Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Race Day Do's & Don'ts: "Beginner" lessons learned!

Since my race-iversary is on Sunday (Seattle Jingle Bell Dash), I thought I would share some tips with everyone and especially those of you new to racing and running.  These are all from experience, so I lovingly bestow my mistakes as ways to help keep you from the same pitfalls! (Please note: this is a general list and not specific to any distance in particular.)

Do: Pick up your race packet before race day.  If they have the option to do that.

Don't: Be the first one in line to pick-up your packet the morning of the race.

          Yeah, I was that person on race day morning of my very first race ever, the very first person at packet pick-up, 2 1/2 hours before the race start.  Ugh...  They weren't even completely set up yet and I'm hovering over them wanting to get this thing they call a "packet".  I was thinking "Give it to me because I have to figure out what this bib thing is and how to put it on!"  Then I was at the wrong bank of tables and had to go and get my packet from somewhere else, then I put my bib on my was a mess.  Just remember this, packet pick-up day before (if possible) and bib on the front. 

Do: Set out your outfit the night before the race. 

Don't:  Wait until the morning to choose your outfit.

          I can't stress this one enough, it is so much easier, less stressful and reassuring to have everything set out the night before a race.  You will sleep more soundly knowing everything you need/want to wear is prepped and ready to go.  You may need to wash something or find a particular item that you might not have the wherewithall to find early in the morning.  There is nothing more stressful than sleeping through your alarm (or five) on race day, and if your gear isn't prepped already, you are feverishly tearing through your place trying to find everything you need just to be clothed for the race, let alone anything that matches (or fits).  Yes, even shoes, I've heard of many horror stories of people running with mismatched shoes (even two of the same foot) because they hadn't set up their items the night before and were in a mad dash to the race.  Do yourself a favor and set everything out before you go to bed.

Do: Dress appropriately for the weather.  Layers.

Don't: Wear clothing too warm for running in that weather.  Again, think layers.

          This can be a tricky thing here.  You don't want to freeze your butt off while waiting for your early morning race to start, but you also don't want to have to run with your favorite hoodie tied around your waist the whole time.  If you dont't have family/friends to hold onto your clothing while you run, then bag check your warm items and wear either items you don't mind shedding before/after you start (most races donate left clothing to charities or shelters), or a garbage bag.  Garbage bag?  What?  Hear me out...a large heavy duty garbage bag helps to keep your body warmth trapped close to you and you can shed it when you are ready to run.  Just cut a hole out in the bottom seam and invert it over you (empty, preferrably).

Do: Be festive and dress in costume.

Don't: Wear the race t-shirt.  Think DNS and DNF.

          Part of the fun is dressing up in costume and getting into the "spirit" of the race.  Dress in green for your St. Patty's day race, dress like a turkey for your neighborhood Turkey Trot, wear a mustache for your cities Mustache Dache.  I like to "sparkle" during my races, so I highly recommend Team Sparkle skirtsThey are my FAVE and I love how I feel running in them!
Wearing your race shirt during the race, there is a long debate about this and the simple way to deal with it is to treat it as a reward not just an accessory.  Show off your race shirt with pride for finishing the race and participating in the cause afterward.  There are two phrases runners hate to hear, DNS (did not start) and DNF (did not finish).  Superstition is tied to those acronyms and wearing your shirt prematurely (before you finish the race), so do yourself a favor, wear it after. :)

Do: Hydrate, even in the cold/wet weather races

Don't: Go to the first table of the water stop, go to the far table, better service.

          Most people equate needing water to how much you sweat, well yes, that is true, however people don't realize how much they sweat during cold weather races.  They can see and feel during warmer weather races and tend to actively hydrate.  However I cannot tell you how many people I saw coming in from the Seattle R&R this year that were suffering from dehydration because they hadn't hydrated enough over the course of the race because it was wet and cold.  Some mistook wet for rain wetness, not sweat, meaning they were loosing vital fluids and not replenishing.  Please, even if you don't think you need to, take some water, it will help more than you know. 
ALSO...don't be a part of the crowd that can essentially stop a race in its tracks by stopping at the first table of a water station.  Keep running past that clamoring crowd and go to the very end, it's almost always empty with plenty of water easily accessible!

Do: Check a bag or have a loved one hold a bag for you with warm clothing to put on after the race

Don't: Assume you will be fine with the clothing on your body to keep you warm, especially during cold weather races

          This goes hand in hand with what I said above.  Don't assume you will be able to stay warm in the same clothing you just ran a race in, especially if the weather hadn't gotten significantly warmer since the start of the race.  You sweated and your clothes are damp, you will get cold.  Regardless, you should always try to keep warm after you've exerted all that energy and sweat.  :)

Do:  Enjoy music during your run

Don't:  Tune out everything around you, be cognizant of any announcements being given on course

          This is important to remember.  We want to be able to zone out during our race so that we can concentrate on having a good finish time or just being able to finish.  However there were points on almost every course I've run on that there were volunteers barking out information to passing runners.  Please always be cognizant of these possibilities.

Do:  Use the zip ties provided for your timing chip (if applicable)

Don't: Tie it to your shoe lace as shown on the insert, the volunteers won't untie your shoe for you to get the timing chip back.

