This page offers a collection of racing tips and tricks for running and triathlon that I’ve learned from experience, as well as tips offered by those with more knowledge and experience than I.
As always, if you have tips or tricks you want to share, please do so! If you include your tips in the comments, I’ll incorporate them into the main page.
I appreciate and welcome your input.
Before the Race
The day or two before the race is an important time to prepare yourself for race day by eating properly, resting wisely, and organizing the gear you will need for race day. I find it useful to create a schedule, with everything I need to do in the day or two before the race. This is especially important for longer races, when you need to ensure that you are staying off your feet as much as is possible. A carefully crafted schedule will ensure you only make one trip to the store/bank/packet pickup/etc., instead of two because you forgot something.
Packet pick up
- Check to see when race packet pick up is. You don’t want to show up on race morning only to find out that packet pickup was the day before. Most larger races only permit you to pick up the day before.
- If you have the option to pick up the day before, or the day of, I strongly recommend opting for the day before. This allows you to lay out your stuff the night before, arrange your bib(s), and so on. I find this is especially valuable for triathlon, when there are multiple elements to organize.
I have two goals when it comes to organizing my gear: 1) make sure I don’t forget anything, and 2) allow myself to sleep as late as possible (this is important when most race mornings start at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.).
- Use a checklist for packing and preparing your gear. Even though running is not as gear intensive as triathlon, there are still items you want to make sure you don’t forget. I recommend trying out http://racechecklist.com/, which includes lists for all types of events. It’s free and there’s no software to download. Just check the items you want to bring, and print. John and I use it all the time.
- Lay out all of your gear the night before. This serves a dual function: 1) by reducing the likelihood you will forget something because you aren’t rushing around, and 2) because you don’t have to pack race morning, you can sleep later. (In the case of Ironman distance events, you’ll need to lay out your gear the night before the night before since you have to drop off your bags the day before the race.)
- Have your food ready to go: breakfast, race nutrition, hydration, post-race recovery food/drink. John and I will put our drinks in the refrigerator, and then all we have to do in the morning is pop them in a cooler (which we place strategically by the door), add some ice and off we go.
- Pre-pack your car the night before. Of course, not everything can be packed the night before, but try to place all those items that can be packed away. Again, this saves valuable time in the morning.
- Create a list of tasks you must complete on race morning. This list should also include any last minute items you need to pack. That way, there’s no guessing, and all you need to do is simply follow your list.
Taken together, these basic tips for organization serve another important function: they sooth my pre-race anxiety just a bit because the act of organization and preparation gives me something to focus on.
- Use an alarm with some charm. I use my cell phone alarm clock to wake us up because I can set the alarm with a ringtone. My go-to race morning favorite? The Rocky Theme. What else?
- Eat an appropriate breakfast. Appropriate is a mix of amount of calories and type of calories. The amount of calories depends upon your size as well as how many hours it is to go until the race begins. Ideally, you’ve practiced “breakfast” on your long training days so you know what works. At 125 pounds, I shoot for about 400 calories on the morning of an Ironman race, and I try to eat those calories about 2.5 hours before the race begins. The morning of a marathon, I’ll try to eat about 250-300 calories at least two hours before the start. For me, breakfast consists of a white flour bagel and a sport drink that has some protein in it. I eat the processed flour because it’s easy to digest and I don’t have to worry about the fiber giving me belly troubles. The sports drink with protein offers a slow burning calorie source that my body can call on for hours to come. For shorter races, I skip the sports drink w/ protein. Again, you need to find what works for YOU.
- Follow the list you made the day before. Do whatever it says. Now is not the time for second guessing yourself. 😉
- Keep it steady in your head. As much as is possible, stay calm in your heart, and focused in your mind. Maybe make a motivational playlist to listen to on your mp3 player, or in your car on the drive to the race.
- Stay warm. If the morning is chilly, make sure to stay as warm as possible. For marathons (or other runs), I like to purchase some old sweats from Goodwill which I can discard right before the start. For triathlon, I wear at least two layers when it’s chilly. Then, I change directly into my wetsuit when it’s time in order to stay as warm as possible. I put my layers in my transition bag, tucked out of the way. If I am lucky enough to have a sherpa (a.k.a., friend or family member), I just give them my gear if possible.
Transition area (triathlon only)
- Be methodical in your set up. Make sure your gear is set up in order. For example, don’t put your sneakers on top of your bike shoes.
- Take stock of where you are in relation to swim-in, bike-in and out, and run-in and out. If possible, mark your area with bright ribbon or something you can easily distinguish in the fog of transition.
- Stash it where you’ll remember it. For example, stick sunglasses in the grooves of your helmet or inside so you can just pop them on quickly as you head out of T1.
