10 tips to get you ready for your next (or first!) race

By Lucas Zanetti, Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa

As the seasons change, it’s time to start transitioning into the excitement of spring and summer racing! Whether you’re participating in your first ever race this year or  just looking for some tips to get an edge, here are 10 useful tips to get you prepared to crush it come race day!

Taper your training

Over the course of your training through the past few months, you may have been increasing your distances and speeds as you’ve gotten fitter. A couple of weeks before your race, you’ll want to gradually decrease your training load so that your body is better rested and ready for a maximal effort come race day. Most training plans recommend this. The week before you race, you may want to incorporate a few short reps at your goal race pace but you should not do any intense workouts. You won’t increase your fitness in a meaningful way the week before your event, so trust that you have put in the work and rest up!

Know the course

It is always a good idea to check out the course maps well ahead of your race and even run or walk the course in the days/week leading into your race. Having a sense of where the turns are and how far each section is will help you feel confident on the course and will also help you create a race plan for yourself. If you are participating in a longer race like a half marathon or a full marathon, you may not be able to recon the entire course at once so try to check out unfamiliar sections at different times.

Set multiple goals

Try to set multiple objectives for your race so that your well-being is not entirely tied to achievement of a single goal. You’re capable of more than you probably believe, so set an ‘A’ goal that is ambitious but realistic. Setting your bar too low will only limit yourself even if you surpass that low bar. Consequently, it’s important to have a secondary goal for those runs that don’t go your way. You will not feel 100% in every race that you do, so having a ‘B’ goal can help you feel accomplished and proud even on an off day.

(Obsessively) check the weather

Most seasoned runners can tell you the up-to-the minute forecast of their upcoming race, because we tend to check every. single. free minute we have. Remember, you can’t control the weather, so plan accordingly—you may have to race in slightly different clothes than you were originally anticipating. Plan out your outfit(s) the night before so that you can rest easy knowing about what to wear on race day. If the forecast calls for challenging conditions you may want to adjust your expectations around your race goals.

Don’t try anything new on race day

Races can be exciting and stressful events because of the pressure we put on ourselves to perform. Sometimes this stress/excitement makes us want to change our routine because it’s not a routine type of run. For example, you may normally eat a light breakfast but on race day, you eat more because you’re worried about crashing later in the race only to end up with a cramp or an unexpected bathroom stop. Play around with your routine during training to find what works for you and just keep doing it on race day!

Prioritize sleep

Sleep should be a priority for all people regardless of if you have a race coming up. Similar to how you should taper your training leading up to your race, you should also prioritize a healthy sleep schedule so that your body is well-rested and ready for an optimal performance. Eight to ten hours are recommended during a training cycle.

Boost your carb intake

Increasing your carbohydrate intake to moderate-high level in the days leading up to your race will help you replenish your glycogen stores, which are crucial factors in your ability to produce energy during your race. Only increase your carbohydrate intake slightly from what you have been used to consuming throughout your training. You also want to eat at least 2-3 hours before sleeping so as not to disturb your sleep. On race day, try to keep fat, fibre, and protein consumption low until after the race.

Properly hydrate

Slightly increase your fluid intake in the days leading up to your race. On race day, you want to hydrate sufficiently but it’s just as important to not over hydrate as well. Going back to the point of not changing your routine on race day, the same goes for your hydration. If you’re not used to running with lots of fluids, don’t over hydrate during the race. As a general guideline, you should drink around 18 to 36 ounces of fluid for every hour of running. The faster you’re running / the more you’re sweating, the closer you should be to 36 ounces per hour. Every runner’s needs may vary though so it’s important to figure out what hydration strategies work for you during your training.

Create a race plan and then adapt

Finding your rhythm on training runs might be easy for you but when all of the commotion of the race is surrounding you, you may find it hard to find what pace is right for you. The race day adrenaline causes many people to go out too hard and pay the price later in the race. Before race day, create a plan for your race based on your goals and your strengths. Some like to start slower than their goal pace and pick it up throughout. Others like to run even splits the whole way. 

Whatever works for you, write out your plan and visualize yourself realizing that plan in action. Trust yourself at the start and run your race. Don’t make your race plan too strict however. Once you’re a ways into the race, you might feel good and want to try and catch someone ahead of you. You might also feel worse than anticipated and need to slow down. Once you’re settled into the race, don’t think too much about a strict plan. Let yourself race and push yourself!

Stay calm

This one is sometimes easier said than done as races can be very nerve-wracking. If you have followed most or all of these tips then you deserve to feel very confident about your preparation and that confidence will turn a lot of that nervous fear into excitement. Do things on race day that help you stay in a calm state. You can listen to your favourite music or a guided meditation, take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, be social if that’s your thing or be isolated if that helps you focus. You’ll want to arrive at the start line with as little tension as possible.

Use these 10 tips going into every race and you’ll be ready to run, and potentially PB, your next race! If you haven’t signed up for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend yet, register now and make  Canada’s biggest and most exciting race weekend, your next race!