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The Importance of Establishing Pre-Race Rituals

Runners tend to be a ritualistic group. At least, good runners are. Invariably, they will wear the same shoes and clothes to race, eat virtually the same meals the night before and will follow the same routine the morning of the big race. Some call this boring.

I call this smart.

It’s only natural to be jittery in the days before an upcoming major race such as the Dallas or College Station Marathon (December 13th), Rogue 30-K (January 10th), Houston (January 17th), 3M (January 24th) or the Austin Marathon and Half (February 14th).

Having a case of the nerves is perfectly normal. It’s a good thing. After all, you have trained hard for these events and pre-race anxiety is something every runner goes through.

Experienced runners know what to do; beginners don’t. If you’re a newbie, now is the time to develop your own pre-race rituals that will get you to the starting line prepared and reassured that this particular morning is your day to shine.

Assuming you have done the right training and are healthy, a ritualistic set of pre-race preparations will allow you to focus on the race and still accomplish what needs to get done before the big race. Having a pre-race procedure, will reduce your anxiety because you will have all the bases covered and be ready to do one thing: Race your best.

Your pre-race ritual should begin the day before the race. If you ordinarily go for a short run the day before a race, set an easy distance and go for a relaxed run. Go early enough in the day that you’ll have plenty of time to chill out and rest up. If you don’t feel like going for a run, go for a short walk to ease the jitters and burn some energy.

Final pre-race run. Check.

If you haven’t pre-registered for the race, you’re probably out of luck as most of the biggies are sold out. If the race is still open and you haven’t registered, get this out of the way as soon as possible. Don’t leave it until the morning of the race. Most big races don’t have race-day registration so make sure you do it the day before the race—at the very latest.
Assuming you have registered, pick up your race materials, T-shirt and number as early as possible, either the day or two days before. If you do it early in the day, you won’t have to wait in line and if there are any hassles, you can get them straightened out in plenty of time. Get this out of the way as early as you can.

Registration and packet pick up. Check.

Since the race is the next day, make sure you eat a healthy lunch with plenty of carbohydrate-rich food and a minimum of fat and grease. If you’re doing a marathon the next day, this is when you begin the carbohydrate-loading process. Lunch should be your primary loading meal. At dinner, you can just top it off with additional carbs. You don’t necessarily have to carbo-load for a half marathon, but it doesn’t hurt.

Establish a lunch meal (routine again) that you enjoy, is easily digestible and nutritious. Establish a set time to eat. And don’t forget to begin hydrating.

Pre-race lunch. Check.

Chill. Now is the time to put your feet up and relax. Now is the time to watch a football game on TV, read a book or take a nap. Now is not the time to play golf, go for a bike ride, do yard work or play soccer with the kids. Take a nap. Make sure you get off your feet.

Take a chill pill. Check.

Evening news. Make certain you watch the local weather forecast for tomorrow morning. This will determine what you wear in the race.

After checking the weather forecast, begin to pull everything together you will need for the race in the morning. Also, check to make sure everything is in good shape, especially your shoes. Make sure there’s plenty of wear left and that the shoe laces aren’t frayed.

Assemble your racing singlet and shorts. Attach your race number to the singlet you’ll wear in the morning. If it’s cold, bring gloves, a hat and if it’s expected to be below freezing, tights.

Also get your sweats together—a jacket and some warm pants to wear before and after the race. It is especially important to have dry, warm clothes to change into immediately after the race. Even if it isn’t particularly cold, you will be depleted, wet and probably pretty chilled.

Also grab a towel and a tube of BodyGlide or some lubricant to apply before the race. Don’t forget to pack at least two hats—one for the race and one for after when you’ll be chilly. If you plan to wear sunglasses, make sure you have them ready. Also, fill a water bottle with either water or sports drink to top off your hydration tanks.

Pack everything in your bag and then double check to make sure you have your shoes ready and your race number pinned to your shirt.

Race gear. Check.

For dinner, you should eat a similar meal you have been having the night before most of your long runs. It should be another dose of carbohydrates with some bread and salad. Continue hydrating. A beer is OK, but limit yourself to one.

Dinner. Check.

The next morning, get up at least two hours before the start of the race. (Obviously, this will differ, depending on how far you have to drive to the race start.) But after getting up, poke your head outside to check on the weather. If it’s colder or wetter than anticipated, you might need to add some clothes to your race bag.

If you ordinarily have a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, go ahead. Eat some toast, a piece of fruit, cereal, oatmeal or maybe an energy bar. Make absolutely certain you have at least one bowel movement before you leave the house. This is critically important.

Pre-race food. Check.

It’s best to arrive at the race site at least an hour before the starting time. Remember, traffic is an inevitability at big races in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Parking can be a major issue. Plan accordingly. Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to rush and/or get upset with pre-race traffic issues.

Pre-race traffic. Check.

About 30-40 minutes before the race begins, start your warmup ritual. Get a sense for the starting area (where it is, how wide it is, which direction the race begins) and take a walk around the race site. If you have to, go to the bathroom. Continue hydrating.

Slowly begin to jog. Build your speed very gradually. Break into race pace for a minute or two. Do a few quick strides. Stretch gently and then walk to keep your muscles warm.

If you’re warm enough, get rid of your sweats at the gear check. Do a final check of the weather and make any necessary adjustments to your clothing. Get rid of what you don’t need and add any clothes you will. If it’s chilly (but not cold), bring an old sweatshirt to the starting area and continue wearing it right up until race time. Then, simply discard it.

Final adjustment to clothes. Check.

With about 10 minutes to go before the start, do four or five strides of about 100 meters. Accelerate to race pace. Continue moving around. Tune into the pre-race excitement and acknowledge your fellow competitors and wish them luck.

Once the starting-line announcer instructs competitors to line up in the starting grid, do so. (In the biggest races, such as the Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio marathons and 3M Half, you will have to get into the starting grid at least 15 minutes early.) Do so. Once in the starting corral, shake out your legs and stretch a little. Try to keep your muscles warm and ready.

You’re ready to roll. Check.