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How to prepare for race day: Elite runners share their tips

Alicja Barahona

Courtesy of Maia LePage

Runners may train for months before a big race, but it's often the 24 hours before the starter's pistol goes off that are the most crucial. We asked five race-day veterans how they get ready.


Ms. Brown, a 26-year-old elite runner based in Toronto, won the half-marathon at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships in Montreal earlier this month. She typically races in 20 competitions each year.

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ROUTINE: The day before the race is always the longest day ever. I always sleep in the day before and then go for a 20-minute run just to shake the cobwebs out of my legs. Then I'll put my bag together and organize all my race things. The morning of a race, I might do a 10-minute jog and then have some toast with almond butter, a banana and cup of coffee for breakfast. An hour before the race, I'll stretch and go for a light jog.

MANTRA: This is what I've trained to do.

BIGGEST MISTAKE: At a half-marathon in 2009, I made the mistake of eating far too closely to the race. The combination of nerves and eating far too closely to the race meant I had some major gastrointestinal distress.


Mr. Loiselle, a 26-year-old from Windsor, Ont., has been running professionally since 2008. He's now training to make the Canadian Olympic marathon team.

ROUTINE: If I've never run the course before, I might run it the day before to get a feel for what it's like. The night before, I'll eat a pasta dinner and try to get to bed early. Then, I'll try to get up three hours before the race so that I can eat and digest breakfast, which is usually a bagel with peanut butter and a cup of coffee. About 45 minutes before the race I'll go for an easy 20-minute jog and then stretch for 10 to 15 minutes.

MANTRA: I don't have a mantra. I'll listen to some music - maybe some Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd - to get in the zone.

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BIGGEST MISTAKE: Getting too jacked up or over-thinking things. I used to listen to heavy rock music before a race and be so psyched up that I would go out too hard. You can't win a race in the first kilometre, but you can definitely lose it.


This 31-year-old elite runner from Toronto has been running professionally since 2003. He typically participates in about 10 to 12 events each year.

ROUTINE: The night before a race I try to finish dinner by 7 p.m. to maximize digestion time. On the morning of a marathon, I try to be up three hours before the race. I'll have a cup of coffee first thing and eat a sports bar two hours before start time. I'm just looking to get a couple hundred calories in. My warm-up is very short, just five to 10 minutes of very easy jogging and a couple of light sprints. Then I'll stretch for a few minutes.

MANTRA: I don't have a mantra, but the night before a race I'll visualize myself in the race and the pace I'm going to be running.

BIGGEST MISTAKE: Not resting enough in the days leading up to an event. At one marathon in 2010 where I didn't run well, I might have been up walking around too much the day before.

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A Polish-born ultra-marathon runner who lives in New York, Ms. Barahona, 57, completed a 370-kilometre solo trek through the Canadian Arctic earlier this month, running from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk and back, in support of the Inuvik Homeless Shelter.

ROUTINE: I don't have a set routine. I try to go to bed early, although I can never sleep because I'm nervous about the run. On the morning of a race, I get up at 4 a.m. and have scrambled eggs for breakfast. I'll also make peanut butter sandwiches to take with me on the run. I don't stretch. I just go and do it. It's such a long run that stretching really doesn't matter.

MANTRA: I don't have a mantra. I know I can finish. It's just a matter of time. Most of the time I'm thinking, "When is the end of this run?"

BIGGEST MISTAKE: During a run in Alaska in 2005 I got a salmonella infection because I had eaten eggs sunny side up, which I never order. I had to pull out of the race.


The 34-year-old running coach in Vancouver typically races eight to 12 events a year. The owner of Method Personal Training, Mr. Armstrong says sticking to a pre-race routine is the key to success.

ROUTINE: The day before an event I go for a 15- to 20-minute run, focusing on my form and staying loose. Then I'll do light stretching for another 15 to 20 minutes. I'll have a big lunch so that everything is digested the next morning. On race day, I'll get up three hours before the event. Half an hour after I get up I'll have a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and coffee. Once I'm at the start area I'll do a slow jog for 10 to 15 minutes and do a few leg swings to warm up my muscles. Your pre-race routine should be very structured.

MANTRA: I don't have a mantra. I just try and stay as calm as possible.

BIGGEST MISTAKE: I had a race in Africa in 2007 in which I wore the wrong pair of shoes for the terrain. I had racing flats and got blisters all over my feet.

These interviews have been condensed and edited.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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