This excerpt comes from Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning, a comprehensive handbook to running 30 to 100 miles and beyond, written by Hal Koerner, one of the most experienced and recognized athletes in the ultrarunning.
1 DO be patient. The race ahead is long; allow it to unfold, and remind yourself to appreciate and enjoy the journey.
2 DO be gentle on yourself beforehand. Take it easy the day and night prior to race day. Race organizers don’t make that easy, by scheduling interesting expos and panel discussions the day before, where you are on your feet, walking around, expending energy. Discipline yourself to keep that to a minimum, making a conscious effort to sit and rest, with your feet up as much as possible. Don’t squander the good work you’ve done during your taper in the last day or two.
3 DO wear a watch. I rely on my watch not only to know if I am on race pace but also for proper and strategic eating and hydrating. For example, I know I want to eat a gel every 20 to 30 minutes; I know I want to drink an entire bottle of fluid in an hour. A watch keeps me on that plan. Some people rely on aid station placement to some degree. However, that involves an intimate knowledge of the course that most runners don’t have, and it also allows the aid station to dictate your fueling pace, which should be in your control. Your watch is the fail-safe. Wear it.
4 DO fuel often and early. Attempting to play catch-up later in the race is a dangerous and mostly doomed proposition. For one, you process sugar and food poorly near the end of a race. Also, as you tire, it is easy to forget to fuel properly later in a race. Don’t get to the point of being either hungry or thirsty. Load on the front end.
5 DO have more than one goal. That way, if your primary goal goes out the window, you can reach for your secondary or tertiary goal. For example, a top goal may be going for first place in your age group. A secondary goal could be more time-focused, such as going for a sub-24-hour race in a 100-miler. A tertiary goal might be simply to finish.
6 DO be ready to be resilient when things go wrong. If you roll an ankle or your breathing is erratic or your stomach goes, you and your crew will have to think on the fly. Be ready for and open to that. If you have severe cramping, for example, a plan-on-the-fly might be: We will walk through this rather than just sitting down and doing nothing. Or, I will run for 2 minutes and walk 2 minutes. Mentally, devising a plan gives you back and keeps you in control. Micromanage the problem while still keeping an eye on the big picture.
7 DO push yourself a little. This is a race, after all. And you’ve trained hard for this day, maybe years of cumulative effort, maybe 6 months straight of prioritizing training over other things in your life. You deserve to claim all that you’ve worked for. So go for it! Don’t be tentative. Push yourself up some of those hills, find that pace that you’ve trained for, and stick with it. Don’t be afraid to set your sights a little bit higher on the dream you’ve worked toward—embrace it!
8 DO visualize success. During every race, I see myself winning. Whatever it may be, you must have something that inspires you held like a beacon in your mind—maybe it is winning the race or your age group, or maybe it is the act of crossing the finish line. Visualize success. Visualize the course. Visualize getting through specific aid stations. As for me, in tough moments in a race, I see a reenactment of some of my best finish line scenarios all melded into one.
9 DO have fun. Make the most of the day, and be grateful for the unique opportunity to be there. When things go awry, remind yourself that you are there for fun, and enjoy the day you’ve been given as it unfolds. Be present.
10 DO stay aware. Most races are run in the wilds. The course will not be entirely flagged nor each turn highlighted. Pay attention to where you are, be familiar with the course beforehand, and know the markings. If you can get on the course for some reconnaissance before race day, do it. If not, online maps make examining the course easy. Have basic knowledge of where you are going, and know the names of the trails you will be on and where the ascents and descents will be. Do not just mentally check out when you are running; it is your responsibility to stay on the course. Knowing details about it will help you gain confidence when it begins to seem like it’s been too long since you’ve spotted that last race marker.
Of course, there are also 10 things you definitely should not do on race day! Download Hal Koerner’s Race Day “DO NOT DO!” List. For this free download, just visit this page.
Get a jump on training for an ultramarathon with Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning, a comprehensive handbook to running 30 to 100 miles and beyond, written by one of the most experienced and recognized athletes in the sport.