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The Beginner Runner’s Guide to Race Day

You’ve signed up, and trained up, for your first race.

Hopefully, you’ve also rested up in the few days (to a week) beforehand, plus eaten and hydrated well in preparation. Even if your leadup hasn’t been perfect, it’s still OK. Don’t panic. You’ll be surprised at what your body can do with the excitement and adrenaline of a race. But the more you stack the cards in your favor—between proper rest and well-thought training, fueling and hydration—the more ready that you’ll be to unleash yourself on the racecourse.

Here are a few pro tips, including a checklist for what to bring with you, to help you get organized for the morning of the big day.

The Morning Of

Woohoo, it’s race day! Sports nutritionists advise eating 2 to 2.5 hours before the starting gun goes off. How much you should eat depends on the distance of your race, and your own metabolism. Even when you eat will be somewhat of an individual matter. If you digest foods quickly and you can eat a plain bagel an hour before a hard run, err on the side of more sleep instead of rising early to eat. 

Simple carbohydrates are the easiest to digest. You want to avoid too much fat, protein, grains, or fiber, as they take longer to digest and can also wreak havoc on your digestive system. A little protein can help satiate you for longer than plain carbohydrates, just don’t go overboard. Examples of simple carbohydrates, some with a little protein include:

  • Plain bagel (maybe with peanut butter)
  • Banana
  • Oatmeal 
  • Plain waffle or pancake (maybe with peanut butter)

Hydrate with your food, and continue to take small sips of water until the starting gun goes off.

What To Bring to a Race

There are some obvious essentials for a running race, and then some not-so-obvious items that enhance your comfort and enjoyment pre-, post-, and during your race.

On Your Body:

  • Running shoes
  • Running socks
  • Running bottoms that you’ll race in
  • Running top that you’ll race in
  • Hat you may race in
  • Sunglasses you may race in
  • Jacket or other layers you may race in (weather dependent)
  • Race bib (if you’ve picked it up already)
  • Safety pins for said race bib (if you’ve picked up your bib, and your pins, already)
  • Waist belt or other item-carrying device you can race/run in, if your apparel doesn’t have pockets for needed items like car keys and ID.

With You Until Race Start:

  • Your ID (if you haven’t picked up your bib already)
  • Throw-away shirt you could ditch at the starting line and maybe never see again
  • Water bottle for before and after
  • Any nutrition items you may need/want during, before and after
  • Sunblock
  • Lip balm

In Your Car/With Your Spectator Friend or Family:

  • Dry change of clothes
  • Sandals or other post-run shoes
  • Sweats for before or after
  • Money
  • Hat for after, if you’re not racing in one
  • Sunglasses for after, if you’re not racing in a pair
  • Bag to put all this stuff in

When To Arrive

Get to the race with enough time to park, get your race bib (if you haven’t already), go to the bathroom (lines may be long), and warm up. Know ahead of time where you’ll be asked to park, and how far away the starting line will be from your car. That information will determine what you’ll need to bring with you, and what you’ll want to leave in your car.

If you’re aiming for a specific race time, build in enough time for a warm-up. That might mean you have an extra 20 minutes to jog 10 or 15 minutes, do some drills and striders, and be ready to go at the line. If you’re aiming to finish, it’s still advised to warm up a little for your race. Just don’t warm up so much that you add significant distance to your day.

How To Attach Your Race Bib

Here’s a trick that will make you look like an old pro: Crinkle up your paper race bib a little before pinning it on you. Doing so will soften it and allow it to move with your body better than a flat, stiff paper race number. But don’t crinkle it too much, especially if there’s a timing chip attached to it. You don’t want the chip—or the perforated coupon for a free post-race beer, which some races offer—tearing off before the race.

Find a spot on the front of your running top or bottom that seems like the number won’t bother you while you run, like on the front of your belly, or on an upper thigh. Use all four safety pins, if you have four, to keep the number both attached to you and from flopping around too much.

Scout the Course

If you haven’t already, find and look at a race map to see what to expect. Is the course and out-and-back? Is it a loop? Is there a big uphill, or a downhill, you can be mentally prepared for at a certain mile?

Knowing what to expect can help you strategize your pace and when to push for the final kick to the finish line.

Line On Up

A few minutes before start time, head to the starting line. Unless you’re aiming to win the race or finish in the top of your age group, let more seasoned runners move to the front toward the line, and settle in behind them. You’ll have time to move on up if you feel good. You don’t want the stress of feeling like you’re about to be trampled by frontrunners who will likely start out too fast.

Ready, Set, Go!

Enjoy the experience! All your pre-race training is done and now it’s party time.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.