Marathon Prep: The Night Before A Big Race

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with one of my clients to discuss her preparations for her first half-marathon.  As we chatted about her nerves and excitement, it hit me that it’s been almost a decade since my first race.  At this point in my running “career,” it has become second nature for me to get everything set the night before a big race, but when I think back to my first couple of half and full-marathons there were so many questions I had that Google simply couldn’t answer.  

How early should I really wake up to get to the race on time?  What should I have for breakfast?  How much would it screw me up if I didn’t sleep at all because I was so anxious?

Over time I have found what works for me, and have gotten into a routine that is easy and flexible for me.  I no longer stress if I realize I left my Garmin charger at home or need to pick up a pair of socks at the expo, but these things would have sent me reeling just a few years ago. 

Related Post: Lessons Learned From a Decade of Working Out

One of the best parts about having a coach is having someone to guide you through all of the firsts and help you to trouble shoot before you’ve perfected your night before the race “system.”  That being said, I want to share how I approach the night before a big race. 

I caution and implore you to remember that I am on the high-functioning end of Type-A neurotic, and I’d rather be over than under prepared.  So what may seem a little insane makes me feel relaxed and comforted, and that’s what is really important. 

If you can get away with knowing where all your stuff is and going with the flow the morning of, you do just that.  If however, you need a little more structure to feel secure, I created a simple PDF checklist that can be found on my resources page .  Without further adieu, here is Andrea’s Night Before the Big Race Checklist.

Half & Full Marathon Prep

Lay Out All the Unpacked Things
I like having all of my stuff laid out and organized, because visually it just makes me feel better to know that I have everything and can find it quickly if I end up in a time crunch (I’m Hispanic, we habitually run late). 

To soothe all my neuroses (and there are many), I lay out all of the clothes I think I might need, because weather changes fast, especially in Texas ya’ll.  I don’t want to be fumbling for an extra layer because the temps dropped 10 degrees cooler than anticipated.  Typically, I lay out every item of clothing option I could possibly need for 15 degrees above and below the projected temps. 

When I wake up in the morning, I do my final weather check and agonize for a few minutes, and then pick what I think I will be most comfortable in. 

I also lay out my fuel carrier, typically a belt depending on the kind of race I’m running, along with my fuel.  I love my Flip belt for courses that have water and my Nathan SpeedDraw handheld for courses that don’t.

I tend to recommend to clients that they pack their fuel and carrier the night before, but I like to see it and put it in my bag the morning of. 

I will check that I have the correct amount of fuel at least 3x before I leave, which is tricky to do if it is packed in a bag.  You call it OCD, I call it ritual.  It’s all the same, right?  I also make sure to lay out my bib with my pins, along with my shoes because those are all things I need to visually see in the morning to feel good.

Marathon Prep - the night before a big race
All the possible outfit options

Pack My Race Bag
Even if I am racing locally, I like to have a race day back packed.  Sometimes my husband carries it (if he’s not running) sometimes I keep it in my car, and very occasionally I will gear check a bag.  As you could probably guess, I like to pack my race bag the night before, to avoid any last minute “holy crap I can’t find the extra sunscreen, and I will get wrinkles and age rapidly, and everything will be ruined” spirals in the morning. 

I have my little list of things I like to have packed that make me comfortable before and after a race while I’m waiting around or driving back to where I need to go.  I put some things like an extra sweater and face wipes in there.  Three times out of ten, I might not need or want these things, but those three times I do  want them, I want them immediately. 

One item that I never, ever forget is comfortable shoes to wear after the race. I love my Olukai flip flops.  Even if I only have to walk 2.5 blocks, my feet that have endured 26.2 miles in running shoes will absolutely fall off if I have to take another 3 steps in non-squishy shoes.  It’s simple biology, and you can’t argue with science, so into the bag they go.

Marathon Prep - The night before a big race
All the stuff, ready to go!

Get Ready For Bed
I try to make sure I drink plenty of water throughout the day before a big race, and I make sure to continue to prioritize this throughout the evening.  Texas is muggy and humid, and being dehydrated is not an option, so I keep drinking and throw some electrolytes in here and there for good measure.  My preferred method is to toss a Nuun tablet into my bottle of water, because I like the taste, and they’ve never caused me any GI issues. 

I also like to make sure I have a good dinner that won’t leave me running to the bathroom.  For me, that means something yummy and filling, but not too insanely big.  I don’t go for the big pasta dinners, but I do enjoy some meat and potatoes and dinner rolls the night before. 

One piece of unsolicited advice I give to all my clients is that you really don’t need to eat anything crazy for dinner the night before an endurance race.  Certainly, the two days leading up to a race should involve a higher percentage of carbs than usual.  I track my macros, and if I am home and able to track, I usually keep my calories the same 2 days before the race, but shift my ratios to 15% protein, 15% fat, and 70% carbs. 

Related Post: Running Nutrition

The day before the race, I will keep it the same but add 100 calories worth of carbs (about 25 grams).  It’s a good idea to eat your heaviest meal at lunch and then have a “top off” dinner, so I try my best to strategize to eat 40% of my daily intake around lunch, 35% for breakfast, and 25% for dinner, roughly.  I also have a nice glass of wine because it relaxes me, and I heard that Deena Kastor does the same, so it’s bound to be good advice.

Marathon Prep - the night before a big race
My “charging station”

After dinner, I make sure I have all of my charging items plugged in (phone, Garmin, Aftershokz) and I check once more that I have all my laid out and packed items set up for the next day.  I like to take a relaxing bath with some Epsom Salts while I sip on my electrolytes, and then I spend a little time rolling around on my foam roller

There’s a couple of mantra’s that I like to revisit while I set up for the next morning, as well.  I like to make sure I have my coffee, water, and breakfast set up right before I tuck myself into bed, and maybe just look at my packed stuff one more time. 

Lastly, I get into bed at a nice early time, and even if I don’t sleep much or well, I know that just being flat is what my body needs.  Then I set my three alarms (do you spot a pattern) for about two hours before I need to leave, and watch some tv or read, depending on what I feel like doing. 

I try to stay off social media, because my friends are amazing and send me good lunch messages that I like to savor in the morning while I’m getting excited.  Speaking of the morning, it shouldn’t surprise you that I also have a “tried and true” race morning routine that has worked incredibly well for me.  Leave me a comment or like if that’s something you’d like for me to share as well. 

These are all the things I try to do the night before a big race, in a perfect world.  Traveling and destination races can have some little barriers that need to be strategized (like breakfast), and there have been plenty of times that I joyously realize my favorite pair of socks needs to be washed at 7pm. 

Suffice it to say that at this point, if my nighttime routine doesn’t go exactly as planned, I can probably talk myself off the ledge in under five minutes, which is a feat for me.  But one the occasions that I am able to have all my little check boxes checked, I certainly feel a little more relaxed, which is why I try to stick to my routine as much as possible. 

If you have a coach, I absolutely urge you to discuss your preparation plans and preferences to see if there’s any guidance they might offer that would make things easier and more efficient for you.  If you’re considering hiring a coach, and have questions, please feel free to shoot me a message through my Contact Me page.

I hope sharing my routine has inspired you explore what will work for you, and of course I wish you all of the PR race dust throughout this fall/winter season.

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