time to experiment with your food choices. Before your long runs, simulate race morning. See what time your race starts and practice running at that time. (The Cape Cod Half starts at 7:30am, the Cape Cod Marathon starts at 8:30am!) Every runner is different. How early do you need to eat before your run? Can you drink coffee before your run? If you are staying in a hotel the night before your race, see what the hotel has to offer in terms of breakfast—and how early breakfast opens up—and plan ahead if you need to bring your own meal. Learn what works best for you and then continue to practice the same habits during training and then again on race morning.
Determine your race nutrition and fueling strategies.
Almost as important as your pre-run meal is the fuel you take during your runs. If you are training for a 5k and possibly even a 10k, you won’t have to worry about fueling during your race. If you are training for a half marathon or full marathon, this is a very important concept.
Step 1: Do your research.
Find out what companies are sponsoring the race. (The Cape Cod Marathon is sponsored by CLIF with Fuel Stops at mile 9.25 for the half and mile 21 for the full. Each water stop offers both water and Gatorade.) You have 2 options—either train with what will be out on the course on race morning or bring your own. Trying something new could lead to porta-potty stops mid-race!
Step 2: Read labels.
Check the serving size. Some packages contain 1-2 servings. For a half, you will probably want 2 servings. For the marathon, 4 servings. Also check the caffeine count on the labels. Some have no caffeine, some have 2x caffeine. Caffeine can affect your performance in a positive or negative way. Again, see what works best for you and stick with it.
Step 3: Figure out WHEN you need fuel.
I have always stuck with the theory on the GU packages—15 before every 45. I start around mile 3 and fuel every 45 minutes after that. I personally could never get through 26.2 miles by only taking fuel at the mile 21. It takes about 15 minutes for your body to start feeling the effects of your fuel so don’t wait until it’s too late. Plan ahead and keep your body and your muscles happy.
Don’t rely on the expo for new gear or race nutrition.
Race expos can be fun. Many big races have a lot of different vendors giving away free stuff and sampling products but don’t rely on the expo for your race day essentials. What if you were planning to buy your race fuel at the expo and they are sold out? Minimize the stress and come prepared. Plus you’ll spend way more time on your feet walking around trying to find what you need when you should be resting for the big day! It’s also never a good idea to buy new shoes or gear right before a race.
On a similar note, if you are flying to a destination race, plan to carry on your important items. You just never know!
Do a dress rehearsal.
Decide what you plan to wear on race morning ahead of time and do a dress rehearsal. Discover all the little nuisances that may affect your performance on race day like if your shorts ride up or if your sports bra is rubbing. Make sure you have a good two to three weekend of running in new shoes before a race. If you race in flats, wear them a few times before your race. New or unfamiliar shoes on race day could lead to blisters and/or random aches, pains or strains.
Lay everything out the night before your race.
Try everything on and lay everything out the night before your race. In big on to do lists so I make a checklist. Shoes, socks, shorts, sports bra, shirt, deodorant, Body Glide, GPS watch, Road ID, hair tie, bobby pins, sunglasses, race number, safety pins, fuel, breakfast, etc. Preparation means less stress when your alarm goes off.
Wear throwaways to the start.
It’s so important to not only warm up but also to stay way before your race. Depending on the size of the race, you may spend a lot of time waiting around in the start corrals. Cold, tense muscles can cramp up and increase your chances of injury. Wear “throwaways” that you don’t mind leaving at the start line and keep them on as long as you possibly can. Don’t have anything you want to part with? Stop by a thrift shop for some cheap sweats. Many of the bigger races will even collect clothes left at the start and donate to charity.
Take a deep breath.
You got this. Good luck out there! Happy running!
Blog post by Jen Skiba.
About Coach Jen Skiba
Jen began her running career as a middle-distance runner for Falmouth High School and has been involved with the sport for over 12 years as a runner, official, race management, and coach. A Mashpee Fitness trainer and Certified Running Coach through the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), Jen enjoys working with runners in the gym and on the roads. “Whether you are a beginner looking to get started running or at the intermediate level hoping to improve your times or tackle new distances, I can help you reach your goals!”