So a race.  First of all, races are supposed to be a good experience and they’re a great “finish” to a segment of your training.  Racing isn’t a required part of being a recreational runner, but it’s a really neat part of this sport and I highly recommend entering one even if it wasn’t on your original running “bucket list”.  Don’t fret at the thought of “race”.  Just because you sign up for a race doesn’t mean you need to do a sprint workout every week nor it is supposed to evoke mental images of sobbing through pain or throwing up when you reach the finish line.  Your first race and every race thereafter are all about having a good time.

So, preparing for a race - how do you do it?  Completing and “competing” in races 2, 3 or 4 times a year are great goals to keep your running hobby fresh yet consistent.  For your first race (either first race ever or first race back into this running thing), your goal is to “begin bright and end elated”.  Your speed may pick up a little bit in a race, because after all, it is a race, but you are not going to shoot out of the starting line like lightening unless you are comfortable puking in front of race spectators at the second mile.

Prepping for a race really just calls for a training calendar and some commitment.  A race isn’t the end of your running goal; it’s just a marker for your running lifestyle.  Don’t stop your running routine after your race!  Make a new goal!  But for this, your first race, you’ll have followed your schedule and you are ready for that starting line . . . and finish line.

Nothing should be different in your weekly running routine until a few days before your first race.  And last minute preparation for your upcoming race should be simple and stress free.  Here’s what I suggest when you are about half a week out for your race . . .    


Keep up your running schedule and take two days off with no running before your race.  A couple of days before the race, be nice to your bod when it comes to food and your overall diet.  Food is all relative to each person’s normal diet, but I will tell you that if you do not each jalapenos multiple times a week or if you do not regularly travel with Anthony Bourdain to eat in exotic global countries, then enchiladas, cheesesteak sandwiches and pretty much any fast food will come back and haunt you in a big way during and yes, even after a race.  Alcohol, sadly, will put a dent in your race performance and run as well . . . . and I’m not just talking about just slowing your race pace down.  Hello Mr. Portapotty.   

Think mild.  Think safe.  My “go to” safe pre race dinner meal is a turkey sandwich (without cheese or mayo) and iced tea.  (Coincidentally, this is also the meal that I ate at lunch in 1993 before I dunked my Aggie Ring later that night at The Dixie Chicken.  You’ll need to ask a Texas Aggie about that one.)  You don’t need to carbo load before this race unless you want to feel incredibly bloated and fat.  Sure, have some spaghetti if that’s your thing, but don’t overdo.  Put some protein in that meal too.  And focus on mild meals a couple of days BEFORE your race to balance your running body.


Put together your race clothes and stuff.  I recommend not waiting until the night before to get things together.  Two days out will give you enough time to pick up something last minute or in my case, do laundry for that shirt that is inevitably at the bottom of the basket.

Also, 2 days out, get a good night of sleep.  This will be the night of sleep that your body will use during the race because the night of sleep before a race (especially your first race) tends to be full of false wake up calls and some pretty predictable tossing and turning.  Pre-race jitters are totally normal for newbies and seasoned racers alike, so make this night of sleep - 2 nights before your race - count. 

Now to the race supply checklist (which, not surprisingly, are the exact things in chapter 4 that you bought at the beginning of your training).  Here goes . . .
Technical running shirt.  Heads up.  Just a little friendly advice.  Don’t wear the race shirt in your packet.  More often than not, it’s a cotton tshirt . . . and you know the   lovely feeling of sweating in cotton.  But really, the race shirt is for bragging rights later and running in the race day shirt on race day is totally geeky.  Now this advice is coming from a pretty well engrained geek, but I’ve been told by cool people that wearing the race shirt on race day just screams “newbie geek amateur runner”.  I’m all for embracing your inner geek, but dress like a cool rock star - or running star for that matter - on race day. 

Runners have a great sense of humor and we love t-shirts with funny sayings on them.  We also like to boast our camaraderie with wearing our running club shirts and we are sentimental and often run in honor and memory of loved ones and run for causes that are close to our hearts.  Feel free to wear a shirt like these or wear a technical shirt that you’ve been training in and that fits and most importantly, is comfy.

Shorts or skirt or tights or capris.  Something that will be suitable for the weather, but if it is cold, remember that you may not be cold for long.  Rethink wearing sweat pants or tights unless it is really cold out.  Like your shirt, wear whatever you have been training in that is comfy.  You don’t need any ride up, wedgie, chafing surprises on race day.

Running Socks.  Same ones that you have trained in, but not ones that have the toes or heels busted out.
Running Shoes.  It will be time for new shoes AFTER this race, not for this race.  Wear the shoes that you’ve been training in.  They deserve the race glory too.

