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Tips to Hack Your Next Running Event

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

This article is designed to be used for organized distance runs of 5K through Half Marathon. I had these course lengths in mind while I organized the information. This is a compilation of helpful tips my friends and I have learned from signing up for numerous runs. It presupposes that you have put in the work to train your body and your mind in the weeks and months leading up to the event itself. Use this guide for small logistical hacks to up your game. Note: Marathons are a behemoth that I have not yet tackled and, as such, I don’t feel qualified to comment on them just yet! Check back after this Fall when I aim to complete my first! [Space Coast Marathon, Cocoa, FL - 11/25/2023]

My wake-up alarm cuts through the dulcet silence of the dark hotel room. Pulled from a dream and the warm covers, I stifle a groan and silence my phone. In my head I can still hear the aggressive “blaring warning siren” tone that I use when I absolutely MUST get up on time. Whoever designed that tone must have been some sort of masochist. 5am, you sure came early. It's race day. Let's go.

I am a runner. I’m not particularly fast. Almost daily, I have to push past the nagging negative voice in my head to get started…but, luckily for me, the requisite for being a runner is simply that I run. Every day I methodically lace up my shoes and set out, knowing that I will need to carry myself back over the same length of distance I travel out. The goal is to center my mind, and to perhaps be a little bit better than the day before. I attempt to derive strength from the knowledge that I run alongside every version of me that has done this in the days leading up to this one. Occasionally I'll sign up for an organized running event, either to raise money a good cause, to get together with friends, or to push myself to a new distance. If you want to get down with this same kind of special pain, here are some tips that might just help make your next running event a little smoother.

1-6 months before the race...

Pick your race thoughtfully.

Events can be so different. Read reviews! Choose a course with a difficulty you’re looking for. Consider the location, environment, weather forecast, terrain, and time of year. Even the size and scale of the race will contribute to the overall atmospher. Bigger races can have more cheering spectators and bands, which might be a welcome distraction. Smaller scale races might feel more intimate or less overwhelming. Is there any street or city you'd love to run through while its temporarily deserted? Racers can gain access to typically crowded or inaccessible locations. Choose a theme or cause that's meaningful to you, or select a run that gives you a great beer at the end. Sites like Running In the USA have customizable filters to find your ideal venue.

Run in the right shoes for your feet.

You'll want to defer to the professionals on this one. There are a ton of different shoes on the market, and it could be tempting to fall for a pair because you like the way they look. Check out your local running store, and someone there can help you analyze your stride to pick shoes that can optimize your experience. You can test the shoes out on an in-stead treadmill, or a quick jog around the block. (Shout out to Vic at Delaware Running Company who is always so adept at helping me find exactly what I need. Everyone, get yourself a Vic!) You may want a couple pairs to alternate in your training. Be sure to break them in before race day for optimal performance and minimal blistering. The shoes should be broken in within 5-10 miles. And don't worry, the style you end up loving probably also comes in a color you like!

Anyone take photos of their new shoes, like they're a weird

looking kid only a mother could love? Just me? Carry on...

1 week - 2 days before the race...

Bring a buddy to packet pickup.

When you sign up for a an organized race, you'll recieve instructions to pick up your bib, pins, t-shirt, and any other pertinent items before the race has begun (typically a day or two prior to the event). Packet pickup can be a little overwhelming. Everyone from the race will likely be descending on the same location in a small window of time. Bring a buddy! They can hop out and get in line while you look for parking. Once inside, one of you can go for t-shirts while the other waits for bibs. It helps make the experience a little smoother. There is usually protocol to pick up bibs for friends, so if your picking up for someone or letting them pick up for you, make sure you have contacted the race organizer and complied with any requirements before you arrive.

Monitor your training.

