Training aside, there are logistics, planning, and coordination that must be sorted out prior to race day. First and foremost, I like to make sure that all my gear is in check. Here are some talking points in my packing and preparation.
Don’t freeze before the race. Always bring gloves, a knit hat, long pants, and a sweatshirt or jacket to wear on pre-race morning. Even during summer events, there are often early race starts, in which you’ll find yourself pacing back and forth trying to get warm. Be in control of your comfort and don’t waste excess energy trying to keep warm. When you start over heating, take your sweatshirt off and lay it on the ground. Now you’ve got a plush blanket to sit on or use as a yoga mat for pre-race stretching.
Course Recon: Print the course map. Study the course layout… clockwise loop, counterclockwise loop, out-and-back, figure-8, point-to-point, horseshoe, dogleg? These are all typical course designs. As a runner, knowing that an aid station is 2-miles away, or that there are four more climbs can make or break your race. You don’t have to commit the course profile and elevation changes to memory, but it will serve you well having an idea of what lies ahead. I highlight all the aid stations on the course and determine the distance between each. By partitioning an ultra-course, I enter the race with an idea of how many 3-to-6 mile segments there are to complete. This lessens the blow of the monstrous 31-mile event that I’m signed up for. If I know I have six 5-mile sections, I can gauge my water and gel consumption and have an idea where the mid-way point of the race is – a huge motivator in long distance running.
Race Uniform: Singlet/Jersey, shorts, undies, socks, sneakers, race belt, water bottle, watch, sunglasses, hat. It’s better to have more stuff than you need packed in your drop-bag on race day. I always pack a few pairs of socks. You never know when you’ll poke a hole through the big toe, or step in a murky puddle. It’s better to have reserves on the ready. Also, all of my racing and training sneakers have bungee laces. With trail running, I find you need the forgiveness of the elastic laces on descents, but also need the firm grip and stability throughout the trail. My race belt holds my bib number, but also has loops for holding nutrition. You can also use safety-pins to attach gels or bars to your shorts or belt. I prefer using a belt so that I can move my bib around if any pressure points or chafing occur mid-race.
Race Accessories: Gloves, arm sleeves, wrist band, head buff. All of these items are small, light, easily disposable, and easily replaceable. My favorite add-on is a single wrist band. I use the band primarily for on-deck storage of my next gel. Pockets are sparse and cumbersome on race uniforms, so holding a gel in your hand and storing another on your wrist is a simple way to ensure that you’ll be fueled through to the next aid station. I wear arm sleeves when I expect to get varying weather along the course. For races in which you’re climbing, exposed to the sun, or shaded by trees, it’s great to be able to pull the sleeves up or down to regulate your body temperature. Sunblock, a rain jacket, and nutrition are other items that are good to have on stand-by in your drop-bag. Race day weather can be too hot, too cold, too rainy, too sunny, or too awful. While we can’t plan the weather, we can plan for the weather. The less we have to think about on race day morning, the clearer our minds will be when put to the test.
Recovery Compression: No I don’t wear spandex, I wear compression gear. No matter if it’s an hour car ride home or a 4-hour flight, after any race you will want to compress your legs to keep the blood flowing and promote healing through the heavily-taxed muscles. I prefer long, see-through, compression shorts that reinforce the sore muscles of the hips and thighs. Also, knee-high compression socks can help regulate blood flow through swollen feet and ankles, and strained calves. I wear a compression shirt just to complete the look, as it makes me feel more like a professional athlete. Oh yes, do us all a favor and wear clothes other these snug garments. Think of it as a second skin, not as a European outfit.
Good luck, run smart, and run happy!