at the races 87 Road Running Tips for Happy Race Day

87 Road Running Tips for Happy Race Day


My good friend is running his first half marathon this Sunday at the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon and he watches my kids sometimes and I really want him to do well. I gave him my book, with thousands of tips, but he hasn’t opened it. Despite that, I still want him to do well. And so, in addition to all of you, this is for him: tips for a successful road race.

Lots of things about road racing are unpredictable. But there are lots of things that you can control. Here’s a little checklist for you wherever you are and for whenever you’re next racing — a handy dandy guide to running your happiest race.

87. Please get your bib before race morning.

86. And spend some time at the Expo. Meet other runners; soak in the vibe. 

85. Pick up the new issue of iRun!!!

84. And definitely figure out your pace group. You’ll want to make an estimated finishing time, and then figure out how fast you should aim to run each kilometre.

83. Corrals, I should add, for the newbies (welcome!) are designed by estimated finishing time. You do not want to be in the wrong corral.

82. And, if you’re not sure, be conservative. It is much better to pass slower runners and speed up as the race progresses than be up front and have a procession of racers pass you like you’re standing still. Caution, at the start, wins the race. 

81. A good way to predict your estimated finish time is to learn your split after five kilometres, then work out the math.

80. Note: you’ll run faster on race day than you’ve ever run before. But let that come as a happy surprise rather than a jarring disappointment.

79. The goal here is, since you paid for this, you’re not getting paid: have fun.

LEADERS OF THE PACK: Lawrence with esteemed racer Rachel Hannah, victor of the Glass City race.

78. Fun is found in graceful completion, like Kathleen and Rachel, above. Thus, race conservatively, sputtering out — unintended walking, uncomfortable limping, being carried off the course (all things I’ve done) — leads one wanting to never, ever do this again.

77. And we want the goal of this race to be your doing it again.

76. And again. And again.

75. So please figure out how you’re getting to the start line before race day.

74. And figure out what you’re wearing, too.

73. It’s OK to wear new shoes on race day, but better, I think, if you try them out once before the big event.

72. You want your shoes to feel springy and fresh but the idea is to limit surprises. No new gels, breakfasts, sneakers, strategies, playlists or stretches. Practice makes perfect, or as least as close to perfect as we imperfect animals can possibly come.

71. Temperatures are dropping. Rain’s on the forecast. Sometimes, there’s wind. Do you know what you’ll wear?

70. Hats and gloves are a good idea. They can always be ditched and it’s wise to have a throwaway trash bag or old sweatshirt. Sucks getting cold before the race starts.

69. Know that you’ll probably change your mind 500 times between now and race day about your outfit. That’s part of the fun!

68. Write a mantra down on your hands. I Won’t Back Down is mine.

67. And repeat the mantra again and again.

66. Though not to the point of losing perspective: FUN. This is FUN. It’s EXCITING, an inessential.

65. Plus, that mentality will enhance your performance. A jumble of nerves slows you down. 

64. Let’s talk about food. No sausage and onion pizzas the night before your big event.

63. And don’t go out the night before. You’re not 19. (And, if you are, you’d be a much faster 19-year-old if you got a proper night’s rest). You probably won’t sleep well the night before, that’s OK. It’s about the rest you get that whole week.

62. Also: spaghetti is a great meal the night before a big race.

61. I also like rice, fish and potatoes.

60. Think salads and tuna, peanut butter and jelly, and turkey; eliminate lots of dairy, sugar and junk food.

59. You want to feel lean when you arrive at the start line. Don’t feel the need to stuff yourself leading into the race.

58. Breakfast before the race is important. It’s hard eating three hours before a race if your event starts at 8am (try though!)

57. These things don’t have to be perfect; just be mindful. Shoot to eat a few hours before the race begins.

56. I like bagels with peanut butter, orange juice, coffee, and a banana.

55. No need to pig out. Eat well, and eat early, and eat conservatively: and, if it’s a destination race, plan this stuff a little more detailed in advance.

54. Last night I added Free Bird to my playlist. This week I also added Maps by the Yea Yea Yeahs. Get your playlist together.

53. And own your technology. This year, I’m trying the Apple Watch Series 8 and AirPods. New stuff for me. I’ve been practicing how to set the watch and get the AirPods in.