          I was guilty of this one time only and that was all I needed.  Because when I bent over to untie my shoe to get the tag off, not only did I nearly fall over into the volunteer, but I also almost puked all over her.  No Bueno!  Make it easy on yourself and the volunteers.  They have snippers and a foot stool, it takes 10 seconds, just use the zip tie.

Do: Enjoy the post race refreshments and fuel options

Don't:  Be greedy!  They got enough items for the racers in attendance with minimal leftovers, be kind to the people finishing behind you, take only what you need.

          I am still a slower runner, so that means I finish after a good portion of the other runners, so I've been victim to this issue.  I get into the finish chute and all there is left is bottled water.  The granola bars were taken (by the boxful) by previous racers, the boxes of bananas was empty and the volunteers were packing up the tables as the rest of the racers were still finishing.  Poor planning on them and greedy participants as well.  Please take only what you need when you finish the race and enjoy the little fuel pick-up that you need for a race well done.  Oh and dispose of the banana peels responsibly, I can't tell you how many times I've seen them on the ground...and it's not funny.

Do:  Eat a carb heavier breakfast before the race.  Your body needs the fuel to carry you through your race.

Don't:  Drink caffeine before the race.  The caffeine constricts your blood vessels making it difficult for the blood to pump and puts strain on your vessels.

          If you have been training and have found a carb heavier breakfast that works for you, awesome, have that before the race.  If you haven't, my suggestion (and favorite) is a bagel (I have a wheat one) with some kind of nut butter and banana on it.  I also add some fig spread on top of mine for that added good sugar.  It is said you should consume your breakfast no sooner than one hour and no less than 30 minutes before you race.  I've had friends that had their breakfast a couple of hours before the race and had to consume their during race fuels earlier than anticipated because they had run out of energy reserves.

Also, caffeine constricts the blood vessels so your body has to work harder to pump your blood more efficiently.  I'd read about this when I first started running, so as a precaution I don't drink caffeine before a race and if I drink it on a day that I run, I make sure I leave a 2-3 hour window between end of consumption and beginning of run.  I thought it was interesting information, but I know tons of runners that drink coffee and then run, so do whatever floats your boat.

Do: Eat complex carbs the night before the race to sustain your glycogen levels for the next day

Don't:  Eat greasy food, try to avoid food high in fat, cooked in oil and very spicy items.  It isn't pretty when it wants to come out and when you are pressing hard during a run, it may not be a good situation for you.

          Everybody knows about runners "carbing up" or "carbo loading", what ever catch phrase you use, it does happen and in many different variations.  Depending on the extent of your run, some runners increase their carbs over the span of several days in order to keep "reserves" for the race.  Most, load up the night before.  Experiment with it and find what works best for you.  For me, pizza is my carb of choice the night before a race and the only time I get pizza, so I look forward to it every time!
In the same token, please watch your intake the night before when considering greasy/fatty foods.  Your body goes through turmoil when you run and your intestines can make a mess of things, no pun intended.  If you don't want to hit the porta-potties (or worse, trying to find a bush) during and immediately after your race, ditch the fried/fatty stuff and stick to things you know your body can handle.  You'll thank me later.

Do:  Stretch and warm up before the race.  Limbering up your legs and stretching your muscles is essential to keeping your legs from being too stiff or cramping up.

Don't:  Do extensive warm ups that you could over do and put unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints.  Do what you have done during your training and you should be golden.

          This should be pretty much a no-brainer.  Keep warm and stretch your muscles before AND after the race, it helps with your performance and recovery.

Do: Get plenty of rest the night before.  At least 8 hours is the recommended amount.

Don't:  Stay up too late and spend lots of time on your feet.  Your legs and feet need rest in order to be fresh for the next day.

          This can be tough if you are away at a race location (not close to home) and especially for those races at theme parks (ahem...Disney), but sleep is SO important!  No amount of fuel, coffee or training can help you if you don't get a decent amount of sleep the night before a race.  You may be meeting up with friends and want to have an all night gab fest, but resist the temptation.  You may also need to start climatizing your body the week before if there is a time zone change involved with the race location, ie. you live on the West Coast but the race is on the East Coast.  That 3am EST alarm is going to be BRUTAL if you don't get used to the time change beforehand! 
Also, take it easy the day before, or if it's a night race, the day of.  Make sure you spend enough time off your feet and legs, get plenty of rest and stretch as much as possible!

Have anything else to add?  I'm all, eyes.  :)


  1. Great tips! Good advice about the hydrating in the cold/wet weather. I'd only add two things. You don't need water stations for a 5k, it just slows you down. You only need one for a 10k if its super hot and it will take you more than an hour to finish. You shouldn't get dehyrated for a 1 hour race if you were properly hydrated before-hand.

    Also, carbo-loading the morning of and/or night before won't work - especially for long races. You need a few days worth of carbs combined with some tapering to adequately replenish your muscle glycogen levels. The longer the race, the more time you need. Same goes for hydration.

    Lastly, if you're doing a long race that requires carb supplementation, be sure to practice that in training so you know how much & when to supplement. Racing is about execution. If you fail in hydration or nutrition, its an execution issue, not fitness.

  2. Great advice! I'm just getting into running myself and would like to do a marathon by the summer or so. These are also great tips overall!