Top Ten Pre Race Tips

By Rick Morris

Running a 5K, 10K or half marathon race is easy, right? Maybe not physically easy, but there isn’t anything logistically difficult about it. You just show up and start running. Nothing easier and nothing else to worry about. Or is there? Sure, you can just show up at the starting line and put one foot in front of the other, lots and lots of times, until you reach the finish line. Or, you could follow some simple pre race guidelines and make your distance race a much more enjoyable and hopefully successful event. Here are our top ten distance running pre race tips.

Be a Party Pooper

Sorry to be a killjoy, but you really need to avoid that all night pre race party. Maybe some of you can sleep run your way through your race, but speaking for myself and most other distance runners, we need some pre race sleep. You need to start your race refreshed and in top physical and mental condition. So be a party pooper and skip the late night before your race.

Dress for Success

Morning races can be tricky to dress for. If you are completely warm and cozy at the start you will probably be overheated later in the race. Dress for expected race day conditions. If it is going to rain or snow be sure you have on a water resistant, but breathable outer layer. For dry, cool conditions, some warm ups that you can drop off before the start will keep you warm before the start.

Be an Early Bird

Procrastination isn’t a good idea on race day. Don’t plan on arriving 30 seconds before the start of your race. Allow a full hour for parking, getting to the staging area, registration, warm up and unforeseen circumstances. It’s a bad feeling indeed to hear the starting gun as you are making a mad dash for the starting line.

Parking Problems

Many distance runners plan for their pre race registration and warm up but forget about those pesky parking problems that are common at many popular distance races. Even if you are taking public transportation you may have problems with crowds. So allow some extra time for parking and transportation, especially at the more popular races.

Tag Up

Once you get your race packet, pin on your race number and attach your timing tag right away. There are a couple of reasons for this. I know by experience. First, there is always that chance that you may lose those very necessary items. Yep, I’ve done it! Even if the race directors are in a good mood and will replace them ( they don’t have to), you may end up missing the start as you get it sorted out. Second, you don’t want to end up trying to attach them at the last second. That is just another source of unwanted stress.

Scope it Out

If the course you are running is a new one for you, try to scope it out a bit. Figure out the major landmarks. Try to determine the various elevation changes and types of terrain you will be running on. Figure out if it is a loop course, out and back or point to point. Some familiarity with the course will pay great benefits once you begin your race.

Problem Drinker

Don’t be a problem drinker. I always see inexperienced runners guzzling full bottles of water or sports drinks 30 minutes before their race. Many runners believe that massive amounts of fluids before a race is the proper way to hydrate but pre race over drinking actually causes some problems. One problem is obvious. You will probably need a trip to the long bathroom lines very close to the start of the race. Even worse, you may need to interrupt your actual distance race for a bathroom run. Another problem all that fluid sloshing around in your stomach can cause all sorts of gastric upsets. So hydrate properly but don’t overdo it.

Righteous Warm Up

Most distance runners know the importance of a pre race warm up composed of some easy running, functional range of motion drills and light stretching. But, did you know you should tailor your warm up for your specific race distance? Generally, shorter races require more extensive warm ups while longer races need very little warm up. That is because of the intensity of your running and the distance you are running. For example, if you are running a marathon, a long warm up is counterproductive. You are only wasting valuable  energy and fuel. The pace of the marathon is slow enough that a very brief cardiovascular warm up and some light stretching is all you need. On the other hand, a 5K race is run at a high speed and intensity. That pace places more stress on your muscles and connective tissues, so you need a more extensive warm up. The energy used during a 5K warm up is not factor because carbohydrate consumption is not a cause of 5K fatigue.

Line Up Lottery

The pre race line up can sometimes seem like a lottery. There is a rush to be the runners with their toes right on the starting line. That’s OK if those front runners are the fastest, but I almost always see very young kids, slower runners and even runners pushing strollers in the front line. There seems to be some sort of runaway egos involved in being at the front of the starting pack. Lose the ego and line up where you should be. If you are among the fastest runners, by all means make your way to the front of the pack so you avoid obstacles at the start. If you are more of a mid pack runner, let the faster runners in front of you. The start will be safer and more efficient. During a very long race, such as a marathon, unless you are a world class runner,  it is really silly to worry about having your toes on the starting line. You have 26.2 miles to work your way up. I think you will make it.

Mass Confusion

Most distance races are really safe with few collisions between runners. That being said, there is one hazardous part of the race – the start. Once the distance runners are more spread out, collisions are very rare, but at the start, it is a common sight to runners tripping, stepping on each other’s heels, getting hit with elbows or even crashing. So be very cautious at the start of the race. Be especially careful of those slower runners that lined up in the front of the pack and are now blocking the faster runners behind them. You will see the faster runners darting around slower runners with abrupt movements. Stay on your toes and stay safe at the start so you aren’t limping and bloody at the finish.