The anxious runner’s guide to race prep

HERE WE ARE again – it’s the last day before a half marathon, my second one in six months. Though by no means an experienced racer (not an experienced half marathoner in any case), I’m feeling quietly smug about knowing what to expect by now and therefore going into this better prepared. I’ve even had the luxury of a day free of any other commitments, so I’m reasonably confident that I haven’t forgotten any important bits of information off my various race prep and packing lists. (Oh, I do love a list.)

If you’re preparing for your first big race, the number of things to remember on the eve of the event may seem overwhelming. But fear not, I’m happy to share my love of lists along with my personal experience and professional knowledge to provide you with this to-do list for the day before a big race, to reduce your stress levels and help you with your race preparations.

1. Check race and travel details

If you haven’t done this already, I would suggest reading the information in your race pack first thing. It’s one thing to have to come up with a plan B with 24 hours to go, but quite another getting hideously stressed on race morning, when you realise the trains aren’t running after all. Check the start time as well as the time you’re expected to drop off your bag and be at the start line. Also check public transport timetables, distance to race start from your stop or station, location of car parks, whether you’ll need money to park, and times of any road closures. In short, make sure you know how you’re going to get to the race on time – and how you’re getting home afterwards.

2. Check the weather forecast

The weather – surely the arch nemesis of any British runner. To be honest, even if you check the weather forecast (and then check it again), you can’t be absolutely sure of the temperature or chance of rain, snow or sleet on race day. But it should guide you in the selection of weather-appropriate race kit for the day. As a rule of thumb, take your training kit and remove a layer. If you think you’ll need long tights, wear ¾ length. If you were going for ¾ length tights, you’ll be fine in shorts. If you’re thinking long sleeves, wear short. Races are more crowded than a solo training run, and you’re likely to run faster too – remember that even if you feel cold on the start line, you will get warm quite quickly. Physiologically speaking, wearing too much and overheating is far worse than feeling a bit cold. For temperatures above +10C, you should be fine in a t-shirt or vest and shorts.

Throw accessories such as a baseball cap (for rain), shades (sun, obviously) or gloves (if very cold) in your bag too, so you have them with you if needed. And don’t forget dry, warm clothes to get changed into after the race. Just an extra layer may be enough, but if you’re expecting to get very wet make sure you pack a full change of clothes, including shoes, socks and underwear.

3. Eat, drink, stretch, rest

There’s no need to obsess over this one – just make sure you eat well, stay hydrated and let your legs get some rest. I always spend a good 20-30 minutes stretching on the day before a race, paying particular attention to any muscles that may have been feeling tight in training. There’s no benefit in stretching just before the race – save the stretches for afterwards – but stretching on the day before gives you a way to do some form of physical preparation and get your mind focussed too. (Some runners like to go for a very easy, very short jog on the day before a race, but this is more down to personal preference than anything else.)

In terms of eating and drinking, you need to top up the glycogen stores in your muscles with plentiful carbohydrates. Ideally you should think about this throughout your last taper week, getting a few more of your daily calories from carbs than you normally do. On the day before, a good pre-race dinner might be based around rice, pasta or noodles – just avoid anything that might upset your stomach such as spicy or fatty foods. Keep drinking water or have a sports drink to avoid going into the race dehydrated, but again, there’s no reason to go overboard with this. Avoiding alcohol on the last night is a very good idea indeed.

4. Get your stuff ready

Ah, the kit bag. How much you take to the race with you depends on how far you need to travel, what kit facilities are available, the weather and to a degree, your race distance too. The bare minimum you need to get ready is all your race kit, with your race number pinned to your vest or t-shirt (unless you’re picking the number up on the day – however safety pins are still a good idea, as they aren’t always provided). If you have a timing chip for your shoes, you may wish to tie that in place as well. If you need any maps or a postcode for your satnav, make sure you have those ready.

As a guideline only, the following is what I’m packing for my race tomorrow (other than my kit and other clothes): a bottle of water, electrolyte tablets, jelly babies and gels, a protein bar, a couple of bananas, mp3 player and earphones, sunglasses, compression socks, money for parking/transport/race village/food, phone, my beloved Garmin, plasters, and somewhere to put my mp3 player and gels (you may use a belt or a pocket) – not forgetting to put the baggage tag on my bag! If you want to use any kind of technology on the day, make sure it’s fully charged.

5. Find meaningful ways to occupy your mind

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed (or downright terrified) about your race, you may want to try and find ways to keep yourself busy. It’s absolutely fine to feel a bit jittery, but you don’t want to get so stressed you can’t sleep or worse still, are unable to enjoy the excitement of the build-up and the race. Don’t spend hours obsessing over your kit bag! Try to avoid physical exhaustion and injury, but by all means get on with your day as you normally would. If you find yourself getting very anxious, try listening to music, watching a film or reading. Or focus your mind on the task ahead by stretching, meditating or reading the race pack one more time – then trust that you’ve got everything covered.

However, it’s ok to…

6. Get slightly obsessed over a minor detail

As much as you try to stay calm and composed, I’d like to think it’s perfectly normal to go slightly insane just hours before a big race. I can be a bit of a control freak, so the focus of my insanity tends to be an element of the race I just can’t control – typically the weather. Before our first half marathon, my running mates and I were expecting a freezing cold race day (yes, we checked the forecast a dozen times) and got more obsessed than is healthy about what we should wear for the race. Long tights definitely, but would we freeze in t-shirts? I got so worried about this that I ended up coming up with what I still think of as, frankly, an inspired solution – disposable arm warmers made out of an old pair of leggings. Slightly ridiculous, yes, but it kept my mind occupied (if not exactly in a meaningful way).

This time, I’m a bit more relaxed about it, but the weather forecast is puzzling me again. To solve the question of what to wear, I went for a little jog in my race kit to test it out. I trialled my shades and earphones combo too, and figured out which socks to wear. I did NOT wear my race number; I trust that will work just fine on the day.

7. Double-check race details

Do one last check before bedtime – make sure you haven’t missed any important information about where you need to be and at what time. Incidentally, a 10K race I do every year is run on the morning that British summer time ends and the clocks go back. I think this is a bit mean, though the worst case scenario is turning up an hour early. The start of summer time is a bit riskier, however, as you could potentially miss your race. If you’re racing on a Sunday in late March or October, you may want to check this – you have been warned!

8. Set your alarm and get a good night’s sleep

Stop obsessing. You will be fine. Have confidence in the training you’ve done, trust your preparations and try to enjoy the anticipation as well as the race itself. Remember to allow yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to rush on race morning, and set your alarm. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try relaxation techniques or just give in, get up and check your kit one more time. Then relax.


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