Race Day: Ten Things I Learned the Hard Way

Race Day: Ten Things I Learned the Hard Way

By Steve Buelna, TMS Ambassador

Race season is upon us, which is a good time to reflect back on some of the things I’ve learned (some the hard way, others by sage advice given to me by the veterans). Below is a list of things that I have incorporated into my preparation for the “Big Day” (in no particular order):

#1 – Don’t forget the sunblock!

You should be applying this during your training runs anyway. But more than likely you will be out on the course longer than your typical training run. So be sure to apply before you leave the house.

Why you need sunscreen as well as salts.

#2 – Anti-Chaff isn’t to be taken lightly (get it?)

Nothing is worse than that post race shower when you find out the spots you missed. This is similar to sunscreen, but usually in much worse spots. If you are going to be out longer than a couple hours, it doesn’t hurt to bring a small tin of anti-chaff with you. Any race over a marathon distance I bring some Squirrel’s Nut Butter with me.

#3 – Nothing new on race day.

You’ve heard this before, but “Nothing new on race day”. For me that means I actually do a dress rehearsal for the exact apparel, hat, sunglasses, socks, hydration, and fuel at LEAST once before the race.

#4 – Know the course.

If possible, check out the course in advance. You might be thinking that it is too far to drive/fly to do that. With technology today there are a million ways to get a look at the course in advance. Do a search for Youtube videos of the race. Check previous year’s finishers’ names and find them on Strava and look at their pages for the course. Check out the website for the race. Have an idea of where the aid stations are, whether you need to take extra fuel or hydration with you. It’s much better to think these things through in advance. Race day is too late for it. 

Previewing Bizz Johnson resulted in me changing my race plans for the year.

#5 – Set yourself up for success during the week before.

All week before the race, get lots of good rest and be sure to fully hydrate every day. You will have a ton of extra time during your taper. Put it to good use. Recharge the body. Mentally take yourself through the race. Use this time to consider what things might go wrong during the race and have a plan for how you will address those things if they do come up (hopefully not, but it proves helpful to reduce the freak out factor if it does). When Taper Tantrums set in, clean your house. You will be thankful when you are sore and tired that you come home to a clean house. Also, have food and drink in the house for you after the race. If you are tired and sore the last thing you will want to do is pace the aisles of the grocery store after.

#6 – Eat the right pre-race foods.

What you eat the night before and the morning of the race can have a huge impact on how the stomach responds on race day. If you are like me, you will be slightly nervous (ok, I almost put on the calendar when I will start getting nervous. It is ridiculous, but part of the process, so roll with it). My night before race dinner is always pizza (now). I made the mistake of having a spicy meal the night before once, and will never do that again. Also, try to have that meal early in the evening to let your system have as much time to process as possible. In other words, you want to spend your time before the race doing your warm-up, not in the line for the porto. Also, race morning I try to eat some waffles or maybe a peanut butter sandwich a couple hours before the race. This was also learned the hard way by having a nice, big, eggs and bacon breakfast the morning of my first half marathon. What I didn’t know is that a heavy breakfast like that is hard for the stomach to digest. And it was also something that wasn’t my normal diet (keep it simple, stick to what your body knows).

#7 – Sodium is your friend!

It took me a while to figure this one out. But my 50k last year and a subsequent 30k I clipped a rock late in the race and had an instant calf cramp that caused me to fold like a house of cards. What was happening was that I lost a significant amount of salt for perspiration. As a result, I now take a tube of Base salt with me and incorporate that into my hydration routine. The watermelon flavored Clif Shot Bloks are also high in sodium and delicious or try these SaltStick fast chews. This really helped prevent that cramping and entertainment for other racers as I lay on the trail trying to get the softball-sized knot in my calf out.

Click here to learn more about how to properly fuel your adventure.

Fueling bonk vs proper fueling and hydration. Squaw Valley Half Marathon 2017 and 2019.

#8 – Wear the right race day shoes.

I try to get a pair of shoes that have about 100 miles on them and no more than 200 for race day. At the Napa Valley Marathon last year I found myself with the choice between a pair that had 270 miles or a pair with 30 miles. I chose the 30-mile shoes with the thought that they would have more support. Unfortunately, I ended up doctoring a massive blister at mile 13 as a result. Not only was this very uncomfortable, but it also made for some great shots from my friends as I missed my goal time by 2 minutes. But hey, it gave me a reason to HAVE to run another marathon that year to get the time I was looking for.

Napa Valley Marathon – new shoes were a bad idea. 

#9 – Pack flip flops and a change of clothes.

You will feel so much better after the race to change into fresh clothes. Your feet will thank you once freed from those running shoes!

#10 – Most importantly, have fun on race day and SMILE!

It is amazing what power a smile has for you, other runners, and your race photos. Most of us aren’t doing this for a living. The race is really the icing on the cake for all the hard work you have put in for months. Be sure to soak up every moment.

Always smile. Well maybe not.

Running your first ultra-marathon?

Check out part one and part two in our series on Preparing for Your First Ultra Run!



TMS Ambassador – Steve Buelna is an avid runner, (whether trails or pavement, he doesn’t discriminate) living in Truckee, CA. Follow @speed_goatee on Instagram for photos of his adventures on foot or on Harley anywhere either will take him. In addition to Tahoe Mountain Sports, Steve is also a Salomon Ambassador and Big Blue Adventure Ambassador as well as the leader of the “Newbies” Run Club for Donner Party Mountain Runners.


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