4 Common Race-Day Mistakes To Avoid

Vow to overcome the problems that marred your past performances.


Caitlin Carlson |

Eating spicy food the night before a long run, washing your shorts without checking the pockets for your phone – some mistakes you make only once. But when it comes to racing, we tend to err in the same ways over and over.

“Runners become irrational beings during race time,” says Barbara Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist – and it’s hard to simulate race-day anxiety and excitement in training.

While you needn’t dwell on mistakes, analysing your performance – in good races and in bad – may be the best thing you can do to improve your times. Here’s how to handle four common race-day saboteurs.

I Went Out Too Fast

Todd Detwiler
Todd Detwiler

The Fix: Sign up for shorter races in the middle of your training cycle and make your only goal to maintain the pace you’re hoping to run in your target race. Race conditions feel very different from training runs – the more you race, the more similar they’ll feel and the easier it will be to stick to your goal pace. Performance anxiety can also affect how fast you set out, says Walker. Try repeating a mantra like “under control” in the minutes leading up to go time.

I Got a Side Stitch

Todd Detwiler
Todd Detwiler

The Fix: Stitches typically occur due to a too-fast start or improper prerace fueling. What you eat leading up to a race is just as important as what you eat during, says Marni Sumbal, an exercise physiologist, triathlete, and owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition. If you’re targeting a race longer than 60 minutes, eat a meal of at least 300 to 350 calories three to four hours prerace.

Otherwise, consume a 200- to 250-calorie snack that’s low in fat and fibre (like a rice cake with a smear of nut butter and a small banana) two hours before the race. Make at least two runs in the last two months of training dress rehearsals: Wake up and eat when you plan to on race day and start running around the time the gun will go off.

I Took in Fuel and Felt Sick; I Didn’t, And I Bonked

Todd Detwiler
Todd Detwiler

The Fix: You need to fuel only during races that last an hour or longer, says Sumbal. Consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate and 12 to 24 ounces of fluid for every hour of running. “During your training, include workouts to practice nutrition at paces similar to what you’ll be running on race day,” says Sumbal. Something that works while you’re running easy may not work at half-marathon pace.

Better yet, try it in tune-up races, too: Those butterflies in your stomach can mean your go-to fuel sources won’t sit as well. If you’re a nervous runner, stick to liquid calories (a sports drink or a gel chased with water) in frequent small doses (every 10 to 15 minutes) throughout the race.

I Was So Nervous That I Ran Poorly

Todd Detwiler
Todd Detwiler

The Fix: Your best strategy is to minimise pre-race stress. Set everything out the night before, have a checklist of what you need to take with you, and allow extra time for commuting. Drive to the starting line in advance so you can time it and check out the parking situation, and research the route to learn where you’ll find hills, water stops, and porta-potties. “This helps you feel as if you’re doing something routine on race day, rather than something huge and new – and anxiety-inducing,” says Walker.

Once you’re on the line, take deep belly breaths (in for four counts, out for four counts), which will help counteract the stress response. Try breathing in time to a short mantra like “I’m prepared” or “I’m ready.”

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