The 7 Biggest Race Day Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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The 7 Biggest Race Day Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Race day should be an enjoyable culmination of all of your hard work. All the blood, sweat and tears you put into training are meant to pay off here. After months of training, the last thing you want to do is make a simple miscalculation and botch your race. Here are seven mistakes to avoid for a successful race!

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Mistake #1: Arriving Late

Always allow more time than you think you need — you won’t regret it! Set aside your gear the night before, and plan your travel route (with alternate options!). Map out where to park, because the larger the race, the more likely it is that you’ll have to deal with traffic and will need to park far away from the starting line. For urban races, consider public transportation. While unpredictable events can make a late arrival an unfortunate reality, do everything in your power in advance to prevent this from happening.

Mistake #2: Not Warming Up

Make a warmup routine part of your training so it becomes second nature on race morning. A solid warmup primes your body to run and allows you to race more efficiently right from the start. In cold weather, a warm-up will help loosen your muscles and make injury less likely than if you run cold.

The shorter and faster the race, the more essential an adequate warm-up routine becomes. While an easy 5–10 minute jog may be suitable for a marathon, a 5K pre-race routine should involve 2–3 easy miles finished with strides to help get you ready to run fast.

Mistake #3: Dressing Improperly for the Conditions

Stick to the rule of dressing as if it’s 15–20 degrees warmer than the actual air temperature when you start. Inclement weather can make dressing appropriately on race day a challenge because it’s easy to forget how much you’ll warm up once you start running. Layering and keeping your head, hands and feet protected go a long way. Pro tip: Wear clothes that you’re willing to donate or throw out along your run. If you’re desperate, trash bags can be incredibly insulating.

Mistake #4: Not Following Your Race Plan

Every race should have a plan, even though it may require some adjustments on the fly. Know your pacing strategy in advance, and try to stick with it. The better acquainted you are with the course, the easier it will be to plan for hills and varying terrain.  

Going out too fast is the number one way to sabotage your race plan, especially in longer races. Stay focused on your own pacing strategy and keep it dialed in until you cross the finish line.

Mistake #5: Not Making Adjustments

Even the best plans need to be tweaked from time to time. No matter how perfectly you planned out your racing strategy, things like challenging weather and unexpected route changes will impact how your race plays out. It’s ideal to set multiple goals and backup plans to allow yourself some flexibility on race day. That way if your plan for a PR goes awry when temperatures soar over 90° during your marathon, you will have another goal to fall back on.  

Mistake #6: Not Planning Your Fuel

Poor fueling is the primary reason that runners hit the wall in a marathon, so plan appropriately to avoid this costly mistake. While it’s unlikely you’ll need much hydration or food in a typical 5K or 10K, longer races require a plan for eating and drinking. You’ll need to calculate how often and how much fuel and fluids you’ll need, and whether you’ll need to carry them with you if the race doesn’t have brands that work for you.

A fuel plan should start well before race day. Experiment with different fuel types and timing to see what works best. In addition, plan out your pre-race meal (and travel with your own food, if necessary) to avoid gastrointestinal distress.

Mistake #7: Forgetting to Have Fun!

No matter how many races you’ve competed in, it’s worth reminding yourself to have fun out there. Not every race can be a PR, but you can always take away something positive from the experience. Learn what you can from your most successful and your most challenging days, and move forward. And always remember to thank the race organizers and volunteers who make it all possible.

With a little bit of preparation, your next race will be your best yet!


> The Many Benefits of Training with a Plan
> 8 Ridiculous Things People Say to Runners
> 3 Things You Can Learn From Your Resting Heart Rate

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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