Race Day: How to get it done & enjoy the process

It’s go time! It’s race day! It’s time to reap the rewards of all the training.

If you did not get a good night’s sleep, don’t be paranoid. Jeff Galloway, former Olympian, attributes some of his best races to sleepless nights.


Try to eat something before the race.

If it's 4 hours before the race eat a high carbohydrate solid. If it's anywhere to an hour before the race, keep it to a high carbohydrate liquid. (Here are my recommendations on energy drinks.) 

Whatever you do it, keep it small and loaded with complex carbohydrates with some protein. If you have found that you can’t run soon after eating, make sure you plan time for this. It’s not good to run on an empty tank that hasn’t been given any fuel.

Keep hydrating.

You’re body needs the fluids to avoid dehydration and to keep muscle soreness from developing too rapidly. Here are some tips to help you stay hydrated. 

Don’t forget any items that you need before, after or during a race.

If you have been keeping organized this should be in a pile waiting for you to grab. P.S. Don’t forget toilet paper if you will need to use a port-o-let before or during the race. (You can download a packing checklist here.)

Plan extra time to make it to the starting line.

You never know what unexpected circumstances might pop up so plan more than extra time. Time for traffic, time for parking, time to get on and off the shuttle if there is one, time to take a bathroom trip, time to meet up with friends you may be running with, time to find your place in the starting line, plus a little cushion time.

Plan accordingly. You don’t want to miss the start of the race – it is one of the most exciting parts!

Keep your legs and upper body warmed up before the start.

No static stretching! Keep everything dynamic and moving. Some runners choose to use the first mile or so of the race as a warm up.

More serious runners might want to go for a light jog up and down a street, jog in place, do high knees, or anything else that isn’t too strenuous and will get your blood pumping and your body loose.

An excellent warm-up can be just walking as you will probably be walking anyways to the starting line, bathroom, etc.

If you choose to warm up before the race starts then begin 10-20 minutes before. 

Consider wearing compression running socks on race day.

The research seems to think there are benefits and tells us that we can go longer, sustain greater work loads, reduce muscle soreness and prevent more injuries by wearing them.

Read the 7 best race day running tips to help you prepare for in case your race takes a wrong turn!

Enjoy the time before the gun goes off.

You will want to remember your race day and all the feelings that came with it. The pre-race atmosphere is definitely electrifying and exciting.


Start out slow.

This cannot be emphasized enough. You will set the tone of your race right when you leave the starting line and the pace you set then will affect your pace at the end. So keep it slow, steady and relaxed. If you think you might be going too fast, you probably are. 

Keep those positive thoughts flowing - this begins before race day even comes.

Your mental attitude is a large determining factor in your success or failure. The mind affects the body. If you tell yourself you can’t go any farther, are too tired, won’t be able to finish, then guess what, you won’t. So tell yourself what you want! Chances are, if you are a marathoner, you are are pretty positive person or no way would you have started training for such a long distance. 

(The 20 Week Develop Your Marathon Mindset Workbook helps you to turn your negative thoughts into positive thoughts + develop your mental strategy before race day!)

Stay hydrated, starting early.

Take some water or Gatorade at the first aid station and all of the following. Don't skip an aid station on race day just because it's crowded or it will slow you down.  You can’t make up for skipping water in the beginning of the race and you will slow down later in the race because your body will not be able to keep on pace if it doesn't have enough fuel.

If you are worried about the crowds slowing you down at the stations then run to the end of the station and get your fuel there where the runners tend to be less backed up.

Also, the EAT LIKE A MARATHONER Nutrition Course helps you develop your own personalized training and race nutrition plan and calculates for you exactly how much carbohydrate you need to drink throughout a marathon in order to avoid bonking and to be able to fuel your goal race pace. 

Don’t waste that leftover water in your cup.

Pour it on your head, neck, back, inner wrists or legs to stay cool and avoid over-heating.

Consider the weather. 

The weather can either be your best friend or worst enemy on race day. You just have to play along with its games. As unfortunate as it may be, you might even have to slow your race pace down to accommodate for heat or humidity. Both will make your pace seem much harder to keep. Embrace it. You should not feel as if you are wilting away or sweating more than usual.

If you have not trained in either the heat or the cold and you find yourself in either on race day, adjustments will have to be made or you will be in for a longer recovery process or worse suffer heat exhaustion, or dehydration. 

Don’t panic on the hills.

You can tackle those babies. Just keep your pace relaxed, your shoulders down, lean forward slightly and work your way to the top. Check out some more form tips for running hills here. Remember to put forth the same level of effort as you do on flat ground.

