If you’re like me you’ve spent days, weeks, and months training hard to funnel all your training into one small block of time or, maybe just one race. It’s a lot of trial and error in what to do the days leading up to a big race weekend. The final two days are very important. They won’t make you but they can break you. The final meals, workouts, equipment checks, mental preparations and logistics you do in this window have a major impact on how race days pans out. Here is my countdown checklist of things to do in the final two days to ensure I get the most out of the hard training I’ve done the past 6 months.
48:00 – Complete my run with 6-8x100meter strides
Your two days out so your run should be relatively easy not to carry lingering fatigue over to race morning. However, it should include a dash of speed to keep the nervous system sharp for competition. There are numerous ways to do this. My example works for me. Some of my runners like to do 1:00 on 1:00 off through their run to sprinkle in some speed. The strides shouldn’t be taxing, just enough to increase heart and breathing rate a bit. Most likely it’s the same speed you’d use to cross a crosswalk when oncoming traffic is getting the green light.
47:00 – Begin carb-loading
According to what I’ve researched the overwhelming conclusion is that one day of very high carbohydrate intake is sufficient enough to maximize muscle glycogen stores. It takes some time and work to consume the amount of carbs to maximize glycogen stores. Most would say its 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. Therefore, I like to spread it out over two days and the best time to start is in the short window right after your workout when your muscles are most receptive to glucose. To get in 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight be sure to consume high-carb foods and beverages at every meal. Some of my go-to’s are oatmeal and O.J., Slim-Fast, Ensure, and any type of pasta.
47:00-39:00 – Relax, recovery, stay off your feet
I actually plan this out. Nap, catch up on some reading, and go over your race-day itinerary. Avoid any unnecessary time on your feet today. For a lot of people this day will be spent in the car or plane traveling. Save the sight-seeing for afterwards. This is a business trip until the finish line then you can let your hair down. Hot or cold event doesn’t matter, stay hydrated. Doesn’t mean you have to chug water bottle after water bottle. Just have it wherever you go and sip on it all day.
31:00 – Get a good night’s sleep
Growing up, in high school, I used to take Nyquil to put me to sleep the night before a race because I was so hyped up. I had it all backwards! Two nights out is the most important night of rest. Getting adequate sleep is critical to endurance performance all the time but even more important the final few days leading up to a big race. My rule of thumb – a week out from the race try to get into bed 10 minutes earlier than I did the night before. Six days later you’re in bed an hour earlier. Giving you an extra hour of rest. Don’t worry about getting eight hours of shuteye the night before. Being nervous is okay. You’re fit and ready to roll, if you aren’t nervous something is wrong with you.
22:00 – Day before easy workout
This goes without saying that this is a short and easy workout. Sometimes I’ll still do a few strides just to wake up the nervous system and body. Especially if I traveled that morning or didn’t get in until late the night before. This workout usually relieves mental and physical tension.
21:00-10:00 – Don’t forget to continue carbo-loading
Maintain your high carb diet throughout the day. Always choose foods you’ve had before. Now is not the time to try a new type of pasta or sauce just because you are in Dallas and heard about the great reviews. It could come back to haunt you! What works for me is a late lunch for my last big plate of pasta and then a nice walk around town or through the expo and the something light that night for supper. I’ve always thought pasta for supper left me feeling heavy the next morning. Just remember, don’t experiment!
20:00 – Go through your checklist and get your race day bag together
Ever show up at a race and forget your shoes? I have! Most racers have. This is why I usually plan my race day bag at home and don’t touch it again until race morning. I do go through it when I check into my hotel room, usually midday the day before, to double check things and put my race number on my jersey. If I did forget something, going through it midday allows me enough time to go back to expo or local running store to buy whatever it was that I forgot. I still use a race day checklist when I put my race day bag together.
Don’t wait until race morning to check it. Race morning logistics can be a pain, especially if you aren’t prepared. I worry about enough as is. By making a solid race morning plan that includes wakeup call and routine, breakfast, a car/walking route to start line and who’s taking my gear, I minimize the hassle and anxiety that comes with race mornings.
9:00 – Visualize your race
I think this is huge and it shouldn’t start the night before. If it’s my “A” of “A” races I’ve been thinking about how the race unfolds for months now, every day, every run. Mental visualization is a powerful tool of psychological preparation for a race. If you get anxious thinking about the race I recommend doing this in the afternoon. I like to do it after tucking away into bed. It’s quite, I can close my eyes. Visualize how you want the race to go, feeling springy, sharp, fast, and the effortlessness you’ve experienced in some of your workouts. Block negative thoughts. Think about getting out fast and comfortable, challenging sections of the course, running tangents, when you begin to push for the finish, passing people, the list goes on. Don’t complete your mental rehearsal race free of fatigue, that’s dreaming not visualization. Rather see yourself fighting through the fatigue and discomfort and reaching a new level.
3:00 – Wake up early
Sometimes my schedule only allows me to get up early and run at 4am and I feel awful every time. Because of the relationship between your circadian rhythm and exercise it is nearly impossible to reach a state of optimal performance within a couple hours of waking up. So allow time for your body to get up to speed. I typically wake up, shower and sit on the end of my bed tapping my foot, watching TV, wondering why I got up so early anyways. Which leads me into my next topic.
2:45-2:30 – Eat your pre-race meal
Your pre-race nutrition is more important than sleep at this point, so your high-carb pre-race breakfast is another reason to wake up early, allowing you time to consume and digest it before the gun goes off. Just to be sure and top off the glycogen stores try to down 75-100 grams of carbohydrates between 2:30 and 3:00 out or half of that within two hours of race start.
2:15 – Got all your gear, still?
Things happen. Before you leave the home or hotel, go through your gear checklist again. You might have most of it on at this point. Don’t forget your jersey or your bib number. Do you have trainers and racing flats, gels, water bottle, and your watch? Might as well pee one last time before leaving your personal bathroom. The Port-a-Potty line is notorious for being long at the starting line.
0:30 – Warm up thoroughly
Depending on what you’re racing distance is will determine how long you warm-up. Obviously a 5k warm-up should be different than a marathon warm-up. My rule of thumb is the shorter the race, the longer the warm-up. Be sure to start with some easy jogging, go through your dynamic stretches and then, if you have them, put on your racing shoes and get a few short runs in at race pace.
0:00 – Toe the Line
Feel relaxed and ready. Go after it!
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