Ultra marathon race day morning can take several turns so be prepared and focused. I’ve taken the starting line with ease and I’ve taken the starting line with a shirt on backwards and a grumbling stomach. But with preparation, it can be smooth and even leveraged to your advantage.
The morning brings endless possibilities where your hope for the day is vibrant and your goals can only be restrained by the limiting beliefs you create. As we make our way over to the starting line, the roads are empty and the sun is down. In a strange way, this familiar setting is our comfort zone. Race day morning flies by and with this guide you can reach the starting line stress free and focused on your run.
On race day morning, it’s essential to have your clothes laid out and your bags packed and ready to go. Preparation will reduce stress, wasted time, and the chances of forgetting any gear. Attempting to quickly put your things together prior to the event will only lead to an excess of poorly distributed energy which otherwise could be used for the big day. By setting time aside the night before in order to prepare for the race, you increase the odds of a good night sleep and good morning start.
Most runners will have their meal planned out for the morning. If you enjoy a hot meal and are staying at a hotel, then be sure to confirm their breakfast time. If you prefer a quick snack, then have your meal replacement bars with you. In addition, if you are a coffee or tea drinker, then find out who’s brewing in the morning. Personally, for my own nutritional reasoning, I take the starting line on an empty stomach. But whatever your strategy may be, it’s best to stay clear from trying anything new the morning of.
When navigating to the starting line, it’s best to have the address in your GPS as well as a set of printed directions. Most ultra marathons take place in areas with little to no GPS signal or cellphone reception. When signals are lost, it’s beneficial to have a set of printed directions handy. In possible, drive to the starting line the night before. This will assist in eliminating any wasted time on the morning of the race. Rushing to the starting line will only create unwarranted mistakes and wasted energy.
Before every ultra marathon, there is typically a period of time dedicated to bib pickup. For those who don’t know, a “bib” is your race number that’s safety pinned to your clothing identifying who you are on the course. It usually contains a sensor that monitors when you cross the starting line as well as when you cross the finish line. All in all, bib pick up is frequently straight forward and you typically receive a pretty awesome tech shirt too.
Depending on the size of the race, most ultra marathon mornings consist of standing in line for the bathroom. Although the lines at an ultra marathon are much smaller then what you’d find at a big city marathon, the number of bathrooms are limited, so the ratio can sometimes be quite similar. How you work the bathroom lines on race day morning is an art form. It will all come down to timing and if all else fails, there’s rarely ever a line for the bushes.
A drop bag can be used to strategically pack supplies which is then “dropped” at a particular aid station designated by the race director. Fuel refills, extra clothes, and useful supplies are the type of commonalities found in such a bag. This bag can be handed in upon arrival. So, drop everything and get that drop bag ready.
Have your mental checklist ready for race day morning. Write it down if need be. I typically start at my feet and work my way up. Shoes, compression socks, gaiters, running shorts, compression shorts, iPods, headphones, handhelds, sunblock, petroleum jelly, hat, etc. This checklist will be fine-tuned to your own personal requirements. Every aspect of your race from your sun hat to your drop bag all work in congruence towards a successful ultra marathon finish. Each piece is part of a perpetual race day puzzle and sometimes a particular puzzle piece, like the final one, is rarely ever noticed until its needed most. A checklist will aid in a consistent completed puzzle.
There are numerous small things to remind yourself of on race day morning. Sometimes the smallest things can have the largest impact on our performance. Some examples are filling up your hydration gear, packing enough fuel, applying anti chaffing products, and checking the battery life of your head lamp. Try to keep things simple and remember the small things to avoid the large problems.
Before each ultra marathon, there will be a pre-race announcement which typically takes place 10-15 minutes before the gun goes off. The race director will review the various formalities and rules of the coarse along with providing recognition for the volunteers. Although you may have heard it all before, it’s prudent to pay attention especially in regards to the course and any revisions made. Listening to music through a pre-race announcement may cost you extra mileage and time due to course alterations.
30 seconds to go! It’s time to take it all in. Months and miles of training packaged into a 30 second count down. As you reminisce on those sleepless nights, frigid cold mornings, and weekend sacrifices, remind yourself of those incredible runs that built your confidence and those not so incredible ones that built your strength. Think back to those sore legs you’ve walked around with for months. You earned this, this race is yours, and it’s finally about to begin. Within 30 seconds, suddenly, all your training becomes a distant memory as you leave the past behind and shift your mindset on the present and in the present, there’s only one thing left to do… run baby run!
The ultra running world is a place where the acceptance of normality is outweighed by the curiosity of what’s possible and it all begins here on race day morning. So, if you bust through the caution tape and pass through the barriers, and if you jump through the fire and climb over the mountain, you will discover what can happen to a person who treks down the road less traveled. I mean, aren’t you suppose to sleep in on the weekends? Or stay inside when it rains? Or slow down when it hurts? That road less traveled is where we gain a unique set of attributes. It brings us to those race day mornings where the possibilities are endless and where dreams can begin to come true.