Running race checklist: For a faster, stress-free race

You have done every workout in your training plan, you have worked on your running form and you have watched your diet. You feel ready to race – there’s just one more thing to do that will have a big impact on your race day performance: Develop your running race checklist so you give yourself the best chance for a fast race.

The day before:

Use the day before the race to arrange the gear needed. This way you will avoid unnecessary stress in an already stressful pre-race situation from having to remember (or forgetting) things on race day.

Our pre-race checklist for a running race includes:

  • Race bib
  • Race bib holder (or safety pins)
  • Running vest with soft flasks, bladder & other equipment as needed (for longer races, such as Ultra-marathons)
  • Race nutrition and hydration. (Gel’s, water bottle etc.) Make sure you use what you have tested in training.
  • Pre-race gear, including snacks and drinks (if there’s no bag transfer service, or no one to hand your gear to before the gun goes off a trash bag with strategically cut holes works wonders to keep you warm)
  • Race gear (shoes, socks, sports bra, singlet, shorts)
  • Timing chip
  • Post race gear (Comfy shoes, a towel, soap if there are showers, and a new set of clothing,..)
  • GPS watch, heart rate monitor, Phone
  • Sun glasses,
  • Sunscreen
  • Money / Credit Cards for the way to and from the race location
  • Anti chafing cream (and nipple-protecting band aids)
  • Toilet paper and hand sanitizer
  • Some races have mandatory equipment, make sure to bring that (E.g. whistles, headlamps, space blankets and cold weather gear)
  • In times of the pandemic: Medical mask, Test results, Vaccination certificate as needed
  • Race information (Directions, Wave start instructions etc.)
  • Consider uploading the race route to your your watch if it supports that functionality and the race allows it
  • Race accreditation / wrist band etc. if needed

Once you have taken care of “gear to bring” your running race checklist should include “things to do” to get ready for the race.

Picture of runners, taken from inside the pack during a race, while running along a skyline in a cityscape

Familiarize yourself with the route so you know climbs, headwinds and of course the route itself. Consider uploading the course to your watch if it offers that feature, which can give you benefits like race timing prediction, nutrition reminders etc.

It is also worthwhile to have a look at the race instructions so you know exactly where to go when and avoid potentially disqualification from not knowing the rules (some races for example do not allow the use of headphones or have cut off times you need to beat).

Have a dinner rich in carbohydrates but don’t over-do it. Your body can store limited amounts of carbohydrates and should be able to digest before the race. If you are like most people you are able to store around 2000-2500 calories of all-important muscle glycogen (from carbs).

Assuming that you are not totally depleted the day before a race and considering that an average male diet includes about 300 grams of carbs (1200 calories) per day you really don’t need a lot of extra pasta during that spaghetti party to top up your reserves. Eating too much though might increase your chances of seeing the inside of a roadside toilet. So in summary slightly increase your intake of carbs 1-2 days before the race, that will be sufficient.

Don’t spend too much time at the race expo. It’s fun and it’s tempting but you’ll be glad on race day that you did not spend too much time up on your feet the day before!

Also – try any new gear or nutrition purchases after race day. The old adage “Don’t try anything new on race day” is popular for a reason! You don’t know if your brand new super shoe is going to give you blisters on race day or if your stomach can deal with a new nutrition product.

Finally if you have followed the running race checklist you will have read the race information and should have a good idea of the rundown of race day, which will greatly reduce stress on the day itself.

Race day

Get up ~4 hours before race start for an early breakfast to allow for enough time for your food to clear the stomach. Ideally breakfast consists of mostly carbohydrates that are easy to digest, without too much fiber. As tempting as The hotel buffet breakfast might be, stay away from things you have not tried before.

If you normally drink coffee today is not the day to stop doing so. Caffeine is the only legal performance enhancing drug and stopping today might send serious coffee aficionados into withdrawal.

Keep a bottle ready before the race to stay hydrated, but ideally stop drinking the hour before the race to avoid loo breaks. Use that 30-15 min before the race to get your warm up in. A gel or other easy to digest nutrition consumed 20 min before the race will maximize your nutrition.

Once the race has started stay on top of your nutrition and race plan. Avoid starting out too fast, keep in mind that most fast times are run with a negative split, i.e. a slower first half and a quicker second half. Checking your time at distance markers will help you to stay on track.

As you get tired check your running form from time to time, this will both keep your mind engaged while also giving you “free” efficiency and speed. Having a few visual cues and mantras in your mind to fall back on will help, e.g. “Keep my cadence up”, “Lift my knees” etc. will help to fight deterioration in your running form as you get tired.

A few minutes before approaching the finish line you might want to get “photo ready” for finish line photos. Now’s a good time to remove sponges stuffed into your Lycra, blow your nose and wipe your mouth.

Finally, unless you are sprinting to the line for a spot at the olympics take a moment to enjoy your achievement, wave to your family and friends.

After crossing the finish line get hydrated quickly and replenish your energy stores with food your body craves to speed up your recovery.

Finally now is a great time to relax and thank all those that supported you in achieving your goal!