Welcome to Day 10 of our Devoted New Year series! Today we are talking about race day preparation and strategy! These posts are brought to you by Meridith creator of Devoted Training; a 52 week faith-based training journal, and myself. We hope you enjoy!

You’ve put in all the weeks of training, foam rolled every night, committed to a regular strength plan, and eaten all of the good food. So you are ready to go, right!? Just like approaching your training with the right mindset can make training as smooth as butter, so can a well thought out race plan. Make sure that all of your training is executed on race day to reflect your efforts by applying some of the strategies and tips below.

RACE DAY PLAN: To quote Zig Ziglar, “If you aim at nothing, you hit it every time.” Think through the following items as you start to prepare for race day and write down your thoughts so that you are mentally and physically prepared for race day. (If you already have a Devotion Training Journal, you’ll find Race Day Plan pages near the beginning of your book.)

Scripture/Mantra

Choosing a verse for each training cycle is something that both of us (Sara and Meridith) have started doing for all of our goal races. Sometimes this verse becomes very obvious at the start of a training cycle, and sometimes you may not choose it until closer to race day. Either way, it’s a great way to turn your focus to God and enjoy the process of training and racing so much more. You can choose to apply your scripture as your mantra or come up with another phrase to help get you through each mile. If you need an idea to get started, here’s a favorite verse that seems really applicable to race day: The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11 

Mantras are ideally short and easy to repeat throughout your run. Below are some examples of mantras:

  • Today is my day.
  • Run the mile you are in
  • You are strong
  • Light and fast
  • I am prepared
  • Every mile, I’m getting stronger and stronger.
  • I have run this before in practice, and I can trust my body to do it again
  • This is just another race.
  • Breath it in. Run it out.
  • My body knows exactly what to do.
  • Lean into the pain.
  • Every mile gets me closer to the finish
  • I can do hard things
  • I’ve done this before I can do this again
  • Enjoy the mile I’m in.
  • I am strong. I am tough.

Course Description

Note the surface, elevation gain and loss, weather, wind patterns, etc. that may affect how you plan your race day strategy. Also find out if there are pace groups and decide if this is something you want to join. Big races and/or trail races can start out as a bottleneck, and if this is the case, either try to minimize the effects or plan them into your race strategy (i.e. plan paces around a slower start, etc.).

Packing List

If you are traveling for a race, your list may be more extensive. In general, you don’t want to try anything new on race day, so your bags may be packed a little full. Some items to pack (or lay out if you aren’t traveling) include race day clothes, bib, safety pins, racing shoes, and favorite hat. Also don’t forget that you may have a post-race list with dry clothes and sandals. If you have crew support for something like a trail ultra, you’ll need a pretty extensive list to help them know how best to support you at different points of the race.

Pre-Race Logistics

Read the race website or find old race reports so that you know what to expect going into a race. Find out everything you need to know to help race day go smoothly. What time does the race start? When is packet pick up? Where do you park? How do you get back to your car (if it’s a point to point)? What is your favorite pre-race meal? Most runners choose a more bland diet in the days leading up to race day. (A bottle of pepto is not a bad idea if you have a history of a nervous stomach.)

Nutrition Strategy

What type of fuel will you be taking—gels, chews, drink mix? How often will you take nutrition during your race? If you plan to take gels, make sure that you drink water with them for absorption of the sugars. A typical rule of thumb is to consume energy every 45 minutes. We can only process 200-400 calories an hour, so this is helpful in planning out how much to consume. Smaller individuals require less energy than larger individuals. Also, trained athletes become more efficient with energy demands than more novice athletes. The faster an athlete runs, the more challenging it can become to digest fuel. For instance, a fast marathoner may only tolerate a gel with water, where an ultramarathoner may be able to eat a PB&J on the run.

Pacing Strategy

This is pretty individual to goals, racing style, and experience. Start by thinking through your goals, and consider the course. Many elites espouse the strategy of negative splitting, where they run the second half of a race faster than the first, but this is not quite as common as often thought. It is best to go by feel (maybe even cover your watch) and monitor exertion level. Depending on the distance, it may not be a good idea to feel like you are exerting in the beginning of a race. It is hard to redeem a race if you reach your lactic threshold and feel your legs burning too soon. Remember that the start of a race may be slow as everyone funnels through the start corral. Focus on running economically. A general rule of thumb is that running conservatively at the beginning will help you have steam at the end.

Goals

We’ve talked a lot about goals with this series, but do you have specific race day goals? Do you have a time or place that you want to achieve? A, B, and C goals? What about process goals in training or during the race?

Recap and Takeaways

It’s always best when we can learn and grow from our experiences. Write down a summary or race recap with finishing time, place, etc., and include details about the race that made it special or things that you learned about yourself for future racing and training.

Here are a few more tips going into race day:

  1. Maintain proper muscle tension. This is the tension that is stored up in our muscles. As race day approaches, you want a higher muscle tension to help with the springy feeling in your stride. Things that increase muscle tension (pep in your step) are: short flat strides, strength training, ice baths. Things that decrease muscle tension (flatter running) include: massage (sorry!), long duration runs, soft surface running.
  2. Warm up before your race and add some drills or strides.
  3. Consider taking a gel or chews about 15 minutes before the race start.
  4. Try to run tangents during the race.
  5. If you have uphills in the race, don’t forget to use your arms!
  6. If you feel your form start to flag, give a thumbs up with both hands. That raises the shoulders and improves form.
  7. Smile and get an immediate boost in performance.

Even if you are using your race as a training run, it can still be beneficial to think through your race day plan and consider which tips you want to apply. Just like practicing fueling during long runs helps prepare for race day, so does getting into the practice of planning out race day strategy. Most importantly, view the race as a celebration of your training. It’s not the last race you’ll get the chance to run, and your performance doesn’t define your identity. Have fun, and it will show at the finish line too.

Do you put a lot of time into your pre-race routine and strategy?

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