Race day morning: a crucial few hours before your most epic run. Everything from what you eat, wear or even think comes into play as you prep to reach that finish line ahead. To get a true glimpse into what this lead up looks like for a competitive runner, we talked with Peloton instructors Becs Gentry and Robin Arzon to get their race day tips.
What do you do the night before that sets you up for the next day?
Becs: I do my kit lay down the night before. This also provides you with the quintessential social media shot of your bib number surrounded by everything else you will be wearing for the race which is great for your supporters to track you. I’ll make sure I actually pin my bib onto my top too so everything is ready to go when I am up. I also check the route to the start line (probably a hundred times) so I know exactly how long I need to factor in.
Robin: I always lay down my clothes the night before and make sure that I have safety pins on my bib. I have gotten to races before and have not had them. I always have a visualization practice the night before the race. I visualize every element that I can control, from getting dressed, getting to the start line, my pace–there is a visualization practice I have developed over the years where I actually just put myself there, and it is a very powerful mental exercise. I also try to get off my phone. I’ll have a very early dinner at 6 pm and then I curate myself into a mental and physical cave. For me, I need to protect my energy; social media wastes a lot of that energy (even if it’s excitement!). Create a cut-off time for family socializing and social media interaction that will allow you a solid minimum hour before you want to sleep–your mind will be racing, and you need to create a cocoon.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning that’s part of your race day routine and why?
Becs: Eat! I literally roll out of bed and eat. Often if I am at a hotel I don’t even need to get out of bed! I have some nuts or a bite of a banana and then mix my pre-race Maurten carbohydrate drink so I can sip on it while I get ready.
Robin: Practically speaking, the first thing I will do is eat. Often times, you are getting up really early in the morning and it might be 4-5 hours before you actually run, so I will have two small meals before I’m out there on the race course. My favorite is a piece of toast with almond butter; I’ll make myself a sandwich and eat half and then the other half two hours later. For me, it’s fuel.
Is your morning schedule timed out in a certain way?
Becs: In all honesty, no. I like to be fluid so if a hurdle comes up I can get around it with minimal stress and affect on the rest of the things I like and have to do before the race. As long as I wake up with ample time to fuel, hydrate and get to the start line in a calm manner, I am happy!
Robin: I’m not a coffee drinker, but for coffee drinkers, plan that based on what you’ve done for long runs. Don’t divert from what you’ve done in long runs. If it works for you during training season, you want to do the same on race day. Stick to what is tried and true. Nothing new on race day is always the rule.
How do you control any nerves and your overall mental state on race day morning?
Becs: I do a lot of deep breathing and the real introverted Becs comes out–this is a self-description a lot of people find hard to believe from my instructor persona, however in my own time I am super quiet and this is exactly how I am pre-race. I avoid social media as it can use valuable time, instead I internalize and tune into my body. I do a mental body scan over and over again–every step I am analyzing how my body is feeling but also thinking about the task at hand and how to enjoy it. I love being on the start line with someone I know as it dulls the nerves and quiets those conversations in your mind questioning your decision to do what your about to do! However when I am alone I just try to absorb the experience and let my training shine through.
Robin: Definitely incorporate very simple breathing techniques. The classes in Peloton mediation are exactly the kind of techniques I would recommend for all athletes. Using the power of your breath and mind, incorporating a mantra, are all things that take practice just like anything else. The mind has a tendency to be distracted or not be able to settle into that “chilled-out” vibe. I would say to start it now, even if your race is 3 months from now. Those practices really take time to develop, but very simply, two breaths in two breaths out is a very simple tool everybody can use even if you’re in the race corral. My mantra is, “I am.”
If your morning turns out to be more chaotic than what you would like, how do you still make it to the starting line ready to go?
Becs: This has definitely happened to me, in Chicago.There were a bunch of my friends running the race from LA and they were all staying in a different hotel closer to the start. My close friend Sean and I were staying somewhere else and last minute decided to go to their hotel to head to the start line with the massive group. Getting on the subway, to the hotel and the start line with about 20 people, plus camera crew was a task and took a lot longer than anticipated. So much so my coach and best friend Blue and I only realized our corral was closing with minutes to spare but were a long way from the entry–our other friends were in different corrals and we’d got carried away with their races as the majority were first time marathoners. Blue and I ended up having to run through the grassy centre of the park–he kept yelling that we were just doing our striders. Needless to say we scraped through into our start corral by a hairsbreadth with adrenaline pumping and seconds later we were off. It all happened so quickly that thankfully I didn’t have the chance to feel affected by the chaos until I look back remembering us flying through the park wearing a bin liner and big wooly gloves over my kit, passing alongside thousands of more well prepared runners patiently waiting in their corrals! You have to laugh at the fact that two coaches were so silly!
Robin: I’ve been stuck on buses, been late to races, forgotten safety pins…you can only focus on what you can control. You have to trust that even the toughest race will make you a better athlete. Even if you have been training for something for a year, the weather might change, you might chafe, the music might die, you might forget your headphones…things will happen. You can focus on what you can control. With that, I feel a little bit more power knowing I can control my breath, how I’m moving, how I’m thinking. At the end of the day, truly the toughest race scenario will make you stronger ultimately. It might not feel like that at the moment, but you can always look back on it and know you will get back up again tomorrow. It’s not about one race! It’s about a lifetime. Throughout the process, you can do visualizations. I try to play out worst-case scenarios in my head, then I know how I can react. I wouldn’t recommend for the morning of to have a doomsday scenario, but in the weeks preparing, you can have a back-up plan.
When you get to the starting area, what are some things you do once you arrive?
Becs: If I am there on time, which I normally am, I will do some jogs up and down a nearby road, I will locate a bathroom with a short line even if I don’t need to go (I have to start with an empty bladder) and then I will nestle into my start corral and prepare my mind in amongst the warmth of other runners. I try not to chat to other runners as most often people are very focused on their own routine or race.
Robin: I put my headphones in immediately because I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s not to be rude, but again I want to protect my energy! It can be exciting, and people can be nervous. For some people, talking with the friend they came with might be great for them, but for me personally, I put my headphones in and I listen to power tracks. I listen to my favorite female artists that make me feel strong and powerful. It’s actually before the race that I listen to music, not during. Music is still an important part of the process, but not actually while I’m out there running. I will do anything from leg swings to air squats, just to make sure I’m ready to go with dynamic warm-ups in the race corral. Depending on the distance, I might jog half a mile to get my body moving, especially if it’s cold out. A lot of times I go in my head, I have a very powerful visualization practice. I could sit there for 45 minutes and it feels like 90 seconds because I really go inward.
What’s your absolute pro tip when it comes to the morning before running any race?
Becs: Eat something, but I hope that’s a given, so I would say wear layers! Even if it’s warm out you’ll more than likely be hanging around waiting for your corral to move towards the start line and this can take over an hour in some races. I will either buy a cheap sweatshirt or hoodie or wear an old one to the start line and strip off once I am in my corral and ready to cross the start line. All races collect these items of clothing and donate them to charity which I love. There is nothing worse than getting cold pre-race and kicking off that journey with stiff deactivated muscles and joints.
Robin: Make sure you put your name on your shirt. People want to cheer for you! You earned your spot and did the training, so allow people to celebrate you. That can sometimes be weird for people to receive that kind of celebration, but I encourage people to invite it.