Establish your own pre-race ceremony to calm jitters and get into racing mode.
Posted Saturday, 23 June, 2001
There is a certain soothing comfort to the familiar rhythm of personal ritual -- the activities and routines we have worn with time and tested by experience. For me, the best example is the easygoing weekend-morning formula of a long run followed by coffee, the Sunday newspaper, and jazz on the stereo. Ritual is calming; it is the reassuring power of the familiar to sweep aside mundane worries.
So it is only natural that pre-race jitters may be coaxed away, at least in part, by following your own steady habits of preparation. No need to think too hard about the race ahead. Just let yourself slide through a familiar set of warmups and stretches, maybe sip some water from your lucky water bottle. To help you settle into a regular routine, we've got a few suggestions on how to bide your time during the countdown to the starting gun. More than a checklist of "things to do," consider the following a kind of pre-race ceremony for stilling the nerves as well as preparing those hard-running legs.
Eve of the race>
The last thing you need on race day is to dash around the house gathering all your gear at the last minute. The night before, make sure you have everything you need for the next morning. Set aside the clothes and shoes you plan to wear during the race; no need for anything flashy, of course, just something familiar and comfortable. Pack your running bag, and include fresh clothes for after the race, a towel, some bandages (in case of blisters), your race number, and $20-$30 to pay for registration before the event and a bite to eat afterward. If you're running a marathon, you might want to pack some toilet paper, too.
Have a moderate meal of comfort food. Drink four to six ounces of fluid every hour that you're awake. Let yourself relax, maybe turn in a little early. It's important to get plenty of rest during the two nights before the race (the first of those nights actually turns out to be most important for a strong performance on race day).
Get up at least three hours before the start, and go through your everyday morning routine. Eat a light breakfast of familiar food, along with a cup of coffee if you must. (Look over our tips on eating and drinking before during and after the race for more dietary pointers.) Check on the weather and make any last-minute adjustments to your clothing selections. Before you head out to the course, make that all-important visit to the bathroom first...
Plan to arrive at the course at least an hour before the start time (or 90 minutes if you have not yet registered).
About 45 minutes before the race, ease into your warmup routine. Walk briskly for five or ten minutes to get your muscles moving and relaxed. Jog very slowly for a few minutes and build gradually to an easy warmup pace over the next ten minutes. Stretch gently, and then walk for five minutes to stay relaxed.
About 15 minutes before the start do five or ten short sprints of about 200 yards, starting slowly and accelerating to race pace before easing back to a slow jog. Walk around for five minutes more, then just relax. Talk to other runners, or lie in the grass and close your eyes, or sit down and just watch the colorful event around you. Whatever you find soothing. Enjoy the festive air and conviviality of the pre-race scene.
Five minutes before the race, head for the starting line and try to remain relaxed. Visualize yourself moving fluidly along the course. In just a few minutes, you'll be doing just that...