6 Tips for Racing a 5k or 10k

Here are some tips to help you make the best of your running race and cross the finish line knowing you gave it your all. 

Brock Armstrong,

Photo of a running race

After all that training, those early morning treadmill sessions, those late-night foam rolling maneuvers, and all that blood sweat and tears, the last thing you want to do is mess up your race by arriving at the start line unprepared. Here are six tips to help you make the most of the race.

#1. The day before.

The meals that you eat the day before the race are the fuels that your body will mostly be using the morning of the race. So, avoid having a dinner that is loaded with too much fiber and protein. Choose something that is easily digested and includes a carbohydrate like sweet potato, yam, or rice, an iron-rich dark leafy green or cruciferous vegetables like steamed spinach or broccoli, and a moderate amount of a basic protein, like a small piece of roasted chicken or baked salmon. My go-to dinner is a salad made of steamed kale, rice, boiled sweet potato, baked (or canned) salmon, and a bit of avocado. 

Huge piles of pasta the night before the race is not how you carb load.

Lunch the day before the race is the meal that I really like my athletes to focus on. Although “carb-loading” is a very different thing from what we think it is (huge piles of pasta the night before the race is not how you carb load), having your bigger meal earlier in the day means that you have more time for it to—ahem—leave your system before the race. 

To prime your body and get your legs ready for the effort the next day, go out for an easy and relatively short run. Make sure to throw in some race-pace surges. This is a variation of a technique called potentiation. Potentiation is defined as "a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction." Between this and the mental aspect of simply getting out for a run, the butterflies in your tummy should take a bit of a break and let you have a restful remainder of the day. Spend that time foam rolling, gently stretching and laying out your race gear so you don't forget any key items. 

#2. Race morning meal?

OK honestly, if you don’t like the idea of waking up way too early to eat breakfast, rest assured that you really don’t need to eat anything at all for a race this short—as long as you had that decent lunch and dinner the day before. If you get hungry while you are on the way to the start line, eat half a banana (or something similar) 15-20 minutes before the event starts and you’ll be fine. Sip on same water and if you are a coffee drinker, have a big cup of that. Caffeine is an ergogenic aid and can also—ahem, again—help you in the bathroom as well.

Race morning is not the time to try something new!

If you don’t mind getting up super-duper early, then make sure to finish your breakfast at least two hours (better yet, three) before the race starts. Breakfast doesn’t need to be fancy. Just some simple carbohydrates (like the leftover sweet potato from the night before) are perfect. Or a banana and a small amount of almond butter. Choose something you are comfortable and familiar with. Morning of a race is not the time to try something new!

#3. Warm-up (and warm-up well).

The perfect warm-up starts with some full body movement like sun salutations, then moves on to a series of arm-swings and leg-swings in all directions, and finishes with 5-10 minutes of easy aerobic jogging, with three or four hard 30-second sprint-like efforts (that get you breathing hard) thrown in. While you are standing in your corral you can do some small two-foot bunny hops which again plays into that potentiation idea. 

Doing a thorough warm-up like this allows you to start the run at a rocking pace. Plus, the temperature can often be a little chilly at the start line of these early morning races, and this extra activity will help keep your muscles warm, supple, and ready to set a new personal record.


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