Race day dos and don’ts

Ensure race day goes smoothly, with our guide of what to do (and not do!) when you hit that start line

Mitch Diamond / Getty

You've found your perfect event, followed your training plan and done your strength training to get ready for race day. Now don't let all your hard work go down the pan by getting flustered and making rookie race-day errors! Instead, check out our race-day dos and don'ts, to ensure you cross that start line (and finish line!) with a smile on your face…

What not to do on race day…

DON'T: leave everything until race-day morning
On the morning of your race, you don’t want to waste a single moment worrying about what to wear or how to get there. Plan your race day strategy to a T in advance and you’ll be considerably more relaxed in the run-up to race day. Write a definitive list of what you need several days in advance and lay out your kit the night before so you can get dressed without thinking. All you want to worry about on the day is your feet versus the open road.

DON'T: eat anything different
If you've eaten a bowl of porridge every morning before your training runs, now is not the time to go crazy and opt for a nut butter and jam sandwich instead. Yes, it might be equally good as running fuel, but if your body isn't used to it before a long run, don't try it. When it comes to race-day nutrition, sticking to everything you've tried and tested during training is paramount… unless you want to risk unscheduled loo stops en route. Ditto energy drinks, gels or other mid-race fuel.

DON'T: trim your toenails
If you vigorously trim your toenails the morning of race day (or even the night before) they’re going to sting like mad by mile six, but if you leave them too long they’ll start to smart by mile 20. Make sure you’re groomed and ready to run several days before your big race.

DON'T: stress too much about lack of sleep the night before
Yes, of course, adequate sleep is vital before race day. But what with those pesky pre-race jitters, you might find you don't sleep all that well the night before a big event. Don't panic. As long as you've slept well in the nights previously, you'll be well rested enough to set off at the start line with bags of energy.

DON'T: wear new kit (especially running shoes)
Possibly one of the most common newbie race-day errors is to save your best kit for race day, to ensure it's pristine and box fresh. Don't do it! Training in the kit you plan to wear on race day is vital, to ensure maximum comfort and minimal chafing. This is most important when it comes to footwear: the last thing you want to discover two miles in is that your brand new running shoes rub your heels or pinch your toes. Always opt for gear you know and love.

DON'T: line up in the wrong starting pen
It's so tempting, isn't it, to creep forwards into a pen that's closer to the start line? But sticking to the pen you've been assigned based on your predicted finish time is important: it means that not only will you be out of the way of faster runners, but that you won't be tempted to try to keep up with them – a tactic that could throw your whole race-day plan off course.

DON'T: drink too much water
If it's a warm day, a long race or both, it can be tempting to drink at every water station, in a bid to ward off dehydration. However, over-drinking actually carries with it the risk of hyponaetramia (where the sodium in your blood becomes too diluted), which can be dangerous (even fatal). A good (and simple) rule of thumb is to drink according to thirst – it's a strategy that will not only negate additional toilet stops, but could also keep you safe.

What to do on race day…

DO: check the weather in the morning
Unexpected weather conditions could be the difference between a PB and third degree burns, so plan your all-weather gear well in advance. It can be chilly on a spring or autumn morning, so bring an old jumper to wear in the start pen (one you're happy to ditch as the start gun goes off – some races them collect these and donate to charity). If it's raining, you don't want to be soaked through before you've even started, so the old trick of wearing a bin bag (with head and arm holes) can be a good way to stay dry on the start line. And if there’s even a hint of balmy weather, apply sweat-resistant sun cream liberally.

DO: run your own race
As the gun goes off and you cross that start line, it can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement and get dragged along with the pack. After all, your legs are feeling fresh, you've been waiting for what feels like forever and you're full of nervous energy. But remember, it doesn't matter how fast anyone else is running – stick to the pace you've planned and trained for. It will see you in good stead later on.

DO: walk when you need to
Contrary to popular belief, if you have to walk a little bit on race day, the running Gods won't strike you down with great vengeance. In fact, taking short walk breaks can be very beneficial, helping you conserve energy and reducing the impact running has on your legs. Planning a run/walk strategy for race day is a good idea if you're particularly nervous about running a new distance and can be especially beneficial for runners new to longer distances, such as marathons.

DO: soak up the atmosphere!
After spending months training, don’t forget to have fun on race day! After all, what’s the point in dedicating all those valuable weekends to this race, if you're so in the zone (or nervous) that you fail to notice the amazing atmosphere? Race day is the moment where you get to celebrate all your training effort, so soak up those cheers and high-fives from the crowds… you deserve them!

DO: smile for the cameras
You might not always spot them, but they'll be there, hidden in among the crowds: photographers. There to capture your moment of glory, in a few weeks' time your inbox will be full of pictures of your sweaty, gurning mug. To avoid looking like you've hated the entire experience (even if, at points, you have!), do your race album justice and smile for the cameras. Smiling also releases endorphins and serotonin, so you’ll enjoy the race even more if you wear a grin.

DO: pack a savoury snack for the finish
After a race – especially if it's a half marathon or longer – you're going to need to fuel up once you've crossed the finish line. And if you've been taking on sugary energy drinks and gels during the race, you may find your body craves something savoury now. Good post-race snacks include a handful of mixed nuts or a peanut butter sandwich.

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