Last Minute Tips For Running Races: 5k to Marathon

Right now there are a ton of great 5k’s and 10k’s and then the fall marathon season is starting with Chicago this weekend, then NYC (I’ve got 5 weeks..yikes!), Houston and many more. Each year there are more and more new runners and first time racers, which is great! But, that means many of you aren’t sure what do to to prepare for race day. You’ve probably followed a training schedule over the last few weeks or months but now that it’s time for race day you aren’t sure about a few things like: sleep, hydration, food, music, etc. So…I’m here to help! Here is a list of what I do to prepare for each race. These are just suggestions and remember everyone is different!

5k Race

The week before: You aren’t going to get any faster at this point, so it’s best to just to have fun, relaxed workouts. Don’t run or do any heavy leg training 3 days before the race. Get your playlist together and plan what you are wearing. Also, make sure to read through your race packet and look at the course. It may even be helpful to go drive by or through the course to get an idea of how hilly it is and where you will be starting/finishing. Also, see what the weather is going to be like. If there is a chance of rain and/or it might be cold, plan to wear a waterproof jacket or long-sleeve top. I like ones by Nike, Oakley and Lucy Activewear (Nike shorts and Lucy top pictured at left).
Night before: I usually eat what I would normally eat on a Friday night and nothing new or unhealthy. Make sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep. Charge your Garmin (or other watch) and ipod and also lay out what you are going to wear.
Morning of race: Wake up about 1-1.5hours before the race and eat breakfast. I like Special K but you can eat something similar that is low in sugar and fiber and not more than like 7g protein. Don’t eat too much and also drink some water. If it’s hot, drink Gatorade (I like “G2”). Bananas are also good options. Get to your race location at least 30min ahead (more if you think you will have trouble parking). Warmup walk/jog for about 10minutes and then do some light stretches. Also, use this time to go to the bathroom.
During race: This race is pretty short…so you really don’t need to stop for water and/or go to the bathroom. I treat this race as a sprint. If you warmup properly beforehand, you can start off pretty fast. BUT, just like with all the races…don’t go too fast at the start or you will burn out. Hopefully you’ve been training and know what your goal paces are for each mile split. If you are fast…make sure to get closer to the front of the starting line so that you don’t have to push past all the walkers or trip over anyone. Try to make your last mile your fastest and stay relaxed.
After race: Stretching is important because most likely you were going faster than you normal do on training runs and sustained it for 3 miles. Focus on quads, glutes and calves. Also, if it’s hot…make sure to keep hydrating and drink fluids all day long. Try to eat something with a mix of protein and carbs within 30min of finishing and it will help with soreness. This is a fun, quick race…so you’ll have time to recover and enjoy your day!

10k Race

The week before: Same as 5k. 
Night before: Same as 5k.
Morning of race: Same as 5k but you want to extend your warmup to about 15-20 minutes. You don’t need to run the whole time but mix in some walking and running and then stretch. You don’t want to get tired but you want to feel warm and stretched out. Aim for a longer warmup if it’s colder.
During race: This race is twice as long as the 5k, so you may end up needing a little water along the way, especially if it’s hot. I never stop on a 10k, but that’s just me.
After race: Same as 5k but you’ll need to stretch a little more. Pay attention to your legs but you may also want to stretch your feet and arches since they can get tight.

Half Marathon (13.1 Miles)

The week before: Follow basics from 5k/10k. You probably have been increasing your mileage every week and are doing long runs close to 13miles. So, two weeks before you should do your longest run and then the weekend before the race you should taper by doing a shorter run…like 4 miles. Then, the rest of the week focus on light core work and a couple really easy runs that are around 3 miles. Follow same rules as shorter races by not running or doing heavy leg work the 3 days before the race. Take time to focus on your diet this week and eat really healthy foods with little or no sodium and sugar. Plan what you want to eat as your recovery snack. I like the Gatorade recovery shakes (but only do about half since it has 400 calories!) or sometimes a Muscle Milk Light shake (100 calories) plus a banana and maybe a little more G2 or water. Pack what you need in a small cooler and leave it in your car or give to your friends so you can have it at the finish line (see below).
Night before: Same as 5k/10k. But get your gels ready. I wear a small expandable SPI belt where I keep my gels and also a mini hand sanitizer in case I have to use the port-a-pottys.
Morning of race: Now that your distance is longer you are going to need to warmup a little more. However, since this race is longer…you don’t want to tack on another mile or two. So, for the half marathon I usually warmup walk/jog for only about 15minutes and then I use the first few miles of the race as an extended warmup (not too slow obviously) and then get faster each mile (negative split). Also, the morning of the race you may need to pack your fluid belt (only if you are used to training with one) and probably one energy gel that you should take about halfway through. Or, I usually do 1/2 gel every 30-45minutes.
During race: Start off slowly. This is a much longer race than a 5k or 10k, so it’s a whole different animal. You are going to need to prepare for water/gatorade stops as well as a possible bathroom stop.  This isn’t the time to try a new type of gel or sample handed out along the race either. Stick to what you know.
After race: You should walk around some after the race to cool down and prevent the blood from pooling in your legs, which is what will happen if you just stop and stand around while you are at the post-race party. Instead, go for a walk or even light jog for a few mintues. Then, you need to get some food in your system to help you recover. I usually go to the fluids at the party and then walk to my car for another 5-10minutes. Then, I have my recovery shake or food in my car and do some stretches outside my car. Once I feel like my legs have recovered some, I drive home. After you have your small recovery meal or snack, eat a good healthy lunch an hour or so after the race. But, be smart about this…it’s not the time to over indulge just because you ran a half marathon. You don’t want to “reward” your body with crap. 