There's not a lot of room for cramming when it comes to run training. As mentioned in the intro, this article pre-supposes that you've followed a protocol in the months leading up to race day to prime your body and mind. Don't push your body to its limits within two days of your run, because it will leave you sore and depleted the morning of the race. Distance runs put your body into a state of repair, so once you get within a day or two "save it for the starting line". Prioritize good fuel and good rest over overexerting yourself the day before.

The night before the race...

Pay attention to your last meal.

Races typically kick off first thing in the morning, so its safe to say that what you put in your body the evening before will be the fuel your body uses for the run. Don't consume a lot of sugar or stimulants that will cause your sleep to be disrupted. This also means skip the alcohol. It is popular to eat a meal rich in protein and some carbohydrates (like pasta) so that your body has something substantial to burn in the morning. Don't overdo it -- what goes in must come out at some point! The morning of, I usually opt for black coffee + collagen, some water, and any run supplements I'll be having. Check out companies like 6AM Run Nutrition need inspiration on how to if you fuel your race with supplements in a healthy way.

Create your morning checklist.

This one is so important. Before you go to sleep, create and set out your morning checklist. You'll have a lot on your mind in the morning, and so remembering something small like safety pins for your bib, and extra pair of dry socks, or sunglasses could slip your mind, with big implications later. Remove all the guesswork for your future self, and write out every single thing you will need for the morning. Bib, hat, sunscreen, goo, hair ties. Curate your running playlist if you want one. Charge every device you'll be using. Sit your list on top of the outfit you plan to wear. Over the last few years, I have customized my own checklist. Send me a message if you want a copy of the one I use and I'll email it over to you!

The day of the race...

Nothing new on race day!

The morning of your race is NOT the time to experiment with a new outfit or gadget. Everything you use and wear should be tested and worn-in at least a few times before your event (especially your shoes, see #2). This tip extends to things you might not think of: earbuds, sunglasses, pants, pre-workout supplement. You want your body to be able to fall into a rhythm on the course, and if your skin is being chaffed or irritated by a brand new shirt, its apt to drive you crazy and drive down your results.

Graphic case in point:

That's not ink...

Don't worry. His nipples grew back eventually. But we all learned an important lesson that day: Don't run a half marathon in a shirt you've never tried before. The fabric was too new, and the fit was just a little too big, and it bred a situation where there was a tony of micro-movements that cut his skin as he ran. Yikes.

Have a parking plan.

Nothing blows a post-race runner's buzz more than....wandering around aimlessly, pressing your key fob in an effort to find your vehicle. Add rain to the mix for a bit of extra trauma. Go into the day with a parking plan: When you arrive, snap a photo of where you leave the car. You should determine a rendezvous spot away from the finish line itself where runners and supporters in your group can find one another at the end. Don't always count on cell service, because its often poor in the large crowd. Pick a distinctive gathering point on the grounds that will be easy for everyone to find in the melee. Finally, if the race ends in a different place than it begins (i.e. not an out-and-back) its a great idea to have at least one vehicle in the group park at the end point for easier return.

Go pee beforehand.

This one may seem pretty straight-forward. Let's not make this harder than it has to be. (And if you just responded with "That's what she said", we could probably be friends.) The lines for bathrooms are usually crazy long, even from the beginning of the morning. Seems like you have a few options: pee before you get there, plan to be in line for awhile, or get comfortable with sneaking off an peeing behind a bush.

Plan to get there early.

The only thing you'll want to focus on is your performance. Get in place as early as possible, so that you can mitigate any variables outside of your control. While you wait, keep moving. Stretch, get your blood pumping, and do some warm up laps so you're nice any limber. You got this! Remember, this is what you've been training for, and the event itself is often easier than the months of training.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card you get. You just run.”

John Bingham

So what did you think? Please share some of your race stories and tips of your own! We can always learn from each other and be better. Thanks so much for reading.

- A

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I just love your down to earth assessment of what a runner needs to do to be optimally prepared! Oh, dang, that picture of the blood stains on the jersey! 😩 You're such a great inspiration and beacon for anyone with aspirations to improve themselves to follow!

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