Running Bra.  Again, one of the ones that you’ve been training in on a regular basis. 

Sunscreen and Sunglasses (always needed).  If you haven’t started the running with sunscreen habit, start it today.  And your future face and shoulders are saying thank you.  And protect those peepers too with glasses or at least a hat or visor.

ID tag (on your shoe or as a bracelet).  You are always running with this, right?

Race Number.  You will attach this number with 4 safety pins (one on each corner) to the FRONT and middle of your shirt - like right over your stomach.  If you are wearing a cool t-shirt design, wear your number still on the front, but lower.  Not on your back.  No.  Nothing screams newbie like a race number pinned to the back of the shirt.  Race officials and photographers will be looking for this on the front of your body.  In addition, fill out the information on the back of the race number (name, emergency contact name and number, etc.).  Fill this out even if you are wearing your ID on your shoe.  It will take you less than 60 seconds.  Just do it.  Race officials will look here first if there is a problem.
Racing chip.  These little ditties usually attach to your shoe and will time you for the race.  These chips will come  in your race packet with instructions and while I generally try to avoid reading instructions for anything at all costs, reading the instructions for these racing chips is a very good idea.

Optional Supplies:

Body Glide
Hair band
Sweat band
Gloves (colder races, duh)
Arm Warmers (yeah, we know, colder races too)
iPod and headphones
A Trash Bag.  A Trash Bag?  Yes, if it’s raining, this is a pretty good idea to wear prior to and at the start of a race.  And believe it or not, you will not be the only one wearing a trash bag.  You won’t.  At the bottom of the bag, cut out a head hole and on the side, arm holes.  Race volunteers clean up the course (thank you volunteers!) after the race, so you can just shed the bag on the course when it starts driving you crazy. 


Go about your normal routine.  Easy on the sugar, fast food and alcohol.  No running today.  Rest those legs.

Grab a friend and go drive the course if you have time.  I’ve always found this very helpful before any race.  Introducing yourself to the route beforehand seems to take away the “fear of the unknown” and prepares you for any last minute surprises that are crummy to get on race day.  You’ll be happy that you know about elevation, hills, and potholes before hand and you’ll enjoy seeing familiar landmarks on your race that you drove by the day before. 

If you can’t get to the course, it’s super important to at least figure out where you are going to park tomorrow morning.  Go to the race website and check out which roads are going to be closed and how traffic is going to be directed.  Pick your parking lot and then pick a back up  parking lot.  Just have an idea where you are going and print out those directions.  Murphy’s Law will show that your GPS will be out of charge or won’t pick up a signal when you jump in the car tomorrow morning. 

Double check your race day supply checklist (or finish that laundry) and pick out what you are going to have for breakfast the next morning (it will be early, remember!)

Set your alarm clock.  It will be up to you to give yourself enough time to get ready, eat breakfast, have a cup of coffee (maybe) and go potty.  Race day driving and parking can be a huge time suck also if it is a larger race.      (It’s kind of like planning your time to the airport when you are catching an airplane.  You can’t just show up at the airport when your plane is scheduled to leave.  Same thing is true for a race.  That race gun fires at the time advertised.)  So don’t underestimate the time associated with parking and starting line logistics at a race.  Plan on being there at least 30 minutes before the race start.  An hour would be a better bet for bigger races.  Masses of people trying to find the start line (or get bussed to the start line) can be a logistical nightmare.  The last thing you want to do is be freaking out because you are late.  Not a great way to start off a race.  So give yourself plenty of time tomorrow morning . . . . and set your clock accordingly.

Now chill.  Go watch TV.  Visit with friends.  Or just head to bed.  Recheck your alarm and that’s it.  Don’t check it again.  You set it right the first time.  Night night.


If this is a typical weekend morning race, then you have just gotten up at “why in heaven’s name am I up this early” o’ clock.  You’ll get dressed, brew and drink that coffee (if it’s your usual routine), eat a light breakfast (it’s whatever works with you, but watch that fiber intake and quantity of food) and have a glass of water.  Before you get in the car, go over these:

Am I dressed FULLY from head to toe?  Sunglasses?  Sunscreen?  Hat?  Visor?  Deodorant and Body Glide?  Ponytail band?  iPod and Headphones?  Watch?  Racing number on shirt?  Racing chip on shoe?

Do I have directions to the race?  Do I have a parking pass or ID?  Did I go to the bathroom?
If all of these checked “yes”, it sounds like you’re ready to rock n roll.  After you park successfully, just follow the folks to the start.  (You should have a general idea where this is because you looked on the website, right?)  I’ve noticed that runners tend to be a little quieter walking to the start on race day mornings, but if you are confused, then just ask someone!  And follow the sound of the guy on the bull horn.