- Use a race belt. Put your bib on in T1 and forget about it. I’ve seen some people use bibs safety pinned to shirts, and this frequently leads to rips or lost bibs.
- Preload a bento box with your nutrition. Saves time, and you won’t forget it (like I’ve done!)
- Cardboard cups aren’t just for drinking. If you are doing a race, such as an Ironman, that requires you to check your bag overnight to hang in the outdoors in the elements, consider covering the top to prevent too much wetness. Like in the picture:
During the race–nutrition
- Follow the nutrition plan from training. On race day, don’t go mixing up your nutrition. Eat and drink exactly as you practiced during training. You may have to make some alterations based on the weather. For example, if it is hot, then you may need to consume more fluids and sodium. If you do have to make changes due to weather or other changed circumstances, do it incrementally to see how your body reacts.
- Eat and drink on the beeps. Set your watch (if possible) to beep at regular intervals to remind you to eat and drink. My watch goes off every 15 minutes. My plan is to drink when the time ends in a “5,” (e.g., 1:15:00), and to eat when the time ends in a “0” (e.g., 1:30:00). (Thanks for the reminder on this tip, Darren!)
- If you want to give up, just eat some sugar. During the June Fireman Ironman training camp, Pro Karen Smyers offered great advice here. “If you are running, and you feel like you just don’t care, if you get really apathetic – you probably need sugar! You trained way too hard to give up.”
- Find a fluid-electrolyte balance. Karen Smyers also suggested that if you start feeling a little dizzy or generally squirrely, you might want to try products with electrolytes–sodium, magnesium, potassium, etc. (We like endurolytes from Hammer nutrition – but practice with these in training!)
During the race–strategy
- Don’t try anything new on race day. While it may be tempting to try a new drink, or a new pair of shoes, or a new <whatever> – DON’T DO IT. If you have practiced in training, don’t introduce it on race day.
- Start smart. This is perhaps my number tip for racing–any type of race. Let all the hot shots go out fast and burn out. I love catching them later, feeling all perky and strong. Once you go anaerobic, it’s hard to get that energy back. Of course, if you are racing a 5k, you will definitely go anaerobic, but you still want to build to your max pace. It’s hard to go truly all-out for the entire 5k.
- Stick to a race plan but if it starts to go off the rails, switch to plan b. And don’t let yourself get mentally freaked by it. Stay in your head and keep moving forward.
- A corollary to the previous: Focus on what YOU are doing, not others. While I like to focus on people in front of me and try to catch them, I also need to keep my focus on my plan. Push too hard too soon, and I might never catch them.
- When it’s time to pass someone–especially someone in your age group–do it with authority. A weak pass will invite them to come along. But pick up your speed, and you will reduce the chance that they’ll take the challenge. (Doing pickups in training is a good way to get comfortable with brief midrace surges.) I made the mistake of a weak pass one time, and missed the opportunity to place in my age group. That won’t happen again!
- If you can, draft. Find a pair of feet to draft off on the swim. If the bike is draft legal, do it. During the run, you’ll be surprised at how running behind someone else helps your effort – especially if that other person is just a little bit faster.
- Walk the water stops. During a run, it can be hard to get your fluid and nutrition in your mouth. So, don’t chance it – walk the water stops. I’ve done this for every marathon I’ve ever run. You’ll find the 15-30 seconds it takes to make sure you get your proper fueling is worth it.
During the race–mental
- Smile–even if you aren’t feeling it. Or, I should say ESPECIALLY when you aren’t feeling it. Okay, maybe this is my number one tip for racing – seriously, try it. It completely works.
- Send out positive energy and feel it come back to you. This is clearly connected to the previous tip-but can include more than a smile. Yell “woop! Woop!” to the crowd and just enjoy all the energy they throw back at you. I love it!
- Count your way to the finish line. When you hit a rough patch, try counting. I like counting to 100 (a tip I learned from Don Fink’s book Be Iron Fit). Usually, by the time you get to 100, whatever was bothering has stopped – or the act of counting gives you something else to focus on.
Work on your finish line swagger. I typically do a dance with a leap. That seems to work for me. It’s your moment–live it!
- Smile! Yes you are hurting–but wasn’t it great?
- Thank your family and friends who schlepped your crap all over the place. They’ve been waiting on the sidelines for just a momentary glimpse of you. And, they even hug you despite the fact that you are covered in gels, sports drink, and other unidentifiable fluids that hopefully didn’t come from the inside of your body (but likely did…). You should also buy them beers.
- Get your recovery nutrition ASAP. Within 30 minutes you are looking for a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein. (You also want this in training.) Chocolate milk is an easy way to accomplish this. Engineered drinks also work.
- Take care of your body: stretch, roll/massage, and ice.
- Bask in the glow! You earned it!
- Research. It’s time to figure out what the next race will be 😉