Top 10 “Must Do’s” Before Race Day

Written by Stephanie Laska, 2015 Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon Ambassador @140lost

Stephanie is 100% new to running having discovered the sport two years ago; she didn’t waste any time pushing herself to the limit. Stephanie won first place (Athena Division) of her very first Marathon in March — the Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon, and went on to run the Big Sur International 21mi., and the San Francisco Full Marathon just months later. You may have read Stephanie’s story that was shared in the race brochure for the Big Sur International Half Marathon 2014. Through the discovery of running, combined with changing eating habits, Stephanie has lost 140lbs., or half of her body weight. Stephanie and her best friend/love-of-her life/running partner-in-crime, husband Bill, are raising their two elementary school aged children (both becoming runners!) in Turlock, CA.

The race doesn’t just take place on Sunday, November 22nd. It’s a weekend event! Be sure to get the most out of this experience by reviewing this top ten checklist to make the most of the event.

  1. ATTEND THE EXPO: As an out­-of-­towner, at first I didn’t understand what the expo was all about. For my first race I actually paid extra to have my bib and welcome packet mailed to my house. Why would I drive all the way to the expo, only to return the next morning? That just didn’t make any sense to me. Only after attending the expo for my next race did the “aha moment” take place. Whoa…these are my people! If you’re like me, you absolutely LOVE running. You talk about it constantly until people’s eyes glaze over. Well not at the expo! Here is your mecca! Everyone LOVES to talk about running. You will be surrounded by every shape and size runner, from all ages and backgrounds, coming together to celebrate the one sport that makes us feel so alive. Plus, there are super cool gadgets, gear, and food to try. And did I mention the swag?
  2. DRIVE THE COURSE: With the map provided at the expo, I recommend you physically drive every mile of the course. It’s important for you to know where you are going in order to get there! On race day, you don’t want any surprises. That hill? No problem, already saw it. That amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge? Yep, it’s coming up, I’m motivating myself to get there. When the course is familiar to you, it’s comforting. You can do this. Another trick I use is called association. Think of your favorite training run at home. Can you imagine key mile markers in your neighborhood? For example, I know that I cross the elementary school at mile 3. I turn around at the end of the park at mile 6, and so on. Now looking at the Berkeley map, pair up your familiar mile markers with miles along the course. On race day, as you approach those large mile signs, you can say to yourself, “I’m doing great! It’s just like at home. I’m now crossing the elementary school, next up is the turn­around.” This trick assures your psyche that you CAN do this, and in fact, you already have.
  3. NOTHING NEW! I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but I’ll say it again, and again, and again. Do not do anything new before or on race day! Really! All of those months and hours of training could go by the wayside if something new enters the mix. You may be tempted to purchase new gear, new food, new gadgets (see number one, the expo!) which I encourage you to attend, but please, I beg you, do not try these fun new things out on race day. The smallest change can throw you off your game. Last year at the Berkeley Half, I was putting together my race day outfit and noticed my wristbands were looking shabby (I know, the horror!). Not wanting to be uncoordinated with my color scheme, I picked up some fancy new wristbands at the local sporting goods store next to my hotel. On race day morning, boy did I look cute! But at mile 5, when the sun came up and I started to sweat, my unfamiliar brand of wrist guards transformed into Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s bracelets. I wanted to scream! I could think of nothing else for miles. Lesson learned. Nothing new people.
  4. PACK MULE: Lay out everything you think you need for race day. Walk away for an hour. Come back and look at everything again. What did you forget? Make a list and check it twice. If you are like me, and are staying in a hotel the night before the race, packing takes on heightened importance. You don’t want to be gearing up race day morning and realize you forgot your sunglasses, lucky socks, or worse off, something irreplaceable like the bib. For example, I remember shivering in the bluffs along highway one waiting for the Big Sur International Marathon to begin, when over the loud­speaker I heard, “Does anyone have an extra pair of size 9 running shoes?” You don’t want to be that guy. In addition to your running gear, I suggest you pack your “throw down clothes.” No, we aren’t street fighting. These are the junky old clothes that you wear in the cold, pre­dawn hours at the start line, then take off and throw down minutes before the race begins. Old zip­up sweatshirts and giant sweatpants that can be pulled over your shoes are perfect. I actually keep a box in the back of my closet for just this purpose. Race volunteers collect the clothing for charity. Tip: These outfits aren’t pretty so plan your morning selfies appropriately.
