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Race Day: What to expect the day of your race

One of my New Year’s resolutions for this year was to run three races.

I ran seven. Two of them were virtual races (I paid online, ran when I wanted to, they mailed me a medal). If you don’t count those, I still competed in five races, nearly doubling what I wanted to accomplish this year.


I’m already signed up for three more next year.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but let me tell you my experiences with racing and what to expect on race day.

Packet pick up: Most races will have a packet pick up the night before. You’ll go to the designated area, give them your name and race (1 mile walk, 5k, 10k, half marathon, etc). They’ll give you a “packet” with your bib, a tshirt, written instructions, and sometimes some swag.

Picking up a race packet…does it ever get old? Gee, I hope not. #wishmeluck #offtobedearly #racing #10k #hopingforapersonalbest

A photo posted by Deborah Andreasen (@deborahandreasen) on

If you can’t make it the night before, you can pick up your packet that morning, usually very early.

Lots of energy: There will be a loud music to pump you up. There might be people using a bullhorn to give you instruction or encouragement. There will be dozens of participants (more or less depending on the size of the race), volunteers and happy spectators. It’s a jumble of energy, so soak it up.

A starting line: It could be a balloon arch, a banner, or a balloon arch.

Killed it. I had such a great time at my first race! @melaniejo0220 was so awesome. On the home stretch when I didn’t think I could make it, she turned to me and said, “For Eli!” It was just what I needed. Thanks, Mel! You’re so awesome! #wemadeit #running #raceday #10k #LoveforEli

A photo posted by Deborah Andreasen (@deborahandreasen) on

(You can see it behind us in the picture above.)

It could be as simple as someone standing with a bullhorn yelling, “Go!” But no matter what, there’s a starting line that usually doubles as the finish line. Sometimes races all start together. Sometimes one race will start, then another will start half an hour later. For example, the 10k will start at 8:30 and the 5k at 9:00. You should be told beforehand when your race starts. Pay attention to the announcer. I’ve been to races that start a heat a few minutes early.

Porta-Potties: There’s something about a race day that likes to, uh, clear things out. There will always be a potty nearby. And you’ll need it. Occasionally you’ll find one on the race course, but don’t bank on it. Use that potty!

Temperature changes: Most races are early in the morning, which is fantastic. But standing around waiting for your heat allows for the cold to settle into your muscles. Wear warm clothing and give it to a friend before your race starts.


Or, if it’s a long race, pick up a few throw-aways at the local thrift store. You can toss them at a fuel station.

Fuel stations: Depending on the length of your race, there might be fuel stations mid-race. If it’s over a 5k, then for sure there will be water, oranges or gel packets. Longer races will have more stations throughout the race. Personally, I can’t drink mid-race (I’ve only ever tried this on a 10k). The water sloshes in my gut and makes me feel sick. However, some of my running buddies get a burst of energy when they have a sip of water.

After race snacks: Organized races will have some sort of sustenance for afterwards. Usually nutritious, beneficial foods, like bananas, oranges, water and chocolate milk. Sometimes it’s fun and carefree, like donuts.

An Accomplishment High: You’re going to feel like a rock star.

No matter your time, you crossed that finish line like a boss and you rock.

There you have it. The basics of what to expect on race day. Every race is different, but this will give you a good sense of what will happen on that exciting day. Here are a few other tips to make you ready for Race day:


Don’t try anything new on the day of the race. Don’t wear new clothes or gear. Don’t eat something new and fancy that morning. My best races happen on days when it’s business as usual. I practice on the route and eat the same things and wear the same sunglasses. That way, my body thinks I’m just going for a run.

Also, unless your race shirt is athletic grade, I don’t suggest wearing it during your race. Those shirts are usually cotton, and that can chafe. Yes, they’re awesome, and you deserve it! But put it on after the race. Or run in a cotton shirt to get ready for racing in one.

And if you need some motivation, here are a few of my favorite playlists for running.

Are you a runner or racer? What has your race day experience been?

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