You don’t necessarily need to do any stretching or warm up drills before your race, but you’ll see plenty of people running sprints or stretching.  You know your own warmup, so just chill.  You’ve just walked to the starting area so your legs have warmed up a bit.  Take in the energy of the moment and wait for that starting gun.

In larger races, runners will line up based on their “pace per mile” speed - faster runners at the front, slower at the back.  This is a pretty good system.  Don’t be on the front row - you’ll get flattened like a pancake.  But don’t shy towards the back - the walkers are supposed to be at the back and you’ll be operating like a hamster in a maze trying to run around walkers at a race.  Line up in the middle or in your estimated pace group.  No one is going to hold you to that pace, but it will be an easier start for everyone. 


The gun has gone off and you have either started running or you are at a stand still.  Yes, the gun may have sounded and really, you are just standing there wondering in your confused inner voice “Ummmmm, GO?!”  In big races, the start and first half of a mile or so tend to be stop and go traffic.  Be patient in the sea of runners.  You probably have a timing chip on your shoe, so your personal time across the starting line and finish line will be accurate.  Don’t spin your wheels to maneuver around the masses and don’t jog in place.  It’s total wasted energy.  Just do your best to be patient and run your race steady steady steady.

Your job for the next few miles that you are racing is to have fun!  Your adrenalin is elevated and your speed is probably naturally faster (whether you know it or not).  Running faster at races is what it is all about so embrace the extra “oomph” that your body is providing you, but rest assured, the devil is not chasing you, so running all out for a distance race is the wrong way to race.  ENJOY YOURSELF.  Don’t be lazy, but be relaxed.  Run your own race.  You will be fatigued at the end, but there is no need to make yourself sick with exhaustion.  Take some good deep breaths to control your heart rate.  If the race provides water stations, slow down and walk and take a drink or two during your race.  I’ve never had any success in running and trying to drink water out of those cups.  It’ll slosh all over you, so just take a couple of seconds to drink halfway through the race (or more if it’s super hot outside).  Now keep on keeepin’ on and finish that run.    

You may also notice on the course, if it’s a big enough race, that there are professional photographers clicking pictures at points along the race for you to view and purchase later.  During my first year back as a runner, I didn’t even pay attention to those picture folks and when my pics were posted on the racing web site, I looked ridiculous - either I had my mouth open (breathing or talking) and/or my eyes were closed.  They were NOT glamour shots.  Now I’m not one to sport makeup when I’m running and I always have my hair in a ponytail, but I’ve been much happier waving to the photographers and smiling when I see them clicking away.  And I even bought some of those smiley pictures to document my marathon.  Just a little friendly (and maybe vain) advice. 
So you are nearing the end of the race.  Holy cow, you trained your body to run!!  BE PROUD!!  Reaching a running goal can be an emotional experience.  When you near the finish or approach the final mile, you may have some emotions boil to the surface.  Girl or guy, it doesn’t matter.  You may be elated and giggly or you may shed some happy (or even sad) tears.  No fellow runner is ever going to judge you for your emotions because we’ve had them all ourselves.  So embrace your race! 

If you’ve got it in you, give it an extra push when you can SEE the finish line (not before or you’ll fizzle out before the finish).  Spectators will be screaming “go go go!” all during the last half mile at least, but that may be too long to hold an all out sprint.  So pick it up when you see the finish for a great end to your race.  And when you cross that finish line, keep running.  Seriously, keep moving.  It’s not to show how bad ass you are; it’s because if you stop right at the finish someone behind you is going to run smack dab into you and knock you over!


You are done!  Keep walking around a bit and go find your friends and family.  Rehydrate with a sports drink and then walk towards the beer tent if it is calling your name (yep, runners drink beer at 9:00 in the morning on race day).  Head to the race catering too for a post run snack.
When you get home, do a little bit of stretching and head towards the shower.  This isn’t a day for a hot shower or night for a hot tub.  Give those tender muscles some time away from heat in order to rebuild and repair.  Finish that warm or tepid shower and enjoy your day and weekend!  Put your feet up and enjoy a nice lunch or dinner.  Drink some more water during the day and have a great time with a margarita with friends tonight. 

I also recommend taking about 10 minutes to write down your race experience - what worked, what you enjoyed, and what you will do different next time.  It’s amazing how you will totally forget these things tomorrow morning.  So just jot some things down and file it with your running number. 

And now you are ready for your next plan.  Take a day or two or even take a week to recover and reset.  Your mind and body deserve a little break.