What are the most important things to do the day before a race? If you’re feeling a mix of excitement, nerves, and a whole bunch of “What should I do?” vibes, you’re in the right place. I’ve been around the block as a runner and coach, and I’m here to spill the beans on how to make the most of the day before your marathon (or any other distance).
Why is the eve of the marathon such a big deal? It’s the final chapter of your training saga. All those early morning runs, strength training sessions, and maybe a few blisters – it’s all led to this moment.
I’m going to reference the marathon a lot, mostly because that’s when you start to have the most freakouts and come looking for last minute reassurance. But keep in mind, all of these tips can be helpful regardless of whether you’re running a 5k or a marathon or somewhere in between or beyond.
Now let’s get on with some of my top tips for what to do the day before a race!
What to Do Race Week?
Before we talk about specifics of the day before, let’s hit on a few things for race week in general.
1. Pack Your Bags
Depending on the location of your race, you may need to pack more than if it’s a local race, but in either scenario we’re doing a final gear check to make sure everything is clean, fuel is ready, etc.
Heading off on a vacation race? You’ll want to make a list, check it twice, and pack in advance so you’re not scrambling at the last minute and more likely to forget something. Trust me, I know people who have forgotten their shoes!
Plan for all kinds of weather. The forecast might say sunny, but you could wake up race morning to pouring rain. It’s always good to be prepared.
Even if your race is local, you might want to pack a gear check bag. This bag might have items for after the race like a fresh set of clothes and shoes, or it may just have some extra gear in case there’s a turn in the forecasted weather.
You could also consider packing extras of some items in case of an issue. Maybe throw in a few extra energy gels, a pair of socks, or another pair of sunglasses in case yours break.
2. Get a Massage
This NOT something you want to do the day before your race.
If you would like to get a massage, we recommend doing it at least 3 days ahead of time, unless you’re really used to getting massages. Massages can leave you sore and that’s the last thing you want to feel on race day.
3. Start Carb Loading 2-3 Days Out
I’ve done a deep dive on this, so it’s just a reminder that you absolutely need to make eating more carbs than normal a priority for any distance over 10K.
The data doesn’t lie, this will improve your performance. So make sure you’ve spent some time planning out how you’re going to hit your carb needs, especially if traveling.
Checkout this carbo loading guide >>
Finally, and this one probably seems so obvious, but try to get good sleep all week long.
Oftentimes the night before a race, your sleep may not be all that good. You might find you wake up a lot. This could be because you’re in a hotel or you’re worried about missing your alarm, or you simply have a little extra nervous energy.
Don’t fret though! If you’ve had pretty good sleep in the days leading up to the race, a wonky night of sleep the night before the race won’t impact you much, if at all.
5. Visualize What Success Looks Like for You
Whether you’re running a 5k or a marathon, if you’ve set a goal or a few goals for yourself, it can be really helpful to your race day mindset to visualize achieving your goal(s).
If that’s not your thing, but you have a coach, set up a time for a strategy session. They can help calm pre-race nerves and help you figure out how to find success during the race, especially when it comes to pacing, nutrition, and more.
We like to recommend that you come up with a few different goals for race day. For example, maybe one goal is to have fun and finish with a smile. You might have a time or pace goal if you’re going for a PR. Having a few goals allows for the opportunity to achieve at least one, but hopefully all so you can walk away with a feeling of success.
What to Do the Day Before Your Race?
All right, now we’re in the final 24 hours before your marathon, half marathon, 10k, 15k, whatever! Let’s look at the last minute details you want to keep in mind.
1. Prioritize Hydration with Electrolytes
Continue hydrating. Notice, I said “continue,” not “start.”
In preparation for a race, especially a longer distance, you should’ve started paying extra attention to your hydration in the weeks and days leading up to the event. You should not be guzzling water the day before the race.
When hydrating for a race keep in mind a couple things. First, sip and continue sipping. Basically, like you do most days. Don’t neglect your hydration and then try to gulp down 8 glasses of water with dinner. You’ll be up all night in the bathroom.
Electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, play a crucial role in maintaining proper fluid balance and supporting muscle function – both vital factors for endurance athletes like marathon runners. Electrolyte powders or electrolyte tablets are easy to travel with and extra important if you’re flying to boost hydration.
During this carbohydrate loading time, you may want to choose a higher calorie drink like Powerade to help hit those carb goal.
2. Have a Plan for Your Dinner Before the Race
Everyone loves to talk about carb loading before a race. Who doesn’t love an excuse to eat more carbohydrates?
But how and when we carb load is important. While carb loading can improve performance, it’s important to not overdo it the night before. You could end up feeling bloated, groggy, and just plain sluggish if you down a massive meal the night before. Carb loading should be done over time in the few days leading up to the event for the best results.
So what should you eat the day before?
Choose foods you’re used to and that your body can digest easily. Even though you’ve been enjoying carbs the past few days, don’t skip them the day before. Ensure they’re high quality carbs and that you’re eating a moderate amount.
Here’s a list of some of the best foods to eat before a race.
3. Eat Nothing New!
Oh friends, this is a rule I broke early on and let me tell you as someone who never needs a bathroom on a run…I needed multiple porta potties on that course.
Don’t try a new gel.
Don’t eat something for dinner that you never eat before long runs.
Don’t change up your pre-race breakfast.
