by John Stanton
The best advice I can give about racing is to relax and enjoy yourself. Have fun, talk to people, share stories and enjoy the course. After all, racing is meant to be a stimulating, memorable experience. Here are some common questions you might have as the big day approaches:
What should I eat on race day?
Nothing out of the ordinary, that’s for sure. This is not the time to experiment, no matter what you may have heard about the latest athletic superfoods. In fact, you might want to eat less than normal on race day morning, since nervousness could upset your digestive system. Your last meal before the event should occur at least three hours before the race starts.
How much water do I need to drink?
You must be diligent about taking in enough fluids, especially if you’re racing on a hot day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol prior to the race, as they will dehydrate you. Drink 500 mL of water one hour before the start, and continue taking sips of water every 10 minutes during the race. Don’t try to be a hero in hot or humid conditions. Adjust your expectations and drink fluids to balance out the water loss from your perspiration and breathing.
What if I have never run the race course before?
Knowing a bit about the course in advance will build your confidence. A day or two prior to the race, map the route and break it into smaller sections, making sure you know where hills and other key landmarks are located. It is particularly helpful to be familiar with the last half-kilometre (500 metres) of the course. On race day, do a short warm-up jog on the finishing stretch of the course, to get it clear in your mind.
What should I do at the start line?
When you arrive at the starting area, don’t be intimidated by what you see other runners doing, especially the ones at the front. Many of them are preparing for a hard effort, whereas you want to make sure you save your energy for a comfortable and successful race. Do some walking, light jogging and stretching to loosen up. Make your way to the back of the starting pack where you won’t get caught in the opening sprint. Many marathons have pacing groups, often led by easy-to-spot pace bunnies. Stand near a group that is aiming for a similar finish time as you.
How do I find the right pace?
Begin slowly. Don’t worry about all the runners who take off ahead of you. It’s far better to start slowly and catch up later than to begin too fast and be passed by hundreds of runners after a kilometre or two. Once you have room to run freely, move into your normal, relaxed training pace that allows you to talk comfortably. Maintain that pace at least until you reach the halfway mark. Then, if you feel strong and want to pick it up a bit, go ahead—but make sure you do it gradually. You can also maintain the same steady pace all the way through. If a certain speed becomes a struggle, slow down to regroup and gather your strength.
I believe in 10:1 training, but won’t I look silly if I walk during a race
Nowhere on the entry form does it say that you can’t walk. Alternating 10 minutes of running with one minute of brisk walking is a proven strategy to maintain an even pace for the entire distance. If you want, you can disguise your walking breaks as water breaks. Since drinking water is so important during a race, many runners slow down to drink when they reach the water stations. You can do the same—getting water plus your walk break—and no one will be the wiser.
How can I protect myself against chafing?
On race day, you will run at a higher intensity and may perspire more. The salt in your sweat can increase friction and result in painful chafing of the skin. To avoid this, apply an anti-chafing product such as Body Glide to your underarms and inner thighs. Women should proactively apply the product on the rib cage along the bra line, while men should apply it to their nipples (to avoid the embarrassing situation where chafing escalates to bleeding and you end up looking like you’ve been shot twice in the chest). Nipple guards are also an option.
Should I sprint hard at the finish?
It’s tempting, but not the wisest choice. Concentrate on finishing with good, relaxed, strong form. Soak in the moment and smile for the finish-line camera. After you finish, walk around to help your body cool down. Drink plenty of fluids and change into dry clothes as soon as possible. When you get home, take a cool shower, stretch your muscles, rest… and look for the perfect spot to hang your new finisher’s medal.
Race Day Gear
Here is a handy checklist as you set out your race day clothing and accessories the night before:
☐ Breathable mesh cap
☐ Sunglasses (if desired)
☐ Moisture-wicking shirt
☐ Shorts or tights
☐ For men: athletic undergarments
☐ For women: underwear and sports bra
☐ Race bib and 4-6 safety pins
☐ Timing chip (if relevant)
☐ Water bottle and/or hydration belt
☐ Gels or other fuel (tested in training)
☐ Anti-chafing product such as Body Glide
☐ Music player (if desired)