tips for race day

Marathon + Racing

Hit a New PR with These 12 Tips for Race Day

Peloton instructor Becs Gentry shares expert advice to get you moving.

By Alyssa Sybertz April 3, 2023

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first 5K race or your fifteenth marathon—the days leading up to a big race are always filled with excited, anticipatory jitters. To take the guesswork out of your preparation, these 12 expert tips for races will help get you in the zone, physically and mentally, to crush the course and proudly walk away from the finish line with a new race PR. Read on for everything you need to prepare your race day checklist, including what to eat the morning of a race, what to bring, and how to get into the right mindset.

Tips For Races: The Week Before

1. Trust in Your Training

It can be tempting to push yourself in the week leading up to a race, to log a few extra miles in hopes of improving your endurance just that little bit more. But as hard as it might be, don’t give in to that temptation. Remember that you’ve put in all the work you need. “Believe in the training you have completed,” says Peloton Tread instructor Becs Gentry. “Knowing that you put in the hard work over many weeks is going to be integral to getting you over the finish line.” 

2. Take it Easy

“The week before a race should be super chill in comparison to your training schedule, as your body has done a lot of hard work to get to this stage,” Becs says. “You’re not going to add in anything new whatsoever this week.”

Instead, she recommends sticking with your normal routine but bringing down the intensity and pace. “You’re doing this to keep your body ticking over as it has gotten used to its training schedule,” she adds. The only difference in sessions will start two days before your race, when you should take a rest day. Then, the day before your race, lace up for a short but steady shakeout run. A shakeout run should be an easy jog that lasts around 10-15 minutes.

3. Go See the Race Route

If your race is local, take a drive over to the course so everything will be familiar when you arrive on the day. If you’re traveling and won’t have time to visit the course physically, study any provided maps or use Google Maps to get a good look. “Know your route to the start line, know where the bathrooms are once you are there, and know your corral location,” Becs says. “Know where your friends and family will be cheering so you can focus on that distance marker.” 

Not only will this help eliminate stress on race day, it will also help you visualize your race plan and crossing the finish line. “Visualization of you completing the race will help build your confidence,” notes Becs.

4. Stay the Course in the Kitchen

Just as you don’t want to try anything new training-wise in the week before your race, the same is true as far as eating is concerned. By now, you likely have a good idea of the foods that feel best for you to eat the night before or in the hours before a long run, and you should stick with those same meals and snacks this week, which will likely include simple carbs and protein and steer clear of high-fat and high-fiber foods. The same goes for water—you know how much feels good before a run, so don’t try to push beyond that.

Tips For Races: The Day Before

5k race day tips

1. Prepare Your Kit

“Lay out your full race kit the night before,” Becs says, “including pinning your bib on your clothes, all hydration and fuel, and any bags of extra clothing for pre/post race.” The last thing you want to be doing on the morning of the race is digging through your dirty laundry to find your favorite socks. 

While wearing new gear for your big race can be a fun way to celebrate, make sure it’s not brand new. Take it for a few test runs to ensure there is no chafing and you feel comfortable and confident. That goes double for sneakers—don’t opt for a brand new pair on race day if you’ve been training in something else.

2. Ready Your Tunes

Not all races allow participants to wear headphones (it can be a safety issue, especially if parts of the course are not fully closed to traffic). But if yours does and you plan to use them, make sure your music is ready—arriving at the starting line to discover that half your music is in the cloud and there’s no service is a recipe for disaster. “If you are running to music, ensure your playlist is downloaded

and any tech you need is fully charged,” Becs suggests. 

3. Carb Up

Enjoy a carb-rich snack after your shakeout run, then a meal that features simple carbs like rice or pasta the night before. While carbs are key to providing energy for your race, don’t reinvent the wheel by eating more than you typically would before a long training run. 

4. Don’t Sweat a Sleepless Night

Pre-race jitters keeping you from getting a full eight hours the night before your race? Don’t stress. While a good night’s sleep may help you feel a little more refreshed before you head to the course, a restless night is not going to damper your ability to PR. As long as you’ve been giving your body the rest it needs in the days and weeks before your race, you’ll be good to go. 

Tips for Races: Race Day

half marathon race tips

1. Arrive Early

“You should plan on being at the start line roughly 30 to 60 minutes prior to your corral start time, depending on the size and distance of your race,” says Becs. “This will give you ample time to use the bathrooms (lines can be really long), warm up effectively, and perhaps have a small pre-race snack. Plus this should give you some spare time for any additional delays,” such as if you have to park or get dropped off further away than anticipated.  

2. Bring an Expendable Layer

While you don’t want to start the race overdressed—in fact, you may want to underdress, especially if you’re running a longer race—it might be chilly at the start and you might be waiting in your corral for a little while. If this is the case, bring an extra layer for warming up and waiting that you’ll take off before you hear the gun. And choose something you’re not too attached to—you can try to go back to retrieve it after you finish but know that may not be possible.

3. Fuel Up

What to eat the morning of a race? Keep your meal simple and energizing: oatmeal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich are great options. If you’re running a 10K or shorter, one of these is likely enough before you hit the starting line. If you’re running a half marathon or longer, you likely want to have breakfast a few hours before the race and then a snack like a banana, applesauce, or energy bar right before you start. You’ll want to bring some mid-race fuel for those longer races as well, such as energy gels or gummies to pop every hour of your race.

Pre-hydrating is also important; aim to drink at least 16 ounces of water at least two hours before you start. From there, it’s whatever feels best for you. A review published in the journal Sports Medicine found that there was a minimal difference in performance between racers who drank set amounts of water at pre-appointed times and those who just drank when they felt thirsty. 

4. Remember the Work

“Focus on the mantra ‘The hay is in the barn,’” Becs says. “You have done the work and now it’s time to show up and run.” While you likely have a time goal in mind for running events, try not to focus too much on it once you start moving, she adds. “Running is like roulette. You never really know what’s going to happen in the moment, so go into it with confidence and grace.”

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