What to do Before a Race

My most recent blog post dealt with figuring out what race to enter and why you should enter one. This one is going to deal with preparing for a race and what to expect before it starts. A great race isn’t just what’s done during the actual running part. It’s also what’s done before the race.

The Night Before

You want to make sure you get enough sleep before a race (7-8 hours). Sometimes that can be hard due to nerves and/or excitement. You also want to eat a proper meal that’s not too heavy. By proper, I mean healthy to somewhat healthy. Grilled chicken breast and rice maybe. I sometimes eat oatmeal. I wouldn’t eat a hamburger with fries or a big pizza. Those could leave you with what I call a heavy stomach. That’s when food feels like it’s just sitting in there not doing anything. You can’t run your best feeling that away. It’s also a myth to carb load only on the night before a race. Don’t eat a big pasta dinner. That could also leave you feeling heavy. Carb loading should be done in the three or four days leading up to a half or regular marathon. That’s so your body has enough glycogen, which is the fuel your muscles need to work. Your body doesn’t run the risk of running out of glycogen in a 5 or 10k so carb loading isn’t necessary. Also, make sure you’re hydrated. Drink water throughout the evening and afternoon.

Morning Before a Race

Give yourself plenty of time to wake up, eat, get dressed and make sure you have everything for your race. Being stressed before a race will lead to a bad race because the focus will be on everything but the actual running part. Eat a light breakfast. Perhaps, a bagel or some cereal or oatmeal. Eating some fruit like a banana  is good. Make sure you use the bathroom. An empty colon is a happy colon. The body needs to pull blood to muscles to give them energy during a run. It can pull that blood from the intestines. That means the intestines are short blood and don’t always work as well. Things tend to move faster and want to exit quicker when that happens. There’s no worse feeling than an intestinal cramp during a run. It’s a sign you need to find a restroom–and QUICKLY!!!

Make sure you have some clothes to wear over your racing outfit. This will keep you warm as mornings tend to be colder especially in southern California. Make sure you’re taking what you want to take, for example, headphones, energy gels, water bottles or camel packs. Forgetting these things can cause stress.

How do you know how early to wake up? That depends on the race itself, the start time and distance from you. Each race has different logistics. Check the race website for instructions on parking. Most of them have parking instructions. If the website doesn’t then check out a map of the area and check for parking lots or streets nearby. If you’ve never been to that race then leave 15 minutes earlier than you usually would. So, if it’s a 30-minute drive away, plan as if it’s a 45-minute drive. This will give you time to find parking. If there are parking lots, they can fill up so you’ll need to give yourself time to find a different spot. Let’s explore what to do for small and larger races.

Local 5ks and 10ks

Each type of race requires a bit of different preparation. Local 5ks and 10ks in a neighboring city can be small (100 to 500 people) or larger (1,000 to 2,000). But they usually don’t have the same strictness about things like parking and arrival times like big races. There are no corrals that close 20 minutes prior to the race like at major marathons. Parking can generally be found close to the start line. For these races, I’d recommend showing up one hour beforehand if you’re already registered and one hour, 20 minutes if you’re registering at the race. This will give you time to pick up your bib, put it on and use the restroom if you need to. Long lines to pick up bibs can be annoying. They get long about 30 minutes prior to the race. Same with the porta-potties. You can start stretching and do a warm-up run about 30 to 40 minutes before the race start. That’s plenty of time. Start heading toward the start line about 8 to 10 minutes before the race. If you parked close to the start, you can put your warm clothes or bag in your car about 15 minutes before the race unless there’s a place to check-in your bag. You can squeeze in with people already there. If you’re in contention to win the race or finish in the top 10 or 20, line up closest to the start line as you can. If you think you’ll be in the middle or latter half of finishers then line up in the middle or back of the crowd. This is all for safety. Fast runners start fast. If you’re in front of them,  there could be a collision and injury or injuries. They’ll run into you or weave around you which runs the risk of them hitting someone else. Races are chip-timed now anyway. That means your time starts when you cross the start line–not when the gun sounds. You’ll have a chip on your bib or shoe that the starting mat and finish line reads. Hooray technology!!!

Half Marathons

Half marathons are larger in size usually than 5ks or 10ks–at least in southern California. You can get 2,000 to 10,000 people at a half marathon. Because of this and because there are more street closures due to the longer length of the race, the race organizers are more strict about arrival procedures. Again, check the website for the instructions. Arrive about an hour-and-a-half before the start to find parking and deal with possible race traffic as parking might be slow due to long lines of cars. Once you find parking, pick up your bib unless you already did so the day before (some races require you do this).  Use the porta-potty and start warming up 30 to 40 minutes before the race. I recommend porta-potty use early if you can because the lines get long at bigger races. Check-in your bag at the proper station but don’t forget your energy gels and water bottles if you have them. Get to the start line about 10 minutes beforehand unless there’s a deadline to arrive at a start line corral. If there’s a deadline then get there before that time. Never assume you’ll be granted an exception. I don’t care how cute your tutu looks. That security person might not be amused.

The Chicago Marathon has more than 40,000 runners. If you want a stress-free pre-race routine, get to Grant Park two hours prior to the start.


Marathons are huge sporting events. Lots of logistics are involved, especially for major marathons like the Los Angeles Marathon which have more than 25,000 runners. It takes a lot of work to close major streets in  Los Angeles for several hours, especially with all the traffic. It’s extremely important to visit the event website several times for instructions. Events like these require you to pick up your bib at the expo a day or two before. Many of them now have a clear-bag policy. When you pick up your bib, you’ll receive a big plastic bag to put your warm up clothes in and anything else you won’t need while racing. I’d arrive two hours prior to the start if you’ve never raced in the event before. This will allow time to deal with parking traffic and there will be a lot of traffic. The Los Angeles Marathon, for example, opens up only one entrance to the general public at Dodger Stadium, where it starts. This causes lots and lots of traffic. I know because I was stuck in it last year. I was a bit stressed as the traffic caused me to arrive at the start about 30 minutes before the race. That was no fun. I had to quickly check in my bag and try to warm up before they closed the corral I was supposed to start in. Early arrival will also allow time to go through a security checkpoint, find the bag check-in and your designated starting corral. Fortunately, there are usually lots of signs and volunteers to answer questions. If you are confused, find a volunteer and ask. Corrals close about 15 to 20 minutes before the race start. Make sure you’re paying attention to the time. There are usually loud speakers and an announcer will mention the corrals are close to closing but what if you can’t hear it or are too far away?

Races are supposed to be fun. They can be a great experience, especially if you’re not stressed about arriving and doing your pre-race routine. Preparation starts with a website visit and making sure you give yourself plenty of time wake up, eat and arrive. The focus should be on the race. It can be that way with proper prep.

Running With You,





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