How to Handle Any Setback on Race Day

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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How to Handle Any Setback on Race Day

No matter how well you plan for race day, there is always a chance unexpected setbacks will arise. Even during training, it is more than likely a sick day or errant thunderstorm means you have to switch up your schedule.

“Everyone has days where they question why they are doing what they are doing,” shares Brendan Gilpatrick, head cross country coach at the University of Maine at Augusta and a coach at Dirigo Endurance. “Practicing gratefulness is one of the most valuable tools available to athletes. Every athlete goes through lows during training and racing and taking a few moments to reflect the ‘why’ can help an athlete remember that they are doing what they love.”

When going after your goals, keep your love for the sport top of mind on race day and prepare to be surprised. Just in case, have a backup plan for some of the unplanned scenarios — for example, visualizing different problems during training runs can be beneficial — with these tips on how to handle common race day setbacks like a pro.


If you’re someone who hits snooze in their sleep, there are steps you can take to assure this won’t happen on race day.

“If you have an early morning practice, workout or race, use your phone’s alarm and follow this routine: 1. Double check that it’s set correctly; 2. make sure it is fully charged; 3. make sure the volume is all the way up and 4. make it so that you actually have to get up and walk across the room to turn it off,” urges Gilpatrick. “If you find that you have a tendency to crawl back into bed then you are probably not getting enough sleep.”

If you don’t follow this routine every day, do so the night before a big race. If that isn’t enough, and you’re still snoozing, making sure you’re efficient once you’re awake will help you get out the door faster.

“Prep for race day just like you would for a big interview,” says Jessica Green, running coach and co-founder of Hot Bird Running, LLC. “Lay out all of your clothes and gear the day before. In the event that you wake up after your alarm was supposed to go off, don’t fret — just hurry. You can’t get back missed time, so work with what you have and skip the things that aren’t important.”


Doing your research can help you set realistic expectations. If you know roughly how many runners participate in the race and where the port-a-potties are located, you can strategize how early you need get to a race to use the facilities. However, if you can’t find a short line, there are a few things to consider.

“If the line is too long, assess what the need is. Are you trying to PR? Can you hold it until the first mile or two? What happens if you wait it out and use the bathroom before you cross the starting line? You reduce the chance of having stop mid-race,” notes Green. “As a result, sometimes it’s best to start later than your assigned corral versus planning to stop mid-race to use the bathroom and losing time mid-race for a pit stop.”

It is always a good idea to use the bathroom at home or your hotel before you leave for the race. When you arrive on site, it can’t hurt to get in line for the port-a-potty even if you don’t have to go at that time because — Green adds — chances are you probably will have to go by the time you hit the front of the line.


The good news is most races offer some form of fuel on the course, so if you forgot your favorite, you are likely to find something along the way. Checking as you pass water stations can help you locate any fuel that may be offered. However, if you are doing a longer race, such as an ultramarathon, you may need to get creative with how you get enough calories in.

“Typically, if your event is going to be under an hour this is not a big deal, but for those going longer — or really long — calories can be the difference between a PR or not being able to finish,” explains Gilpatrick. “Some calories are always better than no calories in long events. During ultramarathons your nutrition will dictate not only how your race goes but how you will experience it. If the body is getting consistent calories through a long event it will perform better than working yourself into a deficit you might not be able to pull out of.“


In this case, Gilpatrick recommends finding a can of soda, for example, which may have less nutrition than a typical gel, but will at least keep your energy stores up until you can find something more suitable at an aid station.


Learn how to be flexible! You can’t plan for everything and being able to go with the flow helps you navigate your race day like a pro. Also, don’t be afraid to ask other runners for help.

“I once borrowed the race director’s running shoes at a destination race because I didn’t notice that I packed two right-foot shoes until the morning of the race,” remarks Green.

The running community is just that — a community — and is usually more than willing to lend a helping hand to a runner in need. Even better? You can always pay it forward!

“When was the last time you ever heard anyone say their race went perfectly as planned and there was nothing they could have done differently,” asks Gilpatrick. “Something as simple as encouraging others on race day can help you keep a positive attitude about your own race.”


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About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.


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