Race Day Tips

I can't believe it, but it's less than a week until my next half marathon.  It seems like just yesterday that I crossed the finish line at Seawheeze, and just last week that I was running last year's Towpath Half!  I'm so excited to be doing it again, and I'm starting to prep for race day.

I've been running and racing since I was 8 years old, so I consider myself somewhat of a race day pro.  While I'll never be a REAL pro runner, I have my routine down pat.  Today I'm going to be sharing my tried and true tips (try saying that 10 times fast) for having the best race morning.  Be sure to share your best tips in the comments!

Listen to a podcast for the first half

On race day, the adrenaline is pumping, your legs are fresh, there's so much excitement, and inevitably you start out too fast and your entire race plan is out the window.  This happened to me all the time, until I made a small tweak and switched to a podcast for the first half of my race!  This helps me to keep my pace slower rather than listening to music, and focusing on a story makes that first half fly by.

If you're looking for good podcasts to listen to during your next race (or long run), I recommend:

Limetown - The entire first season is available for your listening pleasure!  This is a fictional story, but is produced and written so well.  I'm kind of annoyed that they left us with such a cliff hanger, but it's a great podcast to pass a ton of time.

This American Life - Each week is about a different topic and features a few different stories about that topic.  This NPR podcast has been going on for years, so there are tons of episodes to choose from!

Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me - I really like listening to this game show-style podcast during runs.  I like to play along with the contestants, so I'm thinking about the questions rather than the race itself.  The only bad part is that it's a really funny show, so sometimes it makes me laugh out loud when I'm running which is a little awkward.  Worth it!

Pick out meaningful songs

Once the first half of the race is over I switch over to some music.  To me, music is really motivating and can completely change my mood and turn a bad race around!  Before each race, I make sure that I have a playlist that I love and that also has some meaningful songs. 

There are a few different ways that I do this:

Ask friends or family to pick out a song for you.  When "their song" comes out, just focus on that person and dedicate that mile to them.  Taking your mind off yourself and thinking about someone else helps me out so much!

Use songs that bring up good memories.  When we traveled to Mallorca last year, the big song at all the clubs and bars was called Taxi.  Even though I hardly ever listen to it now, I put it in my playlist because as soon as it comes on, I'm transported back to beautiful Mallorca and remember that trip.

Find inspirational songs that have a message about not giving up or pushing through pain.  Some people like to recite mantras during races, but I prefer to have an inspirational song playing!  A few of my favorites are Fight Song, Roar, Second Wind, and Heart of a Champion.

Use the pacing teams

I used to be a pace team hater and would refuse to stay with them.  I never train with groups, so I figured that it would just mess me up to run with a group during a race.  Then, a few years ago I was just using a race for training and stuck with a group to help my pacing, and I realized how great these groups are.  Now, if a pacing team is available at a race, I always at least start out with one!

Not only do these groups help you stay to your correct pace at the beginning of a race (like I mentioned, your excitement at the beginning of a race can mean taking off way too fast) but it also gives you motivation to keep the pace when you're tired.  It's so easy to talk yourself into slowing down in the final miles when you're by yourself, but if you have a group around you, you'll try to stay with them as long as possible!  I also like to talk during races, so having a pace group to chat with helps the miles fly by!  Plus- crowds go crazy for pace groups!

Break the race into chunks

Whether you're running a full marathon or a 5k, that distance can seem so intimidating and never ending when you start.  Instead of thinking of the race as one never ending distance, try to break it into smaller chunks. 

When I do a half marathon, I break it into 5ks.  When I pass a mile marker, instead of thinking "Crap, I still have 12 miles to go", I'll say "Sweet..I'm already 1/3 of the way done with this chunk! Yay!".  Even though it's the same distance in the end, playing mind tricks really helps me!

Bribe yourself

Finally- my last tip isn't something I'm extremely proud of but it's probably the most effective.  I'm only semi-ashamed to admit that I bribe myself to do pretty much everything (wake up early, clean, schedule doctors' appointments...) and racing is no different!  

Before each race, I'll figure out three goals and pick out a "reward" for hitting each one. For the Towpath, my "A" Goal is to get a PR.  I would be really happy to beat my best time and think that that is completely do-able.  My "B" Goal is to break 2 hours, which is always a tough but manageable time for me.  Finally, my "C" Goal is to finish happy and healthy!  If all else fails, I just want to make it to the finish line and not get injured.  

Going along with my goals, I'll "bribe" myself by getting a new top from Lululemon for hitting my "A" Goal, a massage for hitting my "B" Goal, and a celebratory drink for hitting my "C" Goal!

Your turn..what are your best race day tips?
Do you bribe yourself as well?
What is your life-long "A" Goal?  I would love to BQ one day!


  1. These are great tips, Gretchen! I do use some of them myself but the two that I would like to try are the podcasts and the pace groups. I have a 1/2 marathon coming up in less than two weeks so the tips are perfect timing! I wish you well with your upcoming race! ~Amy

  2. These are such great tips! My race is on the 15th, so I'll be implementing some of these! Good luck at your race!!! I sort of semi-do the friends & family song thing. I'm going to ask them this year to pick one - but usually there's a song or two that remind me of someone, so I think of them during that song!

  3. Seriously good and usable tips! Love the idea of using podcasts!

  4. You've totally got a BQ in that bod of yours and I don't just say things for the sake of fluffing you up. The race routine is really smart, especially the podcast part to keep your pace slower in the beginning.

  5. Good luck this weekend! I like the bribes/rewards idea- I also just thinking writing down my goals can help too!

  6. I tell my runners to go without music/distraction for as long as possible and then kick in the tunes halfway through, so you are right on it there! Good luck this weekend!

  7. Great tips! I bribe myself whenever I dont want to do anything or have to do something i dont want to do! It's very effective haha!

  8. i love bribing myself - although sometimes i cheat and reward myself regardless, which obviously goes against the point of bribery lol. i go through phases but i generally don't run with music, ever. i like audiobooks and sometimes podcasts - Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me sounds really good. i also break up my races, or i at least try and forget how far i have to run and just take it one mile at a time, or focus on what i've done and not how far i have to go (until i have like 2 miles left, then i start getting excited lol).

  9. One of the things I think about if I really don't want to run, or am having a rough time - is to think about how amazing it will feel when I finish strong and how disappointed I would be in myself for quitting. I used this a LOT when I ran my first marathon. I kept thinking "no matter what, I'll be done by lunch - I will have completed a marathon!" I think about how amazing it will feel to relax and snuggle on the couch with my son and my basset hound after I've done whatever task.

  10. I've got to try your podcast tip as I ALWAYS go out too hard when I'm running (and that's not running races!) as I've always been more of a sprinter than a distance runner.

    Good luck with the race, girl!


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