5 Race-Day Mistakes to Avoid

DISASTER! Hit the Wall

What went wrong and how to prevent it

The Mistake: Low mileage

Prevent It: Run more during the week. "Do one weekday run that is 20 to 25 percent of your total weekly mileage to strengthen muscles," says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist. (Try this workout to Double Your Endurance in Just 6 Weeks)

The Mistake: Too-fast start

Prevent It: Chill and check your splits. "Tune into your breathing to prevent matching strides with those around you," says Kris Eiring, Ph.D., a psychologist in Madison, Wisconsin. And pay attention to your watch: Excitement makes those early miles feel easier, even if you're running faster than usual—and you'll pay for that in the second half, says Mike Hamberger, C.S.C.S., a coach in Washington, D.C.

The Mistake: Too much water, not enough salt

Prevent It: Drink according to thirst and down two fast-food salt packets on the run. "When athletes lose salt, they cramp," says Lewis G. Maharam, M.D., author of Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Running. During race week, eat salty foods like pretzels and nuts.

Get Pumped: Muscles can cramp when they're not fortified for the job. Plyometric jump-squats build strength and train muscles, bones and tissue to withstand impact. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Squat and lower hips until thighs are parallel to the floor, arms down and back. Explode upward and reach for the ceiling. Land gently. Do 10. Work up to 20.

More: 2 Tips to Make the Last 10K of a Marathon Your Best

DISASTER! Gut Distress

What went wrong and how to prevent it

Soothe the Beast Inside: The cramping, bloating, and diarrhea of "runner's trots" affects more than 30 percent of runners. These strategies can ensure that the only thing you're running for on race day is the finish line. (Learn to avoid the 5 Worst Pre-Race Nutrition Mistakes that ruin race-day results!)

Practice, Practice: "On average, 70 to 80 percent of runners who run marathons and don't practice eating during training will get some form of trots," says Dr. Maharam.

Keep a Diary: Record what and when you ate the night before and morning of long runs and how your stomach responded, says Dr. Maharam. Make small changes—if you had two cups of coffee, have one next time. If you hit the bathroom once, go twice. If you ate 2.5 hours pre-run, eat three hours before. 

Know the Basics: Twenty-four hours before a race, avoid high-fiber food (it passes too quickly through the intestine) and fatty food (it's hard to digest). Stick to easily digested carbs (white rice, white bread) and lean protein, says Monique Ryan, M.S., R.D., author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.

More: How to Adjust Your Nutrition on Race Day

Consider a Pill: Never take aspirin or ibuprofen before or during your event as it interferes with kidney function. But taking one the night before may help calm your bowels, says Dr. Maharam. 

Consult a Higher Power: If your guts are unraveling in training and racing, see a doctor who specializes in runners and/or a sports dietitian. She may diagnose colitis, gastritis, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity. Running can exacerbate these conditions, says Ryan. Experts will also look for concurrent issues like joint pain, fatigue, or inflammation that may yield clues. If you test negative on all of the above, a sports dietitian can do a thorough review of your nutrition. Bring a food log that begins at least two days out and goes through race day. She may be able to identify the foods and the timing that works best for your metabolism. 

More: 5 Common Pre-Race Nutrition Blunders

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