This is not the time to put your stomach to the test. So know where you are eating and bring all of your nutritional gear with you. I pack bread, nut butter and often a banana just to ensure I have exactly what I want for race morning.
4. Consider Doing a Shakeout Run
Shakeout runs are usually a short and easy run of about 20 minutes a day or two before a race. Some people, particularly elite runners, do a little shake out run the morning of their race. Race morning is NOT what I recommend for the majority of runners.
Why do one? Well, they can help calm the nerves, lessen stiffness or tiredness, keep the gut moving, or be an excuse to go check out a part of the course you’ll be running.
Do you need to do one? Probably, we don’t want to go in to the race feeling clunky from too many days off. But if you’re exhausted from travel or have been on your feet, it’s ok to skip it.
If you’re joining up with a group, then it’s vitally important that you stick to your plan of VERY easy-paced. You should be able to sing or talk without gasping for air for the duration of the run.
I’ve seen far too many get sucked in to a speedy pace or a 3-4 mile run that’s way beyond what’s needed and it absolutely plays a role in how their marathon goes.
5. Stay Off Your Feet As Much As Possible
If you’re at Disney or in a new city or place, it’s hard to not want to be out and about sightseeing all day. If you’re heading to one of the Marathon Majors, like Chicago or NYC, the race expo is usually pretty awesome and you can easily spend a lot of time at them.
Wait til after the race.
Nothing is worse at mile 20 than knowing, your legs are tired because you walked 20,000 steps the day before! Of course you have plenty of energy then, you’ve been tapering. That’s the whole point, extra energy for race day!
6. Mobility and Stretching
While we don’t recommend a massage the day before, it is a good idea for your muscles to do some light mobility work and to stretch. Consider bringing along your foam roller too.
Remember we aren’t trying to workout any knots, we aren’t trying to fix perpetually tight hamstrings. Right now, we are doing some things that help your central nervous system to relax.
Focus on holding gentle stretches for major muscle groups, like calves, quadriceps stretches, hamstrings, hip mobility movements, and hip flexors stretches. Remember, the key here is to stretch to the point of tension, not pain, and hold each stretch for about 15-30 seconds.
Long hold stretches help muscles to relax, mobility movements help to work on range of motion. Both can be useful here to slow down and possibly help you sleep better. That’s one of the main recommendations for a massage gun in fact, better sleep when using it before bed!
Don’t forget neglected areas like your IT bands and lower back – every bit of flexibility can make a difference during those long miles.
6. Plan Your Start Line Logistics
One of the more nerve wracking things when it comes to races are start line logistics. What time do you need to leave? Where do you park? How far away is your home/hotel/parking area from the race start?
All of those questions can be stressful to do with race morning, so it’s super helpful to figure it out at least the day before. Those answers can also impact where you choose to stay if you’re coming from out of town.
Races often have suggested times to arrive to ensure you won’t be late. Figure that out and work back from there. Take into account there may be an unusual amount of traffic. Can you walk or use a car service like Uber?
Also, you’ll want to figure out if and where bag check is located should you need or want to use it.
7. Review the Course Map
You’re probably wondering why you really need to review the course map. Us average runners aren’t going to be leading the pack generally so the odds of us taking a wrong turn are slim (though I’ve seen it happen).
However, if it’s a small race or a trail race, you might actually be alone at times on the course and you should know where turns are.
It’s also a good idea to know where race amenities are along the course, including hydration and nutrition stations, port-o-potties, medical tents, and spectator viewing areas. These things, and more, are almost always on a course map.
Take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with the course and even plan out where you want your friends and family to be cheering! Looking for them can be a big mental boost.
8. Lay Out Your Race Day Gear
Another good way to prep for race day is to lay out your outfit and other gear (gels, gloves, sunglasses, Body Glide) the night before. It’s one less thing to think about in that early morning wake up.
It’s a great way to make sure you have everything you need and figure out if something has been over looked so you can run out to get anything like safety pins for your race bib, for example.
Remember, try to avoid wearing new gear on race day. Make sure you test everything ahead of time so there aren’t any surprises. This seems like overkill, but I’ve seen some awful chafing and blisters from not following this advice. If for some reason you forget a piece of gear and had to buy at the expo, then make sure you are really on top of allllll your anti-chafing cream.
It’s also a fun social media opportunity to take a photo of your race day attire. Hello #flatrunner
9. Charge Your Tech
If you carry your phone, use bluetooth earbuds, and wear a watch, make sure you charge everything the night before. It really stinks to get to the start line of a race to find out your earbuds or watch are dead.
A fully-charged cell phone is also important, especially if you have family members following your progress on the course or you need to reach someone during or post-race.
10.Set An Alarm…and a Back-up
As we all know, races tend to start early. This means an early morning wake-up.
Even if you’re an early morning runner or someone who just naturally wakes early, it’s still important to set an alarm and a back-up.
I think we’ve all been to races where we know or see people arrive super late or miss the race entirely before they didn’t set an alarm. It’s a huge bummer to miss a race because of something like that.
If you’re staying in a hotel, you might also want to ask for a wake up call. However, do not rely solely on the front desk calling you. There is a risk they won’t.
All right, there you have it! A final what to do the day before your race break down. Hopefully this helps with any last minute jitters!
Looking for More Race Day Tips?
- How to Manage Race Day Nerves
- Marathon Fueling Strategy
- How to Pace a Marathon
- What to Wear for a Marathon in any Temp
- What to Eat Before a Half Marathon
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