7 Tips to Make Your Race Day Better

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In less than three weeks I will be celebrating my 4th anniversary of when I took on the challenge to become a runner. I actually began training eight weeks prior to this date, but I use my first 5K race I ever participated in as my running anniversary date. The reason, I never really considered myself a runner until I ran my first race. Looking back I know differently, but trust me, I can remember the day like it was yesterday.

During the past 48 months I have learned a few lessons about racing, having tackled every distance from the mile to the marathon. Below are some tips I have practiced along the way that may help make your race day a little less nerve wracking.

  1. It's OK to take it easy, activity-wise, a day or two before your race. Your goal is to toe the starting line with the freshest legs possible. The amount of taper will vary according to the distance you are running, but never underestimate the power of a good rest day before your race.
  2. Get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your race. Do not worry if you do not sleep well the night before a race, however, make certain you get plenty of rest in the days leading up to that night. Many runners will suffer from insomnia the night before a race, but do not worry, adrenaline is amazing at helping us push past any race day fatigue.
  3. Stay off your feet the day before a long race. You want to arrive at your race with the freshest legs possible so make sure the day before your big event that you do as little walking as possible. This is primarily for those running longer distances, such as a half-marathon and marathon.
  4. Do not try any new foods or drinks the night before or the day of the race. Now is not the time to sample new dinner or breakfast foods. Trying something new before a race can lead to stomach issues which can be the difference between a good race and a not so good race.
  5. Do not wear any new running gear the day of the race. The rule in racing is not to do or try anything new on race day, this includes wearing new running shoes, new shorts, new shirts, even a new sports bra and socks.
  6. Do not try a new refueling source the day of the race or during the race itself. Many races, less than a 10K distance, may not offer refueling sources on the course, but if your race does, make sure you have practiced using it during your training. Trying something new, such a Gu or Cytomax, may lead to gastro-intestinal issues which can cause issues during the race itself.
  7. Arrive early so that you do not have to rush to get to the starting line. This is especially true for bigger races where parking can be a premium. Allow yourself a good hour to park, check in your gear if you need to, hit the porta-lets and do a nice warm-up.
These are just a few tips to consider before running your big event. But understand, as my former running coach once said, "You're only as good as you are on that particular day, at that particular time, on that particular course, under those particular circumstances" so don't beat yourself up too much if your race doesn't match up to those in the past. Each race brings its own set of challenges, but the most important thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy the experience.


As a runner or walker, do you have any other tips to share? What mistakes have you made in the past that you have learned from?

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Thanks for the post! I am currently training for my first 5k on 4/25. These are great tips for me to remember. I am doing ok with the training so far. I am happy that the training is helping me to lose inches! Report
I used to run cross country in high school and I'm slowly getting back into the running game for recreation. A few things I can recomend from my racing days.

1. Start with a warm up at a slow jog... it doesn't have to be long but it wakes up your endurance muscles.
2. Do a few short sprints before the race too... that wakes up the other muscles. They really help on those hills, on your final stretch, and even just when you feel tired midrace.
3. Keep a steady pace. When I ran in high school all the girls would start off sprinting and I would usually be at the end. However... I paced myself. I counted all the girls I passed as motivation to pick up my pacee a little through the race. It feels better to pass than to be passed.
4. COOL DOWN. NO SERIOUSLY! I know your tired at the end. Walk or baby jog for just a hlaf mile. You'll be thanking yourself the next day.
5. Stretch when your done... unless you like being extra sore later in the day and probably for the next few days.

... one I forgot

Pre 1. HYDRATE... not only the day of but a few days before as well as eat a healthy carb packed meal to keep you energized through your race.

Good luck to me and everyone else! Report
On new clothing - I add that if you are doing a long distance race make sure you've trained with the same clothes for a long run. It was only after about 8 or 9 miles that I started to get rubbing/chafing on my arms from the seams on my top. Now I wear a smooth seamed shirt.

