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What to do the night before your big race

You’ve logged the miles, you’ve taken the post-workout naps, and you’ve eaten a whole lot of carbohydrates along the way. Now, your goal race – whether it’s your first 5K or that ultra you’ve spent 12 months training for – is just a few hours away.

Most running pros and race veterans will reassure you that the night before the big race isn’t actually the most important one – and that the sleep you get two nights before you toe the line is the sleep that matters most. (So if you’re too anxious to doze off or you wake up every hour afraid of missing your pre-race alarm, don’t fret. One night of tossing and turning isn’t going to derail your race.)

Here are 12 tried, true, and tested pre-race strategies longtime runners swear by. Just remember – it’s your race, so always default to what works for you. (If you haven’t had a beer since college, the night before the race may not be the time to test whether a bottle of Bud Light will, in fact, help you relax. And if you’re not a coffee drinker but all your race buddies are downing iced macchiatos the morning of, consider a hard pass on that one, too.)

1. Prepare, gather, charge, and organize everything you’ll need on race morning

Lay out your outfit – including shoes, socks, your bib, and safety pins – and every single thing you may need before you leave the house or hotel. (Anti-chafe balm, electronics, directions, something warm to wear before the start, a change of clothes for after the race, etc.) Make sure everything you need is fully charged, and even consider prepping your breakfast and pre-race coffee ahead of time.

“I always read all the pre-race information in the race packets or on the website,” says Angela Colarusso Boonstra from Hoboken, NJ. “I want to know where I need to be when – and I still show up way too early, just to be safe.” Factor in extra time for traffic, parking, walking to the start, [multiple] bathroom visits with long lines, and time to warm up.

Organize everything you will need on the race day on the night before the race

Photo courtesy of Polar Global Ambassador Sarah Pappusch.

2. Put the finishing touches on your playlist

“I like to add a few surprise songs to my mix that I didn’t have on there before,” says Beth Meale Risdon of Boulder, CO. “It gives me something to look forward to the next day when I’m suffering.” (Just make sure your race allows headphones – many don’t!)

3. Treat yourself

“I like to shave my legs and put on some fancy lotion,” says Kiera Carter from New York City. “It’s the least I can do for them before they take me through a marathon.”

If you love baths, take a bath (just don’t stay in a super hot one for too long – you don’t want to get dehydrated), and if face masks are your thing, relax with one for a while. Professional runner and Polar athlete Molly Huddle swears by pre-race manicures – bonus points if you paint your nails in the official race colors.

4. Consider a beer or glass of wine to help you relax

“I always drink a cold beer with my dinner the night before a race,” says Jen Correa from Staten Island, NY. “It helps me de-stress and fall asleep. And if I’m traveling for a race, I like to try and make it a local beer.”

5. Watch something you love, something that makes you laugh, or something that inspires you

Dori Gray, a marathoner from Jersey City, NJ, swears by the “Lucky Penny” episode of How I Met Your Mother – that’s the one where Barney runs the New York City Marathon. “It happened to be on the night before my first marathon, and a ritual was born,” she says.

6. Give your body some extra TLC

“I take a two-minute ice bath the night before the race and the morning of,” says Laura Beachy, an ultramarathoner from New York City. “I started this tradition back in high school when I was running cross-country. It’s a way to feel the sensation of every muscle in my legs, and it makes me feel rejuvenated. Sometimes on the course, I’ll meditate a bit on that quick dose of rejuvenation, and I’ll find room to dig deep so I can keep going.”

7. Bring life to your legs

Robyn Mayer, an ultramarathon from Denver, CO, prefers an upside-down approach. “I lay with my legs up the wall for 10 to 15 minutes, with my eyes closed, in a quiet room,” she says. “I visualize what success will look like from the beginning to the end of the race – literally mile by mile sometimes. I focus on deep belly breaths and big exhales. I do it right before bed because it helps calm me down but also gets me centered.”

8. Consider a quick social media hiatus

“The night before a big race, so many people tend to wish you well via a litany of mediums,” says Andrew Goodnow from Austin, TX. “So I turn my phone off by 10 PM. Then I’ll read a book I’ve already read – to prevent page turning until 3 AM – until I fall asleep. It’s a good way to disconnect and be ready to go the next morning.”

9. Be kind to yourself

“Before I go to sleep, I lie in bed and remind myself that whether I have a good race or a bad one, I’m still doing something pretty cool,” says Adam Gorsline of Long Island. “Let that be the victory. And I remind myself that I’ll get to eat a delicious bagel with peanut butter as soon as I finish.”

10. Visualize your own success

“If I know and have been on the course, I’ll picture myself running it in my race gear, with whatever weather is predicted, feeling strong, relaxed, and happy,” says Deanna Culbreath, an ultramarathoner from New York City. “I’ll try to capture details like sounds and smells along the course. If I haven’t run the course before, I’ll bring to mind my favorite training runs or races where I felt strong, and I’ll recall as many details as I can.”

11. Try to get a good night’s sleep

Don’t stress about this one too much. (Definitely double-check that your alarm is set for the right time – and triple-check that it’s set for AM, not PM.) Try meditating for five to 10 minutes (if you’re new to meditating, and app like Headspace will help you get started), or enlist a noisemaker or app like aSleep to help you snooze soundly.

12. Most importantly: Do whatever you’ve been doing throughout your training

“Nothing new on race day,” says Paul Leak, who works for Strava in San Francisco. “So if I drank a beer the night before all my long runs, why change now? Keep doing whatever you’ve been doing so you’re in the same mindset you were in before all those long runs you crushed.”

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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