  5. RACE FUEL: Oh, the food. Isn’t this why we run? In addition to packing gear and clothing, you may also need to pack your running fuel and race day carbs. Remember, nothing new! Did you see me last year running the Berkeley Half eating halloween candy from my pouch? I was the gal who forgot to pack her GU. Seriously though, what did you eat for breakfast during your training runs? Make sure that is on hand. What fuel do you best tolerate during long runs? Pack it in your pouch. Be sure to eat a carb­-rich meal the night before that is familiar and not spicy. You do not want to have a situation in the porta-­potty if you know what I mean.
  6. PIT CREW: Have you rallied support staff to attend the race? Your friends and family will be so thrilled race day has finally arrived (and you will stop talking about running?) that they will all volunteer to get up early and camp out along the streets of Berkeley to cheer you on. Figure out ahead of time where your pit crew will be stationed. It’s a huge motivator while you run. Perhaps you will want to throw them the gloves and hat you thought you needed that morning? Or maybe change out your glasses for prescription sunglasses? Your family and friends will be there with water, Gatorade, race fuel, and high fives. Racing is hard, and looking forward to a familiar, smiling face will mean the world to you. I suggest posting your pit crew at a point along the race that might be hard for you. Do you hit the wall at mile 8? 10? Then ask your peeps to set up camp at that mile marker. Oh, and bring a noise maker and sign! Google ideas if you need them, but “I run for carbs” will get my attention. Keep it positive and supportive. I still well up with tears when I remember running/limping along mile 25 of the SF Marathon and reading an elderly man’s sign that said, “There will be a day you cannot run and today is NOT that day.” Damn. Crying again.
  7. ARRIVE EARLY: Plan ahead for your transportation and parking. You don’t want to be stressed out the morning of the event. Anticipate that many streets will be blocked in the downtown area, and your usual route may experience delays. It’s best to leave your home even earlier than you anticipate. You will then have time to check your bag, use the bathroom, stretch, and take some selfies at the start line.
  8. BAGGAGE CHECK: One of the benefits of an organized race like the Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon is that it offers a “bag check”. Take advantage of this free white­-gloved service! While I don’t put anything valuable inside my checked bag, I do like to pack a set of clean, dry clothes to change into for the ride home. Also, I like to enjoy the same “post race” fuel that I train with, which I include inside my checked bag. Some of you may be racing with a group, and have to wait for others to finish the race. Having some “comforts” available in your checked bag helps ease the wait time until you have access to your transportation home.
  9. STAY POSITIVE: One of my favorite sayings is to “run your own race.” What motivates you? Why did you sign up for this event? Are you part of a charity or group? Is this event meaningful for you in a personal way? Identify that motivation. During the race, there will be a moment (or moments for many of us!) where it gets hard, really hard. What motivation will help you prevail? You need to stay positive. Have a phrase ready to repeat inside your head (or hell, out loud if you want, this is Berkeley). Say it like you mean it. Write it in sharpie on your arm. Wear it on your shirt. This is your race! Look for me on the course (toward the back half) as I’ll be wearing a backpack with a sticker on it that says, “I lost 140 lbs RUNNING.” That’s my motivation, my mantra. What is yours?
  10. POST RACE PARTY: Long before the race, schedule a “meetup” place to celebrate with your family and friends. May I suggest this is NOT at the finish line. If this is your first race, you may dream of crossing the finish line in slow motion, the Chariots of Fire theme song gently humming in the background, with bouquets of long stem red roses being handed to you from admiring family and friends. Reality check. The finish line moment is indeed, an incredible and awesome experience, worthy of all your efforts and training, but it will be your private moment. Your photo will be taken, your name perhaps announced, and a well-deserved medal will be placed around your neck. Afterward, crowd control measures whisk you away to the finish line festival at the park, with thousands of other revelers. Hence, the need for a post race meetup spot. Anticipate that your phone (or theirs) may be out of batteries (learn from my mistakes people), and have an old-­fashioned, preconceived meet up plan. This will enable you to start the celebration immediately. You deserve it!

1 Reply to "Top 10 “Must Do’s” Before Race Day"

  • comment-avatar
    August 23, 2016 (2:26 am)

    Great article. I can relate to a lot of things in this, and some good tips as well – even for an experienced racer. I lost 70+ lbs learning how to run, so I feel a kinship with you. I’m at a my goal weight now, but currently dealing with an injury (bone spur on heel) and not being able to run for almost a year has been really difficult. I never thought I would be sad to NOT be able to run!!! If I am not participating in this race in 2016, I’ll be cheering on all the runners!

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