Race Day Tips From Expert Runners
Prevent pre-race jitters with a checklist of advice from the experts.

Race Day Tips from Expert Runners

The Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon & 5K is this Sunday, and if it’s your first half marathon or 5K, you may be feeling a little nervous. Actually, the truth is that even experienced runners get a bit jittery before a race, trying to make sure they’ve thought of everything.

To help, here’s a checklist from our experts at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco with tips for how to get the most out of your race.

1. Know Where to Go

Nothings boosts anxiety like being late, and of course the last thing you want is to get lost. Here are all the Race Day details you need to be in the right place at the right time. This year there are separate start times, with 5K runners departing promptly at 8 a.m. and half marathon runners at 8:10 a.m.

Race organizers have provided detailed parking and shuttle instructions, including a pre-race shuttle map, so you can have your transportation planned in advance.

2. Pre-Hydrate Well

Starting early is the secret to good hydration, says Heather D’Eliso Gordon, sports dietician and nutrition health coach at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. But in winter, when we feel less thirsty, we have to remind ourselves to hydrate. The day before the race (tomorrow!), drink eight medium-sized glasses of water, starting first thing when you get up and spacing them out throughout the day.

While the race has plenty of water stations, some runner prefer to carry their own water. If you’re carrying a bottle or Camelbak,  consider filling it with a sports drink that can replenish sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other electrolyte minerals. This is particularly important if you tend to sweat heavily.

3. Energize with Carbs

For dinner the night before the race, choose foods that are high in carbohydrates, says Jodi Thirtyacre, captain of the Kaiser Permanente running team. A few popular carb options:

  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Bread, Crackers, or other Baked Goods
  • Tortillas or crackers
  • Oatmeal

But don’t go too heavy on the fat, which can slow you down, or the fiber, which can upset your digestion, Thirtyacre says. Because heartburn can disturb you sleep, stay away from acidic foods or anything that typically upsets your digestion.

4. Eat Breakfast Early

Many runners don’t like to eat right before a race, but skipping breakfast is a bad idea. Unfortunately the solution calls for getting up early, says Thirtyacre, so you can eat about two hours before the race. Thirtyacre, a veteran of many races, swears by toast topped with peanut butter and banana. She then eats a granola bar or something quick and light about half an hour before the race.

5. Be Prepared for Surprises

Whether you’ve trained hard or are winging it,  you’ll almost certainly encounter the unexpected along the way, says Kaiser Permanente Physical Therapist Brian Soo. Chafing and irritation are common problems, says Soo, as are side stitches and blisters. Some runners carry an emergency kit with moleskin, Band-Aids, ibuprofen, or whatever else they think they might need.  Dips in blood sugar can leave you feeling lightheaded or dizzy, so carry energy goo or gel to prevent this.

6. Relax with Reminders

Feeling hyped up or anxious before a race is normal, says Soo, but there are some strategies for calming down. Think over your experiences with past races or training runs, and remind yourself that you’ve done this before.

Get Ready Ahead of Time

Nothing helps you relax better than getting organized the night before, says Soo, so you don’t lie awake making lists. Fill your water bottle, if you’re bringing one, and lay out your shoes and running outfit. Don’t forget a hat or visor if you plan to wear one. The race has gear-check available, allowing you to stash anything you don’t want to carry in a plastic bag, which will be delivered to the finish line.

7. Stash Your Snacks

Stock your pockets with any supplies you’re planning to bring, such as goo or snack bars. You’ll save yourself time and also help ensure you don’t forget anything important.

Lastly, remember that you’re doing this for fun! It’s a beautiful course, you’ll be surrounded by friends and fellow runners, and the only goal is to do your best.

Melanie Haiken, Health and Fitness Expert

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.