Ultimate Race Day Checklist

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Let’s face it: On race day you wanna focus on running and not get distracted by other things.

However races are not training runs where you just head out and run free. There is stuff to organize and there are logistical tasks.

This made me nervous in the past and still is a challenge today. My take on this is to be prepared as much as possible as early as possible.

A nice way to achieve this is by checklists.

Of course there’s no single checklist that works for all types of races. A small 5k event nearby is way different than a 100k mountain race hundreds of miles away. There are things that work for all races and other things that are specific to the event of choice.

So in this post I’d like to show you what things you should consider putting on your race day checklist and why it matters.

In addition to that I prepared a full printable checklist for you to download you can use for your next race.

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The Anatomy of a Great Checklist

A race as I see it doesn’t start when the gun goes of. And it doesn’t stop when you cross the finish line. In my head a race and the preparation for it, starts the moment I sign up. And it ends after I did the race analysis and draw my conclusions.

So in your race day check list actually you shouldn’t only consider the race day itself but also what leads up to it and how you deal with it’s outcome. Therefore I divide the checklist into three sections as you can see below. Pre-race, the race itself and post-race.

Also a great checklist doesn’t only consider what to pack in your bag. Preparation isn’t only a matter of equipment. This is especially true if you break new grounds in a race, for example going for a distance you’ve never done before. So I divide my items on the list into different categories. Equipment is only one of them.

So let’s get started.

Pre Race

The things you should do before the race and before you travel to the race location, are by far the biggest part of this list. Sure there are things to consider for the race itself and post-race things, but what you need to pack and organize for race day is the most important.

I divided this section in organisational things, equipment you need for most races and different weather conditions as well as additional equipment you’ll most probably only need for longer races or trail and mountain events.

Organisational

This for me is what I don’t really like about racing. I’m a passionate runner. So I just wanna run.

But if you sign up for races, what I think is something an avid runner should do regularly, there are some things you have to organize.

Of course this highly depends on the race and where it is. The first three things in this section are not really needed if the race is in the city you live. The others you should consider for every race you do.

  • Make a budget
    Race fee, travel expenses, equipment, yes doing races is not for free. So before you sign up, sit down and make a budget so you won’t get surprised by the costs.
  • How to get there
    If the race isn’t nearby you should check how you can get there and make bookings for transportation if needed or check if you can park your car near the start of the event.
  • Where to stay
    Another thing if you don’t race in your city is to check where to stay. I usually look for campsites close to the start. Often bigger events have special deals with local hotels. It might be also an option to extend your stay and combine it with a family holiday.
  • Picking up your bib number
    Obviously one of the most important things: Check where and when you can pick up your bib number. Remember that often you get a lot of gifts from sponsors. That’s one of the reasons why I like to get my number one day in advance and not just before the start.
  • Read race regulations
    Another crucial thing here. Read race regulations carefully. It’s mostly the same and correlates with common sense. But still every event is different. So make sure you come prepared in regards of rules and regulations.
  • Start time
    Actually a no brainer but still needs to be checked. When and where are you going to start the race.
  • Learn the course
    As this might not seem to be overly important on a short 5k in a city you know, it’s crucial on long distance and trail races. Study the course in advance and know where the difficult sections are and prepare for them mentally.
  • Check aid stations
    Also mostly important for longer races is the aid station situation. How far are they apart and what kind of foods and drinks do they offer.

Equipment

Apart from all the organisational things you need to think of, obviously the equipment you need to back is the most important thing in your race day checklist.

Again you probably don’t need everything on the list for every race. Equipment varies a lot depending on the type and distance of the race. But it’s still good to go through the entire list before every race to make sure you think of everything.

In general I strongly recommend to test your equipment on training runs so you know exactly if a piece of equipment works for you on the type of race you’re going to do.

  • Shoes and Socks
    Let’s start with your feet. I guess you use more than one pair of shoes. So pack the ones that fit the type of race and the course as good as possible. Also pack good socks that don’t cause blistering.
  • Shorts / Pants
    Think how much your legs need to be covered. Even in low temperatures my (lower) legs are not cold. But there are different type of shorts of course. And do you need additional rain pants?
  • Shirt / Second Layer
    Two things to consider here: First, weather of course. How warm will it be and is it likely to rain. And second, is chafing. I use tight fitting shirts on any race longer than 10k.
  • Anti chafing
    If chafing might be an option despite your “best” shirts, shorts and sports underwear, make sure you pack petroleum jelly to protect your skin.
  • Clips / Bib holder
    On many events you get clips to attach your bib number to your shirt. But I still pack a few to be prepared. Lately I started using a hip strap where I can attach my number.
  • Watch
    You most likely want to track your race performance. And it’s also good to have an idea on how fast you’re moving and if you’re running in a heart rate zone you can maintain throughout the entire race. So a good sports watch with GPS and heart rate control is very much recommended.
  • Smart phone
    This is not on this list to take selfies 🙂 Your smart phone can be a lifesaver and is a mandatory piece of equipment on most trail races. Also you can take your preferred music with you.
  • Headphones
    For listening to your music during a race you obviously need headphones. I don’t like the standard iPhone headphones but use wireless in ear headphones instead. Just make sure you test them in your training runs.
  • Head wear
    Do you need a headband to protect your ears from the cold? Or a cap for sun protection? Check the weather forecast and pack what you need.
  • Glasses / Lenses
    This is a bit of an issue for me. I’m myopic and don’t see much without glasses. But my everyday glasses are not a great option for racing. And I might wanna use sunglasses in some parts of the race. So I mostly use contact lenses. But on very long ultra races I might change them for glasses during the event. So think about this upfront!
  • Sun screen
    An important item for your health. Pack sun screen that works even if you sweat. And use it at least an hour before the start.
  • Rain jacket
    Is it likely to rain or even snow? Pack a light rain jacket that can also protect you from strong winds.