52. Things that seem easy in your kitchen are tricky when you’re exhausted and running as fast as you can.

51. I also enjoy stocking my fridge with stuff for AFTER my race. And yeah, that includes whisky and beer.

50. Make your race weekend different from every other weekend. That’s the point of these things. Lean in.

49. Races only give back as much as you put in.

48. And please arrive early to the starting line.

47. Hit a port-a-pottie; find your pace group, and breathe.

46. High five the runner beside you and when the announcer introduces the elites in our presence — cheer your head off.

45. Imagine playing a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.

44. Running the Waterfront Marathon on the same course as Ethiopian and Kenyan Olympians — not to mention Canadians stars — is the exact same thing.

43. When the race starts, exhale.

42. People fall down at the very beginning. Mind your steps when you first break out of the gate.

41. Pay attention. Soak it in.

40. Like my daughter says: We’re doing it!! After all that nervous anticipation — now that you’ve started, like Forrest Gump, you’re running, relax.

39. Let your training do the work.

38. It’s good to push, good to be alert, but stay comfortable.

37. Be mindful of your pace group, and don’t feel the need to try too hard. Endurance racing is about just that: endurance.

36. Run wisely. Stay with your pace group. Stay calm.

35. It’s OK to chitchat but read the room. Don’t annoy everyone in your vicinity, and don’t be overconfident.

34. Chill is good.  

33. And be sure to drink some water or sport drink and take gels.

32. Rule of thumb? Even if it’s cool, use fluids at every other water station. Take a gel every 5K.

31. Your body will thank you.

30. Taking the gels and the water will also help you feel in control. That’s what we’re after: a feeling of control out there on the race course.

29. Countdown the kilometres to the finish line. Each one eliminated is one less moment you’ll have at this race.

28. Gratitude and appreciation.

27. This is a GIFT. 

26. If (or when) the pain comes, breath. Just ask Trevor. Pictured above. Most likely, it will pass. Remain in your game plan. Stay calm.

25. Often times the worst bits are only temporary. Try to focus on your form.

24. Lift you knees, keep your back straight. Keep your head up. Arms tucked to your body.

23. Smile.

22. You got this. Keep going.

21. What I do is save my music for the second half of the race. I don’t even turn it on until 25K.

20. And then I have to be careful not to speed up too early. Again, everything is about remaining in control.

19. So break the race is broken down into sections. You don’t have to run a full half marathon. It’s just a little more than four 5Ks.

18. And you’ve run plenty of those.

17. See, it’s easier if you have little goals along the way to your big goal. You want the race to remain easy for as long as possible.

16. It’s nice if you have friends along the course cheering for you, but everyone gathered is here for the same thing. This is a friendly environment. Add to it.

15. High five a kid.

14. Other than maybe karaoke — and that’s a big maybe — when else will there be people applauding you? Drink it in.

13. It will give you FINISH LINE energy.

12. As you get closer to the finish, dig in.

11. Ever see my 9-year-old (pictured below) run a race and see the ending? He takes off like a horse hearing fireworks.

10. Channel that compulsive energy.

9. Leave nothing on the course. When you’re less than five kilometres from the finish line, this is when the race begins.

8. Remember your mantra. Remember when you bought those expensive shoes. Remember downloading Free Bird.

7. Now is when training is over and heart kicks in.

6. Pass someone. Passing people will wake you up and make you competitive and get those motors turned all the way on.

5. It becomes addictive. Do it, then again — do it once more.

4. Now you’re approaching the finish line. Now you hear cheers and yelling. Now you’re approaching the end.

3. Go, baby, go!

2. Arms up in the air when you cross that line, and keep moving as you make your way beneath the timer and through the chute.

1. Load up on bagels and bananas and drink the coolest water of your life, you did it. You finished. You conquered.

00000. You won.

-1. Now sign up for your next race, and do the whole wonderful thing over again. You’re a runner. This is fun.

Top photograph of Ben Flanagan, and picture of Trevor Hofbauer, by Victah Sailor. Other photographs courtesy of the Calgary Marathon, Stacey Munro (Go Stacey!) and Sporting Life 10K.  


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