Can you imagine months of training and preparing for Track and Field season, only to get to the start line, to find that you have forgotten your running shoes? Yes, I have been there. As a result, I have learned my lesson to arrive at every race, or competition, over-prepared. Race day packing is all about ample planning.
My pre-race routine has become an essential ritual that assures I can focus on what is important the day of my race. Creating this routine started with the primary intention of ensuring I did not forget any critical gear but soon turned into a combined diet and mentality routine. Read on to discoure my favourite tips for track meet race day packing.
Proper nutrition is essential to fuel regular training, but what makes race-day food different?
To start, keep familiar foods in your diet. If you have found a routine that works for you, stick to it before your race. Do not introduce anything new the day of, or even the days leading up to the competition. Keeping your body comfortable prevents any digestive issues that may arise.
In terms of general fuelling leading up to a track meet, stick to a balanced, simple diet that includes moderate to high carbohydrate amounts. Do not increase your calorie intake, but instead shift your macronutrient intake to favour an increase in carbohydrates (carbohydrates, proteins, fats). If you taper before a competition, you may need fewer total calories. During training, experiment with nutrition type and timing to ensure your body is comfortable with race week and race-day foods. Otherwise, here are some of the basics:
The night before:
- Eat familiar foods.
- Focus on a slightly higher carbohydrate portion.
- Include simple, bland foods that you easily tolerate.
- Avoid high-fat foods.
- Limit high fibre foods. Many athletes prefer to limit vegetables the evening before an event to minimize race-day gastrointestinal issues.
The morning of:
- Don’t skip breakfast! Eat approximately 3-4 hours before your race
- Choose high carbohydrate, low fat, low fibre and moderate protein foods.
- Include simple, bland foods that you know you easily tolerate
- Ex: oatmeal with banana
Throughout the day/before your race:
- Depending on the timing of your event, you may need a more substantial snack if your race takes place 4+ hours after your breakfast.
- Snack on foods consisting of simple carbohydrates 1hour to 20 minutes before the race
- Consider frequent, small snacks. Having multiple small portions keeps you feeling light and satiated.
- Ex: a banana or simple granola bar
After your race:
- Refuel your glycogen stores and repair your muscles with a high carbohydrate, moderate protein snack or meal.
- If you are not hungry, try something liquid.
- Don’t forget to hydrate!
What’s in The Bag?
In addition to your usual running staples, it never hurts to pack a few extras – even if it just means giving you peace of mind. I have compiled a checklist of my essentials that you can refer to the next time you are packing your racing bag.
Race bib + lots of extra safety pins
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You either receive your bib the night before or on race day. Either way, ensure you have it hours before the race, already pinned on your shirt ready to go. To avoid scrambling to find safety pins, keep a supply stored away in your bag.
Racing flats + lots of extra pins
This one seems self-explanatory, but it is easy to forget a pair of shoes when you have to bring multiple sets. Guarantee that your flats are filled with spikes, and always bring extras in case one spike breaks or comes loose. Also, don’t forget the key!
I was notorious for always changing my hairstyle hours before the race – maybe just a nervous habit. Its always great to have extras in case you are like me, or even for a friend in need.
The key to dressing perfectly for a range of temperatures is layers. Dressing in layers is the ultimate way to ensure that you are comfortable; before, during and after the race. Both hot and warm weather requires extra clothing. If it is going to be hot, bring extra clothes to replace sweaty ones and if it is going to be cold, layer up and remove as necessary. Stick to what you usually train in. Personally, wearing the clothes that I would typically train in kept me in the same driven mindset that I would have in practice.
It’s great to carry an extra pair of flip flops to wear between your shoe changes and after your race.
Raincoat + umbrella
Inevitably, you will be sitting around for at least a couple hours before or after your race. In my experience, the designated waiting area (usually the bleachers) is rarely covered. If you know, it is going to rain, or even if there is a small chance, ensure you are packing these just in case. It is also helpful to bring a large garbage bag into which to pack your track bag and personal items.
There are two situations in which I depend on these to prepare me for my race, and I speak more about this below in my mentality routine. Getting into a race-ready mindset is a snap with a well-chosen playlist. For more on how to use music for sports psychology purposes and to get you into the zone, check out this excellent online resource, Headset.
A watch is vital for timing your warm-up but also ensuring that you arrive at the start line on time. The tricky thing about racing is ensuring you do not warm-up too early or too late. I always liked to give myself a little extra time to get focused. An additional 10 to 15 minutes before my race helped me get into the zone and avoid rushing to the start-line with my shoe untied.
Portable phone charger
Many track meets are full-day endeavours, and many are outside without access to outlets. I find it beneficial to invest in a portable cellphone charger, so you do not have to worry about this.
A tarp or blanket is a must for outside competitions. As you nervously wait for your event – or even between multiple events- you may need to camp out close to the track to be more comfortable or out of the sun.
Reusable water bottle
This is obviously a must. Bring more than one in case there is no place to refill.
The Mental Game
Ample training nutrition practice and smart gear packing work hand-in-hand with a sound pre-race psyching routine to keep you calm and focused going into an event. Running is just as much a mental sport as it is physical. Getting into the zone leading up to your race is crucial to your performance. I used to let my nerves get the best of me, absolutely dreading race day. It was not until I developed a few personal rituals to train my mind and boost my confidence before the big day.
The week before:
- Make sleep a priority. Ensure you are getting good quality sleep every night for proper recovery.
- Research your race; look at who you are competing against, past times, and location.
- Strategize together with your coach(es). You may need to adjust your training and discuss how you would like the race to unfold.
The night before:
- Pack your bags.
- Plan your meals for the next day.
- Write down your race time and location.
- Continue thinking about your strategy positively.
The day of:
- Arrive at the site early to familiarize yourself with the general atmosphere.
- Familiarize yourself with the starting line.
- Plan your warm-up time and location; allocate an extra 15 mins so that you are comfortable.
- Before your race start, begin to get into the zone for your warm-up; listen to your favourite music and visualize performing your best.
- For more sports psychology tips and tricks to help you have your best race, check out Headset.
A track event, or any competition day really, is about using smart preparation to facilitate the smooth execution of your race. Race day packing can be a breeze when you have a plan in place. Choose simple foods, pack your gear bag wisely, and be sure you have the tools to keep your mental game strong to rock your race!
Nutrition planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutritional counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Food For Thought Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!
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