Fall race season (the best race season!) is finally back, and it feels even better after a year of mostly virtual races. Seasoned runners and first-time racers will toe the starting lines for their fall races in coming weeks, and the excitement is building.
After months of training for your upcoming 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your work with a last-minute mistake. Below are common runner slip-ups you might make in the week leading up to race day, or race day itself, that you should be careful to avoid.
And if you've done these before, don't sweat it. Runners of all ages and levels have suffered the consequences of these mistakes – in 16 years of running, I've done them all!
Trying the new gel brand you just bought: You may have heard the saying, "nothing new on race day," and this especially applies to nutrition. You don't know how your body will react to a new food, and race day is a risky time to try. If you've done all your training runs with Gu gels, race day isn't the time to try Honey Stinger waffles. It's crucial to train with the gels, chews, or other snacks you plan to carry the day of a race – if something is going to make you feel crampy or nauseous, you'd rather know beforehand.
On the same note, it helps to eat familiar foods the night before, and morning of, the race. Test a few dinners and breakfasts before your long training runs to learn what works best for you.
Wearing new gear: "Nothing new on race day" also applies to the shoes, sports bra, shorts, and other gear you wear. Your race day outfit should include clothes you've worn on several test runs and that you know won't chafe, ride up, or fall down. If you're planning to wear a SPIbelt to hold a phone, gels, or other essentials, be sure you bring that on training runs as well!
Leaving things to the last minute: In the weeks leading up to race day, you're only thinking about the run – but there are other logistics to consider too. Check the race website for packet pick-up instructions so you know whether to get your race bib the day before the race, or the day of. The night before, lay out your clothes and shoes, plan your breakfast, and know your transportation. Your future self will be grateful for a less-stressful race morning.
Failing to check the course: Does your race have a lot of hills, or is it mostly flat? Does it start and end in two different places? Where are the aid stations, if any? The answers to these questions can inform your race day plan and help you decide how much nutrition to bring, where to expect a big hill, and where to have friends or family meet you at the finish.
Sprinting at the start: When the race-day adrenaline is pumping, and the runners around you are getting off to a fast start, it can be tough to maintain a sustainable pace. You might feel good at first, but it's never a good idea to start out faster than your regular pace. Instead, stick with the pace you're used to and accelerate in the second half, if your energy is still high.
And finally, remember that even if you check all the right boxes, eat all the right foods, and nail every part of your race day prep, the race may not go as planned. And that's ok! Not every race will be your best race. The most important thing is to get out there and give it your best shot.
Have a great race!