Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

After months, maybe even years of hard work and miles, you’ve finally reached race week — the final days before your big race.

Excitement is high, nerves maybe higher, but you’re confident. Your training is essentially complete, and all that’s left to do is sit back, enjoy a cold one, and visualize yourself crossing that finish line.

Ahhhh … the sweet, sweet sound of the announcer calling out your name as you cross the finish line.

Okay, snap out of it. Back to reality.

It’s temping for race week to become nothing more than an excuse for you to stop running and eat massive amounts of pasta. I’ve heard from countless runners who have essentially given up the final week, thinking there’s nothing left to be done. A big mistake.

But let me tell ya, race week mistakes are rather common, and my over-confident ass has been known to make a few of them myself. Just ask my wife, when I’m crying to her at mile 15 that I want to quit.

They’re mistakes that at best made race day more stressful, and at worst caused me to miss time goals and bomb races. That’s right, common race week mistakes can ruin your race.

That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Not the ruin your race part, but common mistakes, and how you should take control of race week instead.

Let’s start with the first …

Mistake 1: You Don’t Rest Enough

The day before my second marathon — a marathon I had been religiously training towards for months — I found myself standing amongst tens of thousands of hipsters on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. No, not for some race related expo, but for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, a mock rally hosted by comedians Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.

“This type of event will never happen again,” I told myself a few hours earlier … before cramming in to an over-packed Metro and trekking my way down to the capitol, where I’d stand on my feet for most of the day.

Sure enough, as I crawled out of bed at 5am the next morning to run 26.2 miles, my feet and legs were already tired and sore.

Damn. That was dumb.

Unfortunately the Universe rarely conspires for proper rest before a race. You’re often either:

  • Coming off a busy week of work,
  • Traveling to the race location and dealing with jet-lag, or
  • So excited about being in a new city or location that you’re tempted to explore and sight see.

Those first two things are often out of your control. But the good news is that you can control others. On race week:

  • Go to sleep early, starting multiple days before the race
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol
  • Stay off your feet as much as possible

And whatever you do, don’t go to a mock rally.

Mistake 2: You Prepare at the Last Minute

There’s a type of runner I get a kick out of searching for before every race. Let’s call him the Procrastinating Runner. He’s an interesting man, and often a strong athlete. He likes routine, geeks out on gear, and tracks every run, mile, and route throughout training. If you’re not paying attention, he looks a lot like everyone else.

But you know you’ve found Procrastinating Runner when you spot the guy, moments before the race is to begin,frantically scuffling through his many bags trying to find a stick of lube, then dashing over to look at aid station charts and praying his quickly thrown together drop bags,

  1. Make it to the right location, and
  2. Actually have what he needs inside.

Trust me, you don’t want to be the Procrastinating Runner.

There’s nothing worse than stressing to find what you need on race morning, and your lack of planning can end up costing you out on the trail.

Beginning a few days before the race, start planning gear, clothing (before, during, and after), food, drop bags, crew bags, logistics, and race strategy, so that there’s nothing left to do on race more but show up and run.

Mistake 3: Your Runs Aren’t What They Should Be

I hate to break it to you, but a taper period isn’t just an excuse for lazy, short easy runs.

Believe it or not, there’s strategy in not just the number, but the type of runs you’re logging. The primary objective of a taper is to toe the line on race day rested, and beyond that, a proper taper will also prep your legs to be sharp and light.

You do this by sprinkling in intentional light speed or hill work designed not to wear you down, but keep your muscles engaged. Depending on your distance and goals, the type of running you’re doing on race week will vary, but it should almost always include more than just short, easy runs.

You Can Reclaim Race Week

Mistakes on race week may be common, but completely avoidable. You can reclaim race week to work for you, not against you.

And the best part? You can still sit back and enjoy a cold one.

Click here to learn more about exactly what to do the week leading up to your big ultramarathon goal.


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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