Finding the Perfect Pre-Race Routine and Why it Matters

Whether or not you realize it, I’m sure you have some routine or “ritual” that you (or your athletes) use prior to racing. Whether it’s eating the same breakfast every race day morning, or listening to the same pump up song while stretching.

Runner Stretching Pre Race

Photo by Skeeze (via Pixabay)

Your pre-race routine is something extremely personal to you. It’s most likely filled with things that help to relax, calm, and motivate you before toeing the start line.

Many routines develop organically with time. You tend to gravitate to the certain acts that are comfortable and familiar, nothing novel or spontaneous to throw you out of your focused racing state of mind.

Getting into the habit of performing the same race day routine will help to get you into the right frame of mind, and reduce the chances of something throwing you off in the hours leading up to the event. However, you may not realize it, but your pre-race routine could be hindering performance instead of helping.

Is your pre-race routine actually hurting your performance instead of helping?

I’ve seen all sorts of odd and bizarre pre-race rituals over the years, from men shaving their legs, to people eating donuts for breakfast. The first step to developing the perfect pre-race routine is figuring out if the things you’re already doing are helping you, or possibly harming your racing.

You need to ask yourself the question, does what I’m doing give me a physical or psychological boost once the gun goes off? If not, than it’s just superfluous and likely unnecessary, and keeping it in your routine is just taking time away from preparing in some other more positive way.

Make a list of the things that you are currently doing pre-race, this can be even in the days leading up to the event. Anything that you routinely perform or do leading up to a race. Maybe you don’t do anything at all, and that is fine, you’re a clean slate, and you can skip this exercise and move onto the next section of this article.

Break out your routines into two categories based on the area of performance you see them impacting most:

  1. Mental
  2. Physical

Now write the benefit of each act next to it. Here’s an example:

Eating oatmeal – Physical – Complex Carbohydrates for Sustained Energy


Listening to Iron Maiden – Mental – Gets the Adrenaline Pumping

If you’re struggling to figure out what the positive attribute is for an item, it’s likely that it’s unnecessary and can be removed and replaced with one of the items we’ll discuss in the next section.

Once you have your list, place them by order of priority and the level of impact they have on your performance, considering physical and mental as equal importance.

So like, listening to Iron Maiden is more important than flossing the morning of the race. This is your chance to start with clean routine and break out of those old habits that you feel attached too but that aren’t doing anything for you. Why carry those with you for your entire career as a competitive runner? Get rid of them now! Time to optimize your pre-race routine!

Maximize Performance with an Optimized Pre-Race Routine

There are many ways to optimize your routine so that you can consistently perform at your best. Here are a few of the more important:

  1. Race Day Rituals Should Actually Be Race WEEK Rituals
  2. Mental Preparation is Just as Important As Physical Preparation
  3. Nutrition is Key to any Successful Pre-Race Routine
  4. Figure out what the best warm up is for you
  5. What you do in the final minutes before the race can have a HUGE impact on your race day outcome

Let’s break each of these out…

1. Race day rituals should actually be race week rituals

You don’t start training in the last week leading up to an important race, so why would you leave it to the day of the race to start final preparation for body and mind.

I once was told, and now truly believe, that in terms of training, there is no physical advantage that you can gain in the final week leading up to a race, all you can do is hurt your chances of a good performance.

What this means is doing that extra interval on Tuesday, or hammering that tempo run on Wednesday, will not have any measurable improvement on your aerobic capacity, lactic threshold, or any other fitness marker. Instead, all it can really serve to do is tire you out, and leave you less rested for the most important event a few days later.

Now I know that a lot of runners feed off a workout where they outperform their goals and crush their final interval, this gives them confidence and is proof of fitness.

However, this is an undisciplined way of thinking about your fitness level and the sport. Show restraint and control, and simply KNOW that you could have crushed that last one if you wanted, but you are saving it for the final 800 meters of your 2 mile on Saturday. That is a true successful workout, and the proper mindset to carry you into the weekend’s race.

In the days leading up to the race you should be focused on feeling good. Make sure you’re getting enough rest, eating enough of the right foods, hydrating adequately. Don’t over think any of these things, but just be aware, and attentive to your body’s needs.

In the days leading up to the race you should be doing shake out strides, light stretching, eating a balanced diet, sleeping on a regular cycle, going to bed at the same time each night, and waking up at the same time each morning.

The key is getting your body into a pattern of behavior so that when race day comes the only thing out of the ordinary is the race itself, but we’ll prepare for this, so that even the event feels like second nature.

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