In a sport where the laid back, just ‘run for the love of it’ approach is celebrated, detailed planning ahead of race day isn’t always considered a priority.

Which blows my mind.

When I dedicate months to long miles, tough trails, and physical and mental fatigue throughout training, I’ll take any advantage I can find going into race day.

Logistical planning is one such advantage.

The Prepared Runner’s Advantage

I’m not going to lie, this is probably the least sexy topic I could write about. Big mountain days, speed work, fancy gear … all sexy.

A preparedness checklist? Not so much.

But there are real advantages to showing up on race day with your shit in order:

  1. You can relax the night before, rather than scramble to pack your bags.
  2. On race morning, you can focus on the race itself and not last minute items.
  3. You can anticipate tough sections of the course.
  4. You can prepare for long stretches without aid, and know how to take advantage of frequent aid stations.
  5. You can rely on your crew to be where they need to be, when they need to be there, with what they need to have ready.

When you’re scrambling at the last minute, or running blind with no idea of what the course will throw your way, there’s an underlying level of stress that’s hard to shake — even after the gun goes off.

The prepared runner, however goes in confident and at ease (at least when it comes to logistics).

Enter my race-week checklist.

The Pre-Ultramarathon Checklist

With just over a week before the UROC 100K, I’ve switched from training to taper and full-on prep mode. Maps are printed, charts created, and I’ve begun to think through gear and nutrition.

Plus, this is the first non-local race my daughter will be attending, and I don’t want to embarrass her. (That’s code for, “Holy shit there’s a lot of stuff we need to bring to keep her happy for a six hour road trip, full day in the mountains with her mom, and sleeping outside the house.)

To keep make sure I cover all my bases, I rely on my pre-race checklist (download for free below), which covers everything I need to think through ahead of race day.

1. Know the Course

Trail ultramarathons vary wildly depending on the terrain and elevation profile. Even if I’m familiar with the distance, the first thing I do to prepare for a race is get to know the course.

Ideally I’ll actually get out on the trails to run sections of the course, but when that’s not an option, I do the next best thing:

I print out the map and elevation profile, and walk through the course with my finger.

A post shared by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

Pre Thunder Rock 100 planning last spring.

It’s a simple practice that allows you to visualize how the course is designed and what race day will look and feel like. You can place yourself on the big climbs, and mentally run through an aid station. Seems a bit silly, I know, but it’s a powerful practice.

What to consider:

  • Where are the biggest climbs?
  • What’s the longest stretch without aid?
  • Are there out and back sections that might be mentally taxing?
  • Are there obvious ways to break up the course mentally?
  • What does the last quarter of the race look like?

2. Know the Aid Stations

Unless it’s a self-supported race, aid stations are your lifeline. They’re where you refuel, rest, and meet your crew.

But unlike road marathons, where you can count on a water station every two-ish miles, ultramarathon aid stations may be anywhere from three to fifteen miles apart … or even longer. They could come with a massive buffet of options, or just water.

Knowing as much as you can ahead of time means you aren’t stuck without your fuel.

What to consider:

  • Where are they — aka, how far apart are they? This may dictate your gear choices. If they’re every five miles apart you may need to carry a lot less than if they’re every ten miles apart.
  • What will they supply? If you have any dietary restrictions or rely on a certain gel/drink/snack, it’s good to know what to expect in advance.
  • Do they allow dropbags?
  • Do they allow crew and pacers? For longer races where you have a crew and/or pacer, this is going to be the most important of the four.

Armed with this information, you can start gear, dropbag, and crew preparations.

3. Think Through Gear

For me, this is the fun part.

Gear decisions come down to weather, trail conditions, distance, crews, and level of support. A well supported, flat 50K requires a lot less gear than a mountain 100-miler, for example.

Start by making a list based of what you know you’ll need, then add the “just in case” gear you want on hand (either with the crew or in a dropbag), depending on the weather.

What to consider:

  • Pre-race clothing — What do I need to stay comfortable before the race?
  • Post-race clothing — What do I need to for after the race?
  • What’s the basic gear I’ll want to carry for the entire race?
  • Do I need to carry required gear?
  • How should I split gear up for dropbags?
  • What’s the best way for me to keep gear organized for both crew and myself?
  • Any weather specific items I should have in a “just in case” bag?

Start with your list, then lay it all out so you can see what you have. From there it’s easy to pack and stay organized for yourself and crew.

4. Prepare Your Crew

If you have a crew coming to support you, they will become your savior. I can’t emphasize enough how crucial crew and pacers have been for me over the years, and I often owe my entire race to their hard work.

But in order for a crew to be effective, they need to also be prepared. Which means you need to be prepared.

It’s your responsibility as the runner to inform them of what you need.

What to consider:

  • Crew sheets, gear list, food list — create them.
  • Do they know where to go and when to expect me?
  • Do they know what I’ll likely need at different stages of the race?
  • Discuss expectations with my pacer?
  • What extra food and drink will my crew enjoy?

No matter how tired, hungry, or sore you are, never forget that your crew gave up an entire day (or more, sometimes much more) to help you out. The least you can do is help keep them comfortable and informed.

Start Planning (Free Download)

For most of us planning and list creating isn’t much fun. It takes trail running, where running wild is a key ingredient, and puts it in a box.

But it’s exactly that restraint and structure that allows you to execute your best race (and in turn, race wild). I’ve never heard of anyone who regretted showing up to a race prepared, but the same can’t be said for the unprepared.

To help you out, I’ve put this list above into a quick one-page checklist. It can become your go-to reference ahead of race day, as it is mine.

Download a free copy of the Ultrarunner’s Pre-Race Checklist here:

Get the Checklist

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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