Preparing for a race takes time. There are lots of moving parts that need to be managed in order for the day to go as smoothly as possible. Using the experiences of athletes and coaches, we’ve put together this list for you to ease the mental stress and keep everything on track so that your can have your best race yet!
Before the race
6 months before
Find a race that suits you.
Things to consider:
The terrain available for you to train on. i.e. Taking a crack at the Ouray 100 probably isn’t something most first timers from the southeastern coast would consider. All the power to you if you are one of them, though.
The climate you’ll be training in. Will you need heat training, cold training, or elevation training to do the race well? I.e., the Pacific northwest gets lots of rain. Will you be able to train for a potentially rainy race day? Phoenix is a furnace in the summer. The eastern states are humid in the summer. Eastern state trails may have lots of roots, while western state trails may have lots of rock.
Do you like loops, point-to-point, or out and backs?
How often will you want to see crew? For some races it will be frequent opportunities, others, there are hours between.
Book any travel that is necessary. Save yourself the stress of last minute bookings and the inflated prices that usually go along with it. Pro-tip - Southwest flies two bags for free, plus a carry on, plus a personal item. That’s a lot of your race gear, if not all of it. Also, AirBNB may offer additional conveniences vs. a hotel, including location, a kitchen, and laundry.
Know your training needs. What is your current fitness level? Have you trained for this distance before? Do you know how to train efficiently? Do you have any business or personal travel that may interfere with training during the six weeks or so leading up to the race?
Request time off from work early. It is important to make sure that this takes management’s precedence over so-and-so’s request to attend the regional underwater basketweaving contest. You don’t want to miss out for that.
Find your pacers/crew. The earlier you start, the easier it is to find one before somebody else asks them, or before they build plans of their own.
3 months before
Begin to study the race or the route.
Begin training in the clothes you will race in.
Begin writing your pacer/crew anticipated needs.
Do you plan to change clothes at all? What aid stations will need which clothes?
Know what foods taste good and when. Your tastebuds get more sensitive to sweets as the day progresses; those Swedish Fish and Oreos might not be as interesting at 7pm as they were at 10am. Similarly, soups and salts are a good bet for later in the day/night. Have a mental plan for eating before the race so decision making is easier during the race.
Start training with similar foods as to what will be on the course.
(optional) Try to get on the actual race course. Think about what you’ll need on various segments on race day.
1 month before
Break in your race shoes. We recommend trying to put about 50 miles on your race shoes before the race. Do not change up your shoe model right before the race! This is a really good way to get injured since shoes can differ in the amount of heel-to-toe drop, stiffness, stack, roominess, weight, etc. A little bit of change makes a lot of difference over many miles. You might also consider elastic laces in your shoes to keep them from becoming untied, and make swapping them out much faster.
Optimize your daily schedule. Sleep, nutrition, etc.
Send your crew/pacers your race day schedule/needs. Consider which pacer you want at various times of the race. Is one person more social than another? Will that sociableness help you or make you lose focus of the race? Is one person better on certain terrain?
We recommend letting your pacers know not to take anything personal. A race, especially one that goes through the night, involves lots of emotions. It’s likely that during the race you’ll be grumpy or in a low spot. Let them know that they are still appreciated regardless of how things go.
Your caloric intake is probably increasing in this time, if not earlier than now. This is GOOD. Since your peak week is likely taking place at about this time, your body is demanding more nutrients to build itself and recover.
Upload any needed GPX files to your GPS watch.
1 week before
Pack your stuff! Here is a race day checklist to make sure you’ve got it all!
Pack your vest if you plan to use one.
Pack finish line drop bags. Include things like baby wipes, a toothbrush, face towel, spare clothes, a jacket,
Race day visualization practices.
Pack all aid station drop bags. If your race needs a headlamp, make sure you leave one out for the starting line for yourself, and pack one to pick up on the course.
Know your transportation plans if the race ends at a different place than the start. Where will you meet your ride after?
You may have put on a little bit of weight - perhaps a couple of pounds or so. This is GOOD. With each gram of carbohydrate, your body stores about 3-4 grams of water. You will need these carbohydrate stores to make it through the race, in the same way that you will need proper hydration to avoid bonking.
Cut your toenails to avoid losing them. Miles and miles of your toe/nails hitting the front of your shoes can lead to them turning black and blue, to the point of your toenails falling off. If however you do lose a toenail, consider it a trophy, you badass.
The day before
Set out all of your race gear.
Pin your bib. We suggest pinning your bib to your shorts. If you are running an an ultra, your vest will work in most cases as well. It is more likely you’ll change a shirt during the race (and therefore have to swap out the bib), so this could be a time saver.
Set out your race day breakfast the night before.
Take your personal time. Don’t be afraid to tell your crew that you need your own time. They should understand that your brain will be “running” the race and you need to keep your focus.
Go to bed early. Pre-race nerves are a usually culprit to lost sleep.
Breakfast! This should be a simple breakfast that you are used to eating. Eat enough to be satisfied, but not gorged and bloated.
Poop. Yeah, you read that right. Drop the kids off at the wave pool. Drink something warm, do a few jumping jacks, do a few leg-lifts… whatever you need to get the colon rollin’ before the starting line. Duplicate this one as many times as needed in the days before. That lightweighted feel on race day is amazing. You can thank us later.
Put on an anti-chafe. To put it quite bluntly, your armpits, upper thighs, unspeakables, and clavicle are likely to going to need it. Similarly, band-aids on nipples will keep you from bleeding in places that you really don’t want to. Moving on…
After the race
Within the hour
Hydrate + Food. Understandably, food might not sound good. At all. Period. Still, try to attempt to get something down, especially with salts, electrolytes, and proteins. Focus on healthier foods first before you decide to go crush that XXXL double cheese Chicago style with extra garlic sauce and the race-sponsor imperial IPA.
Within the day
Sleep a full night.
Elevate your legs
Ice bath for 10-15 minutes
Keep your milage down. You should absolutely be focused on some rest time. If your legs are tired or sore, you may take a walk to loosen them up and shake out some of the soreness.
Sleep full nights and take naps as necessary. Your body repairs muscles most efficiently as you sleep.
Roll to break down any sore muscle tissue. Follow this up with elevating your legs with a few pillows.
Continue to focus on hydration and healthy foods.
Days 8 - 30
EASE back in to running. It is unlikely that you will feel fresh in the days or weeks following your race. It is a process! Full recovery from an ultramarathon can take multiple weeks to over a month. Your adrenal system, immune system, and muscular system are all pieces of the overall recovery equation, and will take different amounts of time to reach full recovery.
Consider a thank you gift/card for your crew and or pacers. Generally speaking, they’ll do it out of kindness, so you don’t need anything huge. The thought certainly counts, and everybody is a bit different.
We hope this information helps you train for and have the best race yet! We would love to hear some comments on how you tailor these points to your situation, or if you have any other suggestions. See you out there!