Additional Equipment

The equipment mentioned above is what you (might) need on most races from a road 5k to a trail half marathon.

But if you are into longer distances and prepare for a technical trail or even mountain race, you’ll need to pack some additional items.

Also don’t forget to check the race regulations for any mandatory equipment. This list might not be complete for the event you participate in!

  • Hydration
    If aid stations are more than a couple of miles apart from each other and/or it’s really hot, then you need to carry some water. Pack the hydration system that works for you.
  • Food
    The same is true for food. Pack your bars and gels or whatever your preferred choice is. Also test your food on long training runs to know if your stomach can handle it.
  • Safety equipment
    I often do mountain races where safety can be an issue. If you run in nature away from cities and villages pack these items as well.

    • Safety blanket
      In case of an accident a safety blanked can keep you warm or cool depending on how you use it.
    • Whistle
      If you fall somewhere and can’t walk and there’s no one around, a whistle is crucial to call for attention.
    • First-aid kit
      If you have a wound you should have a first-aid kit to disinfect it and stop the bleeding.
  • Toilet paper / hankies
    Whether you have an urgent need during a race, need to wipe your nose or clean your glasses, pack some hankies and/or toilet paper.
  • Spare clothes
    On ultra races you might want to change your clothes at some point. Especially when it’s cold and you still sweat, a new, dry shirt can be very helpful. Also just psychologically it might be great to put on fresh, comfy clothes.
  • Poles
    If the course is steep and technical, poles might be great to use your entire body to climb uphills and have a fallback when you slip.
  • Headlamp
    Even if there’s only a small chance that you run a part of the race in the dark, make sure you pack a headlamp and spare batteries. If it get’s dark and you don’t have a light, it will be very dangerous!
  • Cup
    Most big races have cups on aid stations to hand you out drinks. But that’s not the case on every event. There are light, foldable cups for that purpose you can carry easily.
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Race

So you are organized and have every piece of equipment you need to run your race. Standing at the starting line and ready to go, there are still a few things you should have prepared for the race itself.

Goals

First thing are your goals. You might state that you run for fun and don’t have any goals you want to achieve in a race. But for most that’s not true.

  • Main goal
    Usually I set myself three different goals. My main goal is pretty much always to reach the finish line in good health and a great mood. I recommend you to have the same main goal.
  • Finishing time
    And then there’s usually a time goal of course. This is what I expect to achieve if nothing big goes wrong and I can run the entire race without any major setbacks and issues.
  • If everything works out perfectly
    And then there’s the third goal that’s more like a dream. This one can only be achieved if everything works out just perfect and I can use my full potential or even a bit more.

Strategy

To meet the goals you set yourself for the race you should also think about your race strategy before the race actually starts.

  • Anticipated race pace
    The pace you run should be tested in the training weeks before the race. Run at the heart rate zone you should during the race (90% max. for distances up to the half marathon, 85% for the marathon and 75%-80% for ultra races) and see which pace you can maintain.
  • Calories out / calories in
    How many calories do you burn when racing? And how much of this you need to take in during the race and in which form. Think about this in advance and make a nutrition plan.
  • Hydration
    Same for hydration. This of course depends on weather. Know how much you need and how much you should carry to have enough between aid stations.

Post Race

A race isn’t over after you crossed the finish line. There are things to plan that are relevant from the time you finish until you’re back home and back to training.

Organisational

  • First care
    Think about having a shower and a massage when you finish. Have everything ready at the finish line. And also check the offerings considering drinks and foods.
  • From finish to start
    Many race courses are loops where you start and finish at the same place. But that’s not the case for some races. So check how you can get back to the start or wherever you stay.
  • How to get home
    Do you have someone who’s picking you up and driving you home? Or how do you get back home? Just remember that you might not want to drive yourself. Post race cramps while you’re driving a car can be very dangerous!

Recovery

The moment you cross the finish line, your recovery starts and the preparation for the next race. Plan these things upfront.

  • Training / racing pause
    Plan a time off running or at least heavy training and racing. Be conservative here. You don’t know how your race will end up. Your recovery might take longer than usual.
  • Fluids
    In the first hour after the race it’s key to get your hydration level back to normal. Make sure you have access to isotonic sports drinks (beer :)) at the finish line.
  • Diet plan
    Eating right in the hours and days after a race can speed up your recovery. Make sure you have healthy foods ready at home. And eat more proteins than usual after the race and the days to come.
  • Massages
    Massages are great to recover tight muscles. Bigger races offer massage services. Or book a massage back home in the days after the race to speed up recovery.

Next Steps

You might also want to think about your next steps upfront and what your next steps are after the race is done.

  • Race analysis
    Make sure you gather the data to analyse the race. Track your race with a heart rate and GPS watch and use a service like Strava to analyze your race. And also monitor your body and mind during the race so you have the subjective view as well.
  • Goals setting
    The race might only be a minor goal or a small step in your big goal or running dream. Make a plan on how to go on after the race for the different outcomes.

What did I miss on this list? What didn’t you think of in the past? Let me know in the comments section or just drop me a mail.

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Happy running,
mikula

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