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As a certified run coach with more than 14 half marathons and six full marathons under my belt, I can say that—without a doubt—there are a lot of things that need to happen for you to run a successful race. I was reminded of this on my recent trip to run Lululemon's SeaWheeze Half Marathon. (Keep reading for that #fail moment.) Packing for my trip, I must've gone through my list of race essentials a dozen times, double- and triple-checking my suitcase to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything for the trek from New York City to Vancouver. (Thankfully, I remembered everything from energy gel to SPIbelt.)
It's more than just being organized to perfection, though. Whether you're heading into the big day hoping to simply cross the finish line or lacing up and praying for a personal record, avoid these five race mistakes, and you'll have a better run, promise.
1. Skipping the warm-up.
For years, I only warmed up when I was running with other athletes. That feels horrible to type out for all the internet to see, but it's the truth. In a group setting, everyone's prepping together. It's time that you've ALL set aside together to be better, as a unit. And, well, it'd be weird to sit out a group warm-up.
But alone? It's easy to convince yourself it's okay to skip. Man, there are so many other things you could be doing with those five to 10 minutes—especially if you're adding a run to your already hectic a.m. routine. Reality check: It's a must-do, before every run and on race day.
No matter how silly you may feel doing lunges, knee hugs, and quad pulls alone in a large starting field, it's worth your time. Especially for early morning races, when your body is tight from being at rest for hours. (Try this warm-up routine that works for running and any other workout.)
2. Not making time for packet pick-up.
For months leading up to the big day, you're just thinking of one date. THE date. However, there are typically some other logistics you need to keep in mind surrounding getting to the starting line—including making time to go to packet pick up and get your race bib. (This is especially huge if you're traveling to your race destination.) A lot of races don't offer the option for participants to grab their stuff day-of, and the last thing you'd want is to miss packet pick-up and for all of that training to be for nothing. (Related: 5 Lessons I Learned from Running My First Trail Race)
3. Wearing something new on race day.
My name is Emily Abbate, I know this rule well, and I recently made this mistake. Scenario: I run super often in this sports bra. It's one of my go-tos. Not only is it super comfortable, but it also gives me the support I need whether I'm tackling a breezy 5K or a weekend 10-miler. I was doing a little bit of shopping the day before SeaWheeze and noticed the bra was available in a fun new print that I just needed to have. And so have it I did.
The issue? Typically, I wash all of my clothes with a specific detergent before wearing them. (You never know who tried on those leggings before you!) Fast-forward 24 hours, after wearing my brand new bra on the SeaWheeze course. The only place to chafe on my entire body, 13.1 miles later? Right at the bra line. The lesson: Give your race day outfit not just one but several test runs, especially on your longest run comparable to the race distance. The last thing you want is to be rockin' a pair of tights that keep falling down, a t-shirt that makes you feel super self-conscious, or a bra that digs into your armpits. (Read up on these other chafing prevention tips.)
4. Not practicing your nutrition strategy.
Race day is not the day to experiment with a new pre-run smoothie recipe or mid-run snack. Test a few breakfasts before long runs during your training to make sure everything sits well in your stomach. Ditto for mid-race fuel.
No matter the distance, you're going to have nutrition options along the course. For shorter races, that could just mean choosing between water or a sport beverage like Gatorade Endurance. Upward of 10K, you may see energy gels or other refueling bites/snacks/squeezes at your disposal. Whatever you reach for, make sure you've had it before.
Example: I've been a huge fan of CLIF's raspberry energy gel for years. I've brought it along with me for at least four full marathons, stashed in my pockets. Recently, on a training run, I wanted to mix things up and try the sport chew (think: gummies) route instead. About 15 minutes after eating the chew, I felt super crampy. So crampy, in fact, that I had to stop my run. Imagine if I had decided to mix things up on race day itself? Major buzz kill. (Here's a beginner's guide on fueling for a half marathon.)
5. Not enjoying the moment.
Let's center back on that initial goal. Whether you're running for time or just for fun, either approach can be enjoyable. If you're too ~in the zone~, you'll miss out on one of the biggest joys of participating in races to begin with: the experience as a whole. You know, the spectators, your fellow runners, the feel-good vibes of accomplishment. You didn't get that far just to tune out the world come race day, so embrace it.