There is also a thred on the Half Marathon Spark Team that is very helpful:

Thanks Report
Very inspiring. Thank you (and to all the other members who also posted some great tips). Report
Thanks for all the great comments! I'm trying to pick up all I can. My first 5K is on May 8th and I am nervous already! Report
I have to read through all the comments but I know that you have to really know your body before a race of any type. I am currently training for a half marathon and found out that I cannot eat the morning of a race. My big run days are scheduled for Saturdays and taking some advice from things I read of other runners, I tried to eat a little bit of something before I went for my run. WRONG MOVE for MY body! I had to go to the bathroom halfway inbetween. I have learned that for me, I am ok to go on an early morning run with not eating anything. I do have some water and a little bit of caffeine in the form of hot/cold tea.
So, my suggestion, learn whether or not you need to eat before you go on a race. If you do, my suggestion would be to keep it small and light. Toast, banana, etc. If you don't need anything, it's OK! Just fuel up afterward to rebuild your muscles :) Enjoy! Report
This article is very timely! I have my first 5K race coming up in April and will be reading all the comments for more tips! Thanks! Report
If it is a big race. Arrange for a good place to meet your family/friends after the race. The finish line may be crowded and difficult to find someone. Report
Be safe and take care of yourself! With the adrenaline pumping, it's easy to go faster than you've trained, or lose your form, or not slow down when your body tells you you should. Even if you finish this race slower than you expected, at least you'll be able to run another one!! Report
Thanks for this blog. I have my first 10K coming up in about a week and a half. My first race of any kind. I'll keep these suggestions in mind. Report
I have never been able to find a race that started late enough in the day. They usually start before 9, meaning you have to show up before 8, meaning I have to leave before 7, having to get up before 6 in order to eat and get things *ahem* moving for the day.

While that may appeal to some people, getting up between 7 and 8 is early enough for me, thanks! =) Report
Fast people in the front, slower people in the back of pack.
No shame in being slower, but you don't want to be trampled on by the hardcores in the front. Report
Make sure you train in a variety of clothes (all wicking) before the race - you can never know about the weather! It might be 30 and sunny or 50 and rainy in the fall or spring. So if you are traveling to your race, bring several top/bottom combinations just in case.
Also, ditto on bringing you own post race snack (it has happened to me twice where they ran out of food before I crossed the finish line), I like packing a simple PB sandwich. Definitely bring a jacket/sweatshirt for after the race, and a pair of shoes/sandals to change into for longer races. Report
Great tips! Just a couple I thought of as well..lay your clothes out the night before, and if you have your race # already, pin it to your shirt the night before so it is one less thing to worry about in the morning.

