Steal these tips to crushing your first race.

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No matter how much running experience you have, race days can be a bit nerve-wracking, but that’s especially true if you’re preparing for your first race. In the past weeks or months leading up to your big day, you’ve focussed on traininggoal-setting, and perfecting everything from eating the right fuel to wearing the correct shoes, so when show time arrives, the stakes are high.

While experiencing a few prerace jitters is perfectly normal—they might actually help you psych yourself up rather than out too—there’s no need to stress. Races, after all, are supposed to be as fun as they are challenging.

Thankfully, there are tried-and-true race tips you can follow to arrive on the starting line feeling calm, healthy, and ready to run your best. Here, we share exactly how to prepare for race day. Plus, we outline all the steps you need to take to make a speedy recovery, after you cross the finish line.

How to Prepare for Your Race: A Couple Days Before

Don’t do anything new

Race week isn’t the time to try new shoes, new food or drinks, new gear, or anything else you haven’t used on several workouts. Stick with the routine that works for you.

Get off your feet

In the days before you race, try to stay off your feet as much as possible. Relax, and leave the lawn work or shopping or sightseeing for after the race.

Graze, don’t chow down

Rather than gorging on pasta the night before the race, which could upset your stomach, focus on eating well-balanced meals throughout the day before the race.

For race distances of 10K or shorter, it’s not necessary to carb load, according to Pamela Nisevich Bede, sports dietitian and author of Fuel the Fire. “It’s unlikely you’ll deplete the fuel in your muscles in the time it takes to complete those distances,” Nisevich told Runner’s World. Opt, instead, for the regular meals and snacks that have fuelled your training.

Put your hands on your bib

The night before the race, lay out your clothes, and if you have your bib, fasten it on. That’s the one thing (other than your shoes, of course) you need at the starting line. Don’t show up without it!

How to Prepare for a Race: The Morning Of

Limit your sipping

Yes, you need to stay hydrated, but don’t guzzle anything 30 minutes before the horn; sip if your mouth is dry or it’s particularly hot out. Some athletes will take a mouthful and use it as a rinse and spit. Your best bet is to stay hydrated throughout the days leading up to the race, and if you’re racing in the morning, top off your fluids as needed once you wake up. If it’s a night race, drink regularly (but not excessively) throughout the day.

Fuel smart

Don’t eat anything heavy within two hours of the race. While different meals work for different runners, as a general rule of thumb, your meal should contain mostly carbs, a little protein, and a limited amount of fibre and fat. A few tried-and-true prerace meals: a toasted bagel with peanut butter and a banana; an energy bar with a cup of fruit; or oats topped with berries and a handful of nuts.

Arrive early

First, triple-check what time your race starts—large races often start in waves, and race directors usually ask participants to stand in their specified waves long before the starting horn goes off. Plan to get to the race well before the start so you’ll have time to pick up your number (if you don’t already have it), use the bathroom, and warm up. You don’t want to be running to the starting line.

Bring extra tissue

The only thing worse than waiting in a long porta loo line is getting to the front and realising that there’s nothing to wipe with.

Don’t overdress

It will probably be cool at the start, but don’t wear more clothing than you need. To stay warm at the start, you may want to bring (expendable) clothes that you can throw off after you warm up. If there’s alot of rain forecast you might want to pack a poncho —it’ll shield you if it’s raining at the start, and can double as a seat so you can plop down on the wet grass.

Set at least two goals

Going into the race with a goal in mind can be a huge motivator to perform to your potential. While aiming for the sky is commendable, it’s also important to stay realistic.

That’s why you should set two goals: one goal for a perfect race, and another as a backup in case it’s hot, windy, or it’s just not your day. Huddle calls these backups “triage” goals, or goals that are put in place when the race goes south. If you find that the weather isn’t cooperating, focus on different goals, like holding a given pace or not letting anyone pass you.

And it’s best to set a third goal that has nothing to do with your time. This performance goal could be something like finishing, running up the hills rather than walking them, or fueling properly and successfully avoiding GI distress.

Fix it sooner, rather than later

If your shoelace is coming loose, or you start to chafe early in the race, take care of it before it becomes a real problem later in the race.

Start slow, and stay even

Run the first 10 percent of the race slower than you normally would, with the idea that you’ll finish strong. Don’t try to “bank” time by going out faster than your goal pace. If you do that, you risk burning out early. Try to keep an even pace throughout the race, and save your extra energy for the final stretch to the finish.

What to Do After Your Finish Your First Race

Keep moving

Get your medal and keep walking for at least 10 minutes to fend off stiffness and gradually bring your heart rate back to its resting state. Be sure to do some postrace recovery stretches to stretch out your legs, back, and hips.


There are usually snacks at the finish line, but what the race provides may not sit well with you. To recover quickly, pack a snack—or ask your cheer squad to have one waiting for you—with a combination of protein and carbs to rebuild muscles and restock your energy stores. Consume it within a half hour of finishing the race.

Dry off

Change into fresh, dry clothes as soon as possible. After you cross the finish line, your core temperature will start to drop fast, and keeping sweaty clothes on could make you cold (particularly if it’s cold outside) and also tighten up your muscles, possibly leading to more soreness later.

Shake out the next day

As sore as you might feel the day after the race, it’s important to move the next day, as doing so will increase circulation to your muscles and help you bounce back sooner. If a slow jog is too much, try a non-impact activity such as swimming, cycling, or working out on the elliptical. Just keep the effort level easy.

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