30k Race (18.64 miles)

The week before: Same as Half Marathon
Night before: Same as Half Marathon
Morning of race: Same as Half Marathon + Pack extra gels and recovery snacks. Make sure you have all your gear ready and ipod loaded (if you listen to music). Your warmup should be same as half marathon…where you warmup a little so that you can stretch before (NEVER stretch cold muscles) but then use the first few miles to start off slowly.
During race: Same as Half Marathon + fueling a little more. I like GU Chomps for longer runs. Depending on the course…you may get really bored, especially if the course is a boring loop. So, the Chomps give me something to do. Try to stay relaxed. This is a longer race and probably the longest one you’ve done this training season (maybe as part of a marathon “warmup series”). This is good practice for the marathon, but don’t kill yourself. You don’t want to end up with an injury on this race, especially if it’s leading you up to the marathon. Just use it as practice and to help you set better and more realistic pace goals.
After race: Same as Half Marathon but add extra stretches for your legs and feet.

Marathon (26.2miles)

The week before: You should really be tapering your mileage and the weekend before do a really easy short run vs. a long training run. I’ll be doing about 10miles the weekend before NYC and then the week before I go I’ll probably mix in a couple 3-4milers at an easy pace (about 2 minutes per mile slower than my goal pace). However, I’m treating NYC as a training run so that I don’t get injured and mess up my training schedule for Houston…which is my focus. For the marathon, I email my friends and clients (aka “marathon helpers”) and ask them to come support me along the route. I give them a map and station them along the way every few miles depending on where they live or what area they are in. Then, I have something to look forward to at those mile markers! Also, it comes in handy if you need to give them something like your gloves or jacket.
Night before: Try to relax. If this is your first marathon, you probably are nervous and many not be able to sleep. Try to wake up a little earlier the day before so that the night before the race you are tired and can sleep. Eat what you normally do but you may want to include more complex carbs like whole wheat pasta, a sweet potato, etc. I usually have a little pasta (don’t go crazy thinking you need to load up on carbs!) and even a glass or two of wine. Eat how you normally eat before a long training run and don’t try anything new or go to a new restaurant. Save your celebratory meal for the night after! Lay out your clothes, shoes, gels, waist belt, gloves, hand warmers, jacket, ipod and garmin (charge it).
Morning of race: Almost the same as half marathon and 30k but you may want to get up a little early. If my marathon starts at 7am, I usually get up at about 5:30am and eat 2 bowls of Special K and sip on a G2. Then, I make sure to get downtown (where race starts) by about 6:15am and near the start line by 6:30am so I can warmup and use the bathroom. Stretching is important here too…same as 30k and half marathon. Also, even if it’s cold, you may want to wear a jacket because then you have to take it off. I wore mine last year because I knew I had friends along the route that I could hand it off to. Many people will wear a disposable jacket or even use a trash bag, which is a good idea. Also, if it’s sure to bring your gloves and even handwarmers. I used two small disposable hand warmers and put one in each glove to keep me warm.
During race: Treat the first 20miles as a training run and the last 6 as the race. Don’t get too excited and burn out by going fast the first half or even in the middle when you get your second wind! Save it for the end. There will be tons of free samples of food and drinks (even beer, candy, burgers, you name it!) along the way. If you are planning on a good finish time…DON’T TAKE IT!! You never know how your stomach will react to it. Stick to what you know and what you have packed in your belt or pocket. I take 1/2 packet of Chomps every 45minutes and one cup of Gatorade at about every other stop. I usually plan for a bathroom break right at the halfway point.
After race: Recovery is key. Most likely you will be sore. This is probably the longest you have ever run or longest you’ve run all season. Just like for the half marathon and 30k…when you finish…the worst thing you can do is stand around. Keep moving. Get some fluids and then head to your cooler in your car (or with your friend) and you can walk around while you eat/drink. Then, do some stretches. Then, go home to shower/change and meet all your friends and marathon helpers for a celebratory brunch! Now you can eat the bad stuff…just don’t get in the habit ; ) Celebrate that weekend and have fun the week after showing off your medal ; ) Then, get back on track with an easy running schedule and then prepare for the next race, weather it’s a 5k, 10k, half, 30k or another whole year till your next marathon!

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  • Ross October 5, 2010  

    No matter how many races I enter I still fall to peices the night before a race! I end up having to go to bed at about 9pm as i dont get to sleep for hours!

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  • cari October 31, 2010  

    Hi Ross,

    Sorry for the delayed reply…was having issues with my site comments. Well, try not to stress before a race! Don’t set unrealistic goals and maybe just tell yourself you want to do as good or even a few seconds better than you last race. Also, try to be prepared as much (with your goal pace, gear, music,etc) a few days before so you don’t have to think about it. Nice blog…

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