Having a solid pre-race routine is almost as important as all the training miles you've logged. Use these four tips to make sure you're ready to run your best on race day:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Minding the details in the days leading up to your race will help put your mind at ease and have a big impact on your whole experience. Practice running in the exact outfit you'll wear on race day, and then make sure it's washed and ready to go the night before. If possible, pick up your race packet a day or two before the race and pin your bib to your shorts or shirt. Make sure you try your race clothes on with the bib attached to see whether you need to make any adjustments. Finally, lay out your race clothes and set two alarms before you go to bed.
- Stick to your normal sleeping habits. If you have an early race start, it's smart to go to bed a little earlier than usual, but falling asleep hours before your normal bedtime can throw your sleep rhythm off and leave you staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night. If that does happen, though, don't worry too much about it — a 2012 study found that getting a bad night's sleep before a race made test subjects grumpy, but it didn't adversely affect their performance.
- Wake up early. Try to arrive at the starting line well hydrated and with plenty of fuel in your tank, especially if you're running a longer race. This means waking up hours before start time and taking in fluids and calories. You'll have some extra time on your hands as a result, so use it to your advantage. Getting to the race site early will help alleviate any anxiety by giving you plenty of time to find parking, make your way to the starting line and use the bathroom again before the gun goes off. If you have even more time to spare, employ a tactic that some elite athletes use: a shakeout run. Jog very slowly or walk briskly for 10 to 20 minutes. This will warm up your muscles and prepare your body for optimal performance right from the start.
- Eat wisely. Nothing will hamper your performance more than stomach cramps and multiple runs to the restroom, so race day is not the time to try a new smoothie recipe or treat yourself to a large plate of whatever you normally abstain from. Just eat your usual breakfast, and eat it early enough that it has time to make its way out of your stomach before the start. This takes between 90 minutes and two hours for most people, but because everyone is different, it's a good idea to test-drive your pre-race breakfast on a training run earlier in the week.