Do not go too fast on the downhill slopes. This is a great cause of injury and you are increasing the chances of expending more energy at the bottom by not changing back to flat ground race pace. Keep that pace in check!

If you find that you have gone too fast…don’t count yourself out of the race.

You can still finish. You might not be able to make your time goal but you can still finish the race. Take it slow for 1-2 miles, walk if you need too, drink some water, eat some high complex carbohydrate food and return to your race pace (or slower). Just keep going.

If you find yourself hurting

First rank the pain. Is it an aching pain from running or do you think you have twisted/sprained/injured something? Only you will be able to make that call of when enough is enough. If it is soreness from running, then you can still finish. Try eating something and walking slowly for a while. Remember if it were easy, everyone would do it.

If you have a sharp pain or other pain that does not feel right, that may be the signal for you to stop running and either withdraw or continue slowly. As disappointing as this may be, there will always be another race day.

If you find yourself with a cramp (side stitch) try taking deep breaths to deliver more oxygen to those working muscles and keep drinking plenty of water.

If you think you have hit the wall (carbohydrate depletion):

Walk to the nearest aid station and see if they offer bananas, GU gel, Gatorade or any other form of high carbohydrate food.

Although this may not help you immediately it will help in the recovery process or if you have many miles still to go. However, I can guarantee you won't hit the wall if you have gone through the EAT LIKE A MARATHONER course!

For every hour that you are running, stop and do a quick stretch.

This will help to keep those muscles loose and stop them from locking up on you. It will also reduce your soreness and it feels great!

Don’t forget your mantra.

The mind can easily be tricked. If you find yourself thinking that you cannot attain your goal then stop and reaffirm yourself that you can, you have put in the training.

If it’s helpful, start mentally saying your mantra over and over again with each step. If you haven't developed a mantra for your running, 20 Week Develop Your Marathon Mindset Workbook  will help you find yours.

Give it your all.

Remember, you trained for this; you worked hard to be here. Don’t let it slip by you with only a half-hearted effort.

If you are here to have fun then have fun. If you came to the race to attain a goal then really dig deep and find that tenacity and will-power that made you decide to run a half-marathon in the first place. It will all be over within a couple of hours at the most. 

Enjoy it.

Running this race could very well be one of your fondest memories. Really try and capture every detail and enjoy the fun, the weather, the people, the sounds and the fact that you are accomplishing something special. Enjoy what is around you as you are running. You will never have this race back. Really soak in the view, the spectators, and the atmosphere.

You are doing this, you are ready, and you have so much to be proud of.



Congratulate yourself! 

You really did something amazing and special. Don’t discount what you have earned. Maybe the race didn’t go exactly as you planned but you still did it and persevered. There is a lot to be proud of in that.

Try to keep moving.

You may be tired, you may not want to move another step but try to keep walking at least. This will help in the recovery process immediately and in the coming days. It will help you to keep your muscles loose, avoid tightness, keep you blood pressure in check and ward off at least some of the aches and pains.

Eat a high carbohydrate snack.

Start to bring back those depleted glycogen stores, so keep snacking throughout the remainder race day. Your body put in a lot to get you to that finish line. Fill that tank back up! 

You still need those fluids.

Even if you have been properly hydrating throughout the half marathon you still need to continue to do so throughout the remainder of race day.

Try to drink 8 ounces of water immediately at the finish. You have a hydration deficit coming off of a long run like a marathon and you need to help your body get back to par as quickly as possible.

Stretch if you can.

After running a marathon or half marathon, your muscles will be tight from contracting and relaxing repeatedly over the span of 13-26 miles. Here are some great stretches to incorporate.

Walk some more throughout remainder of race day and the following day.

This is really important in a fast recovery. Like we said, keep moving.

Reward yourself.

Remember that reward that you promised yourself at the beginning of all this training. Well indulge. You did a great job.

There are 2 common feelings after a marathon race:

1. When can I run the next one?

2. I never want to run another marathon again!

Both are not unusual but wait to see how you feel about it after a couple days, weeks or months.

If you are wondering when you can start training for another race again then follow this rule. Give yourself one rest day for every mile that you ran in the race.  So for a 13.1 mile race you should rest for at least 13 days.

Your body needs this rest, especially if you are a beginner. If you are more advanced then you may find that you can start another training plan sooner. However be generous with that rest period. As usual, more is generally better.

For now, take it easy and bask in your accomplishment. 


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