The race is almost here! Here's how to cross the finish line and feel great.

Pre-Race Tips for a Successful Half Marathon or 5K

It’s the final countdown to the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon & 5K this Sunday, February 14th, and you’re probably thinking through your race strategy. Here are my pre-race tips, learned from many years of running this fun race.

What and When to Drink:

It takes time and preparation to fully hydrate, so remember to drink lots of water this week. Whether or not you carry water is a personal choice. Personally, I don’t wear a water belt because I don’t like the bulkiness of a belt, and I stop at every water station. However, I’ve worn one at some races and the advantage to wearing a belt is that you have water available whenever you’re thirsty and you don’t have to stop at the stations with everyone else. Do whatever is easier for you. In addition to water, drink Gatorade at the stations to replenish the salt you sweat out (electrolytes). It will help you avoid hitting the 10th mile wall on the Great Highway.

What and When to Eat:

Eat a good complex carbo (and a little protein) dinner the night before (but don’t stuff yourself). The morning of, eat a carbo (and light protein) meal two to four hours before the race (I eat peanut butter and banana on whole grain toast), and bring with you a quick simple carbo fix (sports bar, candy bar,…). If you’re eating 2+ hours before, you might want to take a bite or two of a granola bar before the race.  You may also want to carry some Goo for that last mile push. If you’ve never had it, don’t try it for the first time during the race. Some people find it doesn’t sit well with them.

What to Wear:

The weather report for Sunday is cloudy in the 60’s…perfect for a race!!! What you wear is largely personal preference, but be conscious of adding extra weight that you’ll want to chuck halfway through. I get warm quickly so my first choice is shorts and a short-sleeve tee or tank top. Choose running shorts or pants that have a zippered pocket for a phone and ID.

If it’s cold or looks like rain, I’ll wear tight-fitting running pants and a zip-up jacket that’s light enough to tie around my waist without getting in the way. I don’t suggest wearing a sweatshirt or sweatpants, which are bulky and may weigh you down. For more warmth, I’ll wear a lightweight pullover and a light running hat which I’ll pull down over my ears if they’re chilly (I don’t like to wear ear muffs). On my hands I’ll wear the glove inserts from my ski gloves, or just pull down my sleeves (I won’t be wearing gloves on Sunday).

Before the run, keep yourself warm but be aware that the sweats check-in area is up the hill about ¼ mile from the start, so give yourself plenty of time to get there and back.

Race Strategies:

For the Half: Don’t start out too fast. It’s hard not to when everyone else is and the blood is flowing, but if you start out conservatively, you will last longer and stronger. The first 7 miles go by pretty fast. The route starts on JFK at Stow Lake and goes down JFK past the Rose Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and out of the park at Stanyan. You continue down Fell Street circling the Panhandle (at Broderick) and head back into the park at Kezar Drive. You pass the Bowling Green, run through the Music Concourse (Japanese Tea Garden and DeYoung Museum), and head west down JFK towards the ocean. You get a pretty good downhill boost from Hellman’s Hollow at 25th (formerly Speedway Meadow) down to the Great Highway.

Once you get on the Great Highway, you’re more than halfway done! The highway is relatively flat and the 3-mile straight run to the turnaround (at the Zoo) and 3-mile run back to JFK is a bit monotonous, but if you keep your mind busy, it’ll go by more quickly. I like to read the alphabetical street signs, or look for friends running the race on the other side of the highway. Or if you’re listening to music, have your favorite running tunes playing at this time. Also, look up and take in the beautiful scenery; you are running alongside the Pacific Ocean!

Be aware that at mile 12, the last ¼ mile up JFK is uphill — who came up with this ending?! I usually take it easy as I’m too tired at this point to go any faster, but if you’re feeling good, keep up your pace. When you see the stop sign on your right, you’re just about up the hill with approximately 500 feet to the finish. It’s a bit flatter here or even a slight decline, so book it to the end!!!

For the 5K: The start for the 5K and Half are at the same time and place. The 5K starts at the right of JFK and makes a sharp right turn 400 meters from the start line. It’s a relatively fast course because of the downhill. The first mile is pretty flat, with a little uphill at the end of the first mile mark. The last mile is downhill, so you can really book it! Again let gravity work for you.

Remember, listen to your body.  If you need to walk, walk it. You have 4 hours to complete the course whether you walk, run or crawl. Your goal is to cross the finish line!

And for the rest of this week, get plenty of sleep, and most of all: happy thoughts!!!

Veteran marathon runner Jodi Thirtyacre works for Kaiser Permanente as the manager of the Department of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at the San Francisco Medical Center. Jodi began running when she was only nine and ran track in high school. She kept up her regimen in college and ran her first marathon at 21. Jodi is the captain of Kaiser Permanente's teams for the Half Marathon and 5K.