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Plan Ahead to Avoid Uncertainty on Race Day

posted by Greg Wieczorek
Plan Ahead to Avoid Uncertainty on Race Day

After months of diligent training and hard work, the goal race of many runners is quickly approaching and there will soon be a finishing time next to peoples’ names that represents the summation of all their efforts leading up to race day. Once race morning finally arrives however, it can be quite stressful and overwhelming, and pre-race jitters can be compounded particularly if it’s a large event and a relatively new experience for someone. What a shame it would be if you’re incredibly fit, but are stuck in a bathroom line-up while the national anthem is playing? This article discusses the points I share with my Project PB runners to help ensure that the hours leading up to the starter’s air-horn are as smooth as possible, allowing them to focus on their race plan without worrying about the numerous hiccups that can occur on race morning.

Stick to your regular breakfast

What is it that you typically eat and drink before your long run on any given Sunday? By race day you’ve had ample opportunity to figure out what sits well in your stomach and fuels your running for an extended period of time. Race morning is not the time to be experimenting with something new. If I have travelled to a destination race, I make sure I have my regular breakfast items in my hotel with me before I go to bed. Based on experience I know what’s worked well for me in the past, and I want to keep the uncertainty to a minimum on race morning.

Avoid experimenting on race day; stick to what you've practiced

Give yourself plenty of time

This point should go without saying, but I’ve known plenty of people who think things will magically come together on race morning, only to panic when they realize they may not get through everything they need to, such as:

• Finding parking,
• Washroom,
• Warm-up jog,
• Washroom,
• Gear check,
• Washroom,
• Get to a suitable spot behind the Start Line.

Each of these priorities takes time and having to skip an important step can be potentially disastrous. Sure, having the alarm go off at 5:15am isn’t pleasant – but really, how much more pleasant is it than getting up at 5am? Those incremental 15 minutes can mean the difference between being rushed and flustered versus calm and relaxed.

Warm-up jog

The length of an appropriate warm-up jog is different for everyone and depends on the distance you are racing. Your liver can store enough glycogen for about 2 hours of aerobic activity, after which point it must draw from calories being consumed during the event. Thus, if you are running a marathon or anticipate being over 2 hours for a Half-marathon, there’s no need to do a warm-up jog. Instead, ease into the race over the first kilometre or two, and if you’re slightly slower than goal pace through your first few splits, there’s plenty of time to make it up. This is a much better option than risking a painful encounter with the dreaded “wall” a few kilometres from the finish line.

For sub 2-hour Half marathoners, I recommend doing one mile of slow jogging for every 10 minutes you anticipate being under 2 hours. Thus, someone shooting for a 1:40 Half marathon would do no more than a 2 mile warm-up jog. As well, the warm-up jog should not exceed what you are used to doing for your quality workouts. Ie. if you typically haven’t jogged for more than 3 kms before a quality workout, race morning isn’t the time to all of a sudden go for a 5km warm-up.

Plan your warm-up so that you finish with enough time to use the washroom, do some light stretching, some form drills and strides, and make it to the start line with time to spare. Depending on the venue, I generally aim to finish my warm-up jog about 25 minutes before the gun. I also like to take a gel and chase it with a few gulps of water about 15 minutes before the start.

More on Warming Up Properly on Race Day


If there’s one thing you can be sure of before a race, it’s that during the final minutes before the gun the line up at the port-o-potties close to the start line will always be too long. You don’t want to ever find yourself in a position where you have to make the decision between either missing the start or holding it in. Instead, scout out washrooms that are a little bit out of the way, such as the first water station, or a hotel/gas station/fast food restaurant in the vicinity of the start line. As well, there is often a direct correlation between washroom line-ups and time until race start, so the sooner you can go, the shorter the line-up.

This scene might only be a couple blocks from the start line.

Gear check

This is another line-up I try to avoid whenever possible. If I have a friend or family member with me, I will leave my warm-up clothes in a back-pack with them. If the hotel I am staying at is within walking distance to the start, I will ask the front desk to hold my room key and head to the start wearing “throw aways”. These are track pants and a sweatshirt that I have had sitting in my closet for years, or have purchased from a thrift shop that I plan on leaving at the start line. Clothes left at the start are typically collected and provided to local charitable organizations after the race. Gear check is fine for the masses and can’t be avoided at certain mega-races, but adds one more variable to contend with before a race.

Learn more about the increasingly popular FedEx Gear Check

Final words

As with anything, establishing a pre-race routine that you are comfortable with takes practice and experience. Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to take a few dry runs before a smaller local race before heading to a big city event with larger crowds to contend with. Don’t hesitate to pick the brain of someone who’s done the race in prior years, and get tips from them on the best places to park, warm-up, find washroom facilities, and other logistical considerations. Do your homework in order to take the guess-work out of how race morning will unfold; instead, focus that attention on running well.

Suggested Reading: Preparing for your Weekly Long Run


About the Author: Greg Wieczorek is a Chartered Accountant and 2:25 marathoner residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has coached his wife Maura from a 4:17 marathon debut to a personal best of 2:58 and helps others maximize their road race potential through his online coaching service Project PB.

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  1. Steve Clouthier says:

    Great info Greg….good race day prep and tactics has certainly not been one of my strong suits!

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