If there is a chance of rain, bring a trash bag. If it is raining at the start of the race, cut a hole in the top for your head and wear the trash bag (in cooler weather, not when it is 80 and the rain really feels good). I had to do this at my last 1/2 and we wore it for about a mile before the rain stopped and we tossed them in the trash. Report
Some great tips! Thanks, LAB-LOVER and everyone. I'm looking forward to my 1st 5K, which I haven't scheduled yet. But soon! Report
Only wear wicking materials - NO COTTON. Especially cotton socks.
You will Suffer when your socks bunch up and you get blisters. Cotton clothing holds sweat (and water if raining), gets heavy... Report
Good post coach Nancy. And, as Lab-lover said - have fun!!!! I always bring a large garbage bag where I cut a hole (for my head) and wear it if it drizzling/raining or windy until I get started. Report
Good suggestions! Thanks. Report
1. Bring your own post-race snack, in case they run out.
2. Ditto for a bottle of water.
3. If the port-a-john line is huge and it's early, use it and then go to the back of the line. It'll give you one last chance before the race.
4. Yep, bring toilet paper.
5. If it's cool, bring one of those old sweatshirts or jackets that doesn't fit you anymore (because it's too big!) and wear it at the beginning. You can shed it during the race on the side of the road. Many race directors collect and donate them.
6. Unless you're speedy gonzales, start at the back of the pack. You'll likely meet other newbies and have more fun.
7. Start off slow. Start off slow. Start off slow...
8. Never look back. If you ARE last, why you want to know that! Report
It has been 8 years since I ran my last race. I really want to get back into it. I am hoping that losing weight will be the motivator that I need to start running again. Report
Just ran my first 5K and you gave some good pointers thank you. Good info
Janis Report
Great tips thanks, I am a advid walker and I am just learning to run. So these tipe will come in handy for me. Report
Thanks for the tips! My first race is coming up in a couple weeks and I have no idea what to expect! It's great to have these extra hints. : ) Report
My first 5K is next Saturday in Pittsburgh with Bill and others from the SparkConvention in September. All of you speakers really inspired me to run:D
Thanks so much for the tips! Report
Good tips!---Definitely know the route in advance. Report
Good tips!
I'd also add on the food thing, be careful what you eat the night before, even if it's stuff you're used to eating. I made the mistake of going out for Mexican food the night before a race. OOPS. Thank goodness it was only a two miler! LOL!!
Don't be afraid to take walk breaks if you need to.
And just soak in the experience and enjoy it! Races are supposed to be fun!! Report
Running is cool but not for everybody. Report
Don't feel like you have to run the whole thing! I have completed two halfs so far and for the first one I tried to run the whole thing without stopping. I got almost to the end and had to stop 4 times during the last 2 miles to stretch. My knees and quads gave out and that's when I learned the value continuously stretching the IT band. For my second run a few months later, I decided to stop every half hour or so, and stretch. This time, the pain was minimal and I felt pretty good coming across the line.I'm not concerned about my time at this point. I know it will improve over time. I just want to come across the finish line feeling good and pain free so I can have a big smile when they snap that picture. Now, I stretch religiously for 15 or 20 minutes after every training run. I bought a foam roller too and it's a life saver! Report
For those summer races, bring flip flops for after the race. There is no better feeling than getting off sweaty socks and hot shoes and slipping on sandals or flip flops! Ok, the cold water-banana-stretch combo is probably the BEST feeling, but wearing shoes that let your feet cool is a close second. Report
I am training for 2 1/2's and a 10k and recently on my long run I didn't have anything to eat and got low blood sugar before I ran. Make sure you eat something before the race--a banana, some water, something! Also, never go to the first porta potty stop on the route on a long race--everyone hits that--try to go before the race and wait until the 2nd or 3rd porta potty--less backed up. Report
Do not overtrain. It took me quite some time to figure this one out. Take it easy on the days leading up to the race and for several days after the race depending on the distance. Report
Great Blog, my first race day is not until June. I am so excited about running my 1st 5K as this was my 50th Birthday present to myself this year. Last year I gave myself a new healty lifestyle and thanks to Sparks I feel great. At this time I am reading every article I can to try to make this the best experience I can. Thanks again! Report
AOGOAE, that is great advice! Porta-potties are bad enough... Report
Don't be afraid to go out if it's raining. I always avoided running in the rain until my second marathon. It was raining, but after all that training I wasn't about to DNF.
If you will be running in the rain wear a cap to keep rain from getting in your eyes or on your glasses. Also wear micro-fiber fabrics like dri-fit or cool max. I wore socks and a t-shirt made of these fabrics and was surprised that I was not blistered or chaffed. My mistake was wearing cotton shorts. They were heavy and stayed wet a long time. - But remember to get these and train with them. Don't wear new stuff on race day. Report
Don't aim to win, aim to beat your own personal record. If you win, great, but only one person on the field will win. Aim to beat someone your own level, yourself. You may not be a super jock, but you can always level up. Report
A couple of tips I have learned in my 15 month racign career;-)

(Especially at longer races), get in line at the porta potties when you get there, use the bathroom and get right back in the porta potty line. Repeat until you get in your corral to start...I used to hate stopping in the middle of a race to go...now I no longer have to:)

If it is cold when the race starts, but you know you will warm up and don't want to wear a jacket the whole race (or throw it away)...buy some tube socks and cut out the feet. You can wear them over your arms until you are warmed up, then you can discard them in a trash can very easily. I actually bought some arm warmers after using the sock idea and I wear them to every race...and during training runs:)

Happy Running!! Report
Great tips in this article!

I would also advice that if you're in a big race (for example - the St. Patty's Day Dash 5K in Dallas, TX this last Saturday had over 5000 people!) that you try and find out before the race if there is a staggering of the starting line. My husband and I thought we were with the mid-range runners and were in fact stuck with a lot of walkers. I'm sure we could have shaved off 1 minute from our race times if we weren't spending the first part of the race trying to pass all sorts of people walking the race! Report
Great article! My first 5k is April 11 and I in no way consider myself a "runner." I'm very nervous and hoping I can follow all these tips! April 11 will definitely be my "running anniversary." =) Report
as a walker, I'd say try to limit the high fiber foods on the day of a big event. Nothing's worse than getting an "urge" right in the middle of a race! Report
Bring toilet paper! That is my race day wisdom ;) Report