Checklist: How to Prepare for Your Next Running Race

Whether you are getting ready for your first 5k or your thirtieth marathon, here is our coach-approved checklist for how to prepare for your next running race. 

How to Prepare 3-9 Months Ahead of Time

  • Register for the race. Check out our guide for choosing the right running race here
  • Book any necessary travel for the race.
  • Start gathering intel on the race, such as course distance, elevation, and road conditions, so that you can adjust your training accordingly.
  • If this is your key race for the year, start your race-specific training.
  • Set your goals for the race. 

How to Set Goals for Your Race

When it comes to goal setting, each runner enters the competition for a different reason, so make sure the goal is the right one for you. Our coaches generally recommend that you set an A, B, and C goal. In the words of Deserae Clark, “A is what you shoot for if everything goes perfectly, B is an attainable goal, and C is worst-case scenario.”

Sometimes, your goal will be to set a personal record, and other times it may be related to completing the race or even to raising a certain amount of money for the associated charity. Whatever it is, coach Vivian Vassall points out that your goal is what will help you push through the hardest parts of the races, so it has to be meaningful to you.

“A great activity is to identify your goal, and write it down. Then ask yourself why you want it. Drill down and ask why you want THAT. Drill down deeper: why do you want THAT? And so on. Continue to ask “why” until you reach a goal that will withstand pain, low motivation, and the desire to give up. Write it down again on a piece of paper, and perhaps carry it with you on race day. Write it on the back of your bib number, wear it as a bracelet, put it in your pocket.”

runner jumping for joy

How to Prepare 6-24 Weeks Ahead of Time

  • If you haven’t started tailoring your training to the race, now is the time to begin. Coach Brian Comer uses this rule of thumb: “Training for longer races can begin anywhere from 16-24 weeks ahead of the day while shorter races can be 6-12 weeks.”

How to adapt your training for running a race:

Training should be adapted to prepare for the distance, elevation gain, and road conditions. If the race will be on trails, then you should start running on trails. You should also implement intervals, tempos, and speedwork for sharpening. This is where a running coach can help you align your training with your personal goals to help you make the most of the race.

  • Make sure you have the right gear for the running race.
    • It is always good to plan ahead when it comes to running gear. While coach Ashley Nordell reminds us that running doesn’t need to come with expensive gear, you will want to review what you know about the race course and plan accordingly. Here is some of the basic gear you will want to consider:
      • Running shoes (or several pairs, if you are running an ultra distance)
      • Warmup layers
      • A singlet or shirt (not cotton, think moisture wicking materials)
      • Watch
      • Running shorts
      • Socks
      • Headlamp
      • Reflective vest
      • Handheld water bottles
      • Vest with flasks or bladder for water

How to Prepare 2 Weeks in Advance of a Running Race

  • As the race approaches, our coaches recommend you start tapering your training. 
  • If possible, do a trial-run of race morning to make sure you know what to expect in terms of getting to the course, parking, and any other logistics you may not have considered.
  • Now is a good time to try out any new fuel or nutrition plans for your race to make sure you know how your body will react.
jacob moss charleston running coach
Coach Jacob Moss training on the track

How to Prepare the Week Before Running a Race

  • Make your last week before the race as low-stress as possible
  • Pack your gear two days before the race so that you don’t have anything to worry about in the 24 hours leading up to it.
  • “I like to have my athletes do small shake out runs so they feel sharp, but the week of the race is not for training or pushing through any niggles. When in doubt, do less. Stay off your feet as much as possible. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cram any last minute workout or extra run into the week before a race,” advises coach Ashley Nordell
  • Brian Comer recommends, “Make sure to hydrate and get plenty of sleep. Stretch, roll out, take care of all the little things.”
  • And for coach Tom Scott, the most important thing in that last week: “Make sure you sleep well in the 4-5 nights before the race as it’s unlikely you will sleep well the night before!” 

How to Prepare the Day Before the Running Race

  • Hydrate
  • Fuel up. There are dozens of articles (like this one from the BBC) on what to eat before a race, but in general, our coaches recommend protein and carbohydrates spread out in the 48 hours leading up to the race so that you have all the nutrition your body needs.
  • De-stress 
  • Go to bed early

How to Prepare the Morning of the Running Race

  • Plan to wake up with plenty of time for your morning routine. Coach Tom Scott recommends setting two alarms, just in case, and giving yourself a buffer of thirty minutes in case of traffic.
  • Eat a good breakfast. Coach Ashley Nordell says, “My go-to pre race is to eat a good breakfast two hours before the start, and then 75-100 calories or so (like a banana) within a half hour of the race.”
  • Hydrate periodically until your start time
  • Warm-up, stretch, do drills
  • Use the bathroom before leaving the house
  • As you head into the race, Brian Comer says your goal is to be “loose, mentally psyche yourself up, and have some fun!”

Race day is an exciting morning, so make sure you do all you can to make the most of it with these preparation tips! Get more expert advice on running by signing up for the free Team RunRun newsletter.

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