I was asked recently if I have a pre-race routine. The runner who asked was wondering if I always eat the same pre-race dinner. I don’t, but I have other pre-race routines. This is suddenly on my mind because most of my pre-race and post-race routines assume my race is in the morning.
Most races start in the morning, usually between 6 and 8 AM. I’ve done a few races in hot climates that have start times as early as 5 AM. There are also a few large races that start as late as noon. The Boston Marathon used to have a noon start, although the first wave now starts at 10 AM. Races like Boston and New York City bus you to the start as much as three hours before the race, so you still get up fairly early to catch the bus.
This weekend I’m a doing the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Marathon. This race starts at 4:30 PM, so you can run down Las Vegas Blvd. (a.k.a. “The Strip”) at night. Starting so late in the day changes all my routines. They’re all based on the assumption that I’ll be running early in the day.
Most people eat a pasta dinner the night before a race. I used to do this, but now I pay attention to how much I eat, rather than what I eat. I happen to like Italian food, so pasta works for me if that’s what other people want.
If you’re really serious about “carbo-loading,” you should start a few days before the race. Your pre-race dinner may still be working its way through your digestive system when you start running in the morning. To me, the main purpose of my pre-race dinner is to eat enough that I can skip breakfast without feeling hungry in the morning. Rather than eat specific foods, I avoid certain types of foods. I don’t want to eat anything too heavy or anything that’s likely to upset my digestive system.
I used to skip breakfast entirely, but now I have a cup of tea and something light, like a Pop-Tart. Nutritionally, I’d be fine skipping breakfast, but I find that getting some food in my stomach helps “wake up” my digestive system. Ideally, I like to empty out as much as possible before I leave for the race. If I can’t do that, I’ll do my business in a port-o-potty before the race. Worst case is to have to make a stop during the race. I try to avoid that if at all possible.
This weekend, I’ll be able to eat a full breakfast. I can also eat lunch. I’m used to doing training runs in the late afternoon, so this will be similar to a training day. As long as I don’t eat too big of a lunch, I’ll be OK.
My usually pre-race routine includes getting to bed as early as I can. I almost always need to wake up early, so I’m hard-pressed to get a full night’s sleep. I figure out what time I need to leave my hotel room to get to the start early enough. Then I set my alarm an hour before that. I always have tight hamstrings, so I need to take a bath and stretch before the race. Even if all my clothes are set out the night before, it’s hard to be ready in less than an hour.
Having enough time won’t be a problem in Las Vegas. I don’t have to go to bed early. In fact, I‘m better off staying up late. I also don’t need to get up early. The later I sleep, the better. If I’m up too early, I may get tired later in the day. I won’t finish running until about 8 PM. Ideally, I should sleep in, eat a full breakfast and spend the rest of the morning doing something relaxing. I don’t have to get ready for the race until after lunch. If anything, I have too much time. By afternoon, my muscles may tighten up again. I’ll probably have to do some extra stretching.
I’m leading a pace group, so I’ll need to get to the start area early. That may throw off my pre-race schedule a little. In particular, my last opportunity to use a bathroom may be an hour or more before the race. I need to be careful not to over-hydrate.
Most of us take for granted that it will warm up during a race. When you get up, the temperature is near the overnight low. It may warm up a few degrees before the race, but it will still be much cooler before the race than it will be later in the day. I usually worry about having the right clothes to keep me warm until I start running. I usually wear extra clothes to the start area and then discard them before the race. If I’m checking a gear bag, I try to wait as long as possible before heading to the start corrals.
Once I start running, it’s easier to stay warm. If anything, I have to worry about getting too warm later in the race. At my last two races, it was in the 30s before the race, but warmed into the 60s by the time I finished.
A couple years ago, I did the Run for the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, MO. That race is in late December, so there’s a shorter period of daylight. The race didn’t start until the early afternoon. We didn’t have to worry about it being dark before the race, but I noticed the temperature was dropping in the second half of the race. People who took longer to finish had to worry about finishing before it got dark.
For my Las Vegas race, it’s going to be about 60 degrees when I’m lining up to start. That’s kind of convenient. I can line up sooner without getting cold. Once I start running, the temperature will gradually drop. It will probably be closer to 50 when I finish. It will also be dark. Not having any sunlight will make it feel colder. I’ll need warm clothes in a gear bag for after the race.
When a race starts in the morning, I usually finish before noon. If there are post-race snacks, they usually take the place of lunch. After I get back to my hotel, I’ll take another bath and take my time stretching. If the hotel has a whirlpool, I may go there to loosen up my legs. I’ll also work on my legs with a massage stick. It’s often mid-afternoon before I’m dressed and ready to go out again. Instead of a late lunch, I usually wait a few more hours and refuel with a large dinner.
I won’t finish this race until 8 PM. If it takes a long time to leave the finish area, it could be 9 PM before I get back to the hotel. Obviously, I’ll be having dinner much later than usual. Even if I eat a quick dinner at a restaurant in our hotel, I’ll be getting to bed much later than usual. I’ll be surprised if I get to bed before midnight.
It’s amazing how much our pre-race and post-race routines depend on things we take for granted. Mine assume that I’ll start getting ready as soon as I wake up. A later start is convenient, but when it’s too late, everything changes.