Race Day Considerations: Fuel and Tunes

While I was running my 8K tempo run today, I was thinking about running with or without music and figured that would be a great conversation for today’s Race Day Considerations. Since I would consider music a bit of a fuel for race day – we will also talk about fuelling (aka eating) before, during and after races.

food and tunes



Fuel – Before


Although many people think about what they are going to eat right before and during a race, I wonder how much thought people put into what they eat a day or two before a race. Maybe some of us are a bit more prone to GI distress while running and therefore extra cautious. Although I would have to admit that although I’m careful what I eat right before I run (sometimes…), I rarely consider what I eat more than the night before a race or long run. Although with marathon training I have been a bit more thoughtful, and have improved my nutrition which is turn is what I believe my GI issues are really not an issue at all right now. Food takes some time to make its way through our system, therefore what we eat for dinner the night before the race could haunt you the next day. Now, many of us probably have stories about what we ate the night before and cannot believe we made it through a race without twenty portapotty breaks. But, that practice can be risky. Although I will say that this one time I ate a 10-meatball combo at Ikea and raced a PB – I don’t do that often. For me, I avoid alcohol, caffeine, dairy, anything with sorbitol, Indian, Mexican, tomato based products, green produce – pretty much everything. I usually eat a big portion of protein (chicken, steak) and potatoes/rice. My diet also depends on the race. For 5K races, I couldn’t care less and pretty much eat normally. For half marathons, I am much more strict.

The morning of the race is another time where you have to consider what you will eat. Race day nerves can do a number on your stomach and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has trouble eating right before the race. One thing that we tell our track athletes on meet days is that they should be waking up 3 hours before race time. Getting up early allows you to of course, wake up – but also eat a meal and allow that meal to digest. It might also allow opportunity for one to have a coffee and get things moving, if you know what I mean. You do need to eat something before you run, but odds are a steak and eggs breakfast is not going to happen. The foods you choose for race day breakfast should be foods you have eaten for many long runs. This is not the time to try something new. Test out various breakfasts during your 12-18 week training periods to see what works and what doesn’t. I have a pretty standard breakfast of a banana, bagel and some sports drink/water. Right before the race I usually have half a bag of Honey Stinger gummies.


Fuel – During

Just as I mentioned before, race day is not the time to start trying new fuels. Long runs are the time to test out various gels/gummies/candy/whatever else you like. I have read so many times that people eat a sports gel during a race and then feel awful after. One of the reasons I bypassed the Powerade gel station during the Ottawa Run Weekend was because I hate not tried it before and did not feel like having a miserable 8 more KM. You do have to fuel for longer races. For 5K and 10K races, I usually just take a GU gel or Honey Stinger gummies right before and then just have water during a race. For half marathons – I eat a GU gel every 45 minutes or so – during a water station. I really hate being hungry while running and since I have bonked before – it is not fun. You also need to keep drinking water. Water stations are usually listed on the race website before – if you feel like you need more water, bring a hydration belt. Although I cannot stand gatorade during 5/10K races, I drink lots of the sports drink during half marathons. I usually grab 1 gatorade and 1 glass of water at every water station. Sometimes even more, Ottawa Race weekend was an example of that – I needed lots of water for that race.

Fuel – After 

Food is given out at the end of races for a reason – because runners need it. After the race eating is just as important as before and during a race. When I have forgotten to eat after a race, I have felt awful about an hour later. If stale bagels and bananas are not the foods you crave after a race – have some goodies stashed in your bag or make sure to stop somewhere within 30 minutes of finishing a race. I really like drinking chocolate milk after a race and eating something salty. I have munched on bagels before but I usually only eat half. After the race is when many of us enjoy some decedent treats or a pile of fries. If you have finished a race, you deserve some yummy foods! I’m still considering what my post-marathon dinner will be.


Racing with or without Music


Another running topic that many people have debated is to run with or without music. It is really up to personal preference, but it is something to consider for race day. I run almost all my training runs without music. Because I run alone most of the time, I like to be aware of my surroundings. I also think it is a bit harder to run without music, especially for longer runs – not because I need the music to pump me up, but because I get bored. Once I hit 14K on the long run plan, I started taking my iPhone with me to listen to music. I think it has helped me tackle running for more than an hour. During races, I have probably gone 50/50 with running with music. It really depends on the race. If I am running with people I know, I am more likely to leave the iPod at home. If I know I’m running a race alone, I will probably bring my music. During my last half marathon, I ran almost the entire race with my headphones on – I did take them off for the last KM. During the Army Run in 2012, I ran with two friends and didn’t pop the headphones in until KM 17. For NYC – I will most likely have my iPhone with me and will probably listen to music on and off. The NYC Marathon is known for the crowds and since this is a bucket list item – I don’t want to drown out the experience in my heavy metal music.

It is really up to you whether you want to run with music or not. But be considerate of a few things:

– Make sure that you are able to hear people at all times – not necessarily for the cheering, but for directions. This is especially important for smaller races where you may find yourself surrounding by no one.

– Be mindful of rules – some races do not allow music or allow it but with only certain kinds of earphones. Make sure you know the rules before race day

– Really make sure you are trying to soak up some of that race energy from the crowd. In my experience, it is the cheering that pumps me up more than music. You don’t always get cheers for long runs!

– Turn the music off for the last KM – the last stretch of a race is the best part


What about you – music or no music?

What are your nutrition tips? 

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  1. Kristen @ Glitter and Dust

    These are two very interesting topics that I think everyone has to consider. When it comes to music, I always run when training. I need music and almost rely on it a little too much. However, I have never listened to music in a race environment. I tried to once and ended up ripping my headphones from my ears in the first mile, just because I wanted to be in tune with what was going on around me. I much prefer listening to other runners, volunteers, people cheering, and the natural noises of the race. That’s just me. 🙂

    Before every race I always have a cup of coffee (to get things moving), banana + peanut butter, and part of a Luna Bar (if it is a longer distance). During the race I use my own GUs and drink mostly water. After the race I’m all about chocolate milk, if it’s available. Usually my stomach is more sensitive to what I eat after a race than during.

    Good luck on your long run!
    Kristen @ Glitter and Dust recently posted…Goodbye Tri Season and Some Other Little UpdatesMy Profile

    1. Rebecca (Post author)

      chocolate milk is definitely on my “must have” for after a race. I tend to get stomach cramps after if I don’t eat something.

      I like having my tiny iPod shuffle on hand during races – I usually have it off unless I need it, but it is so small that I can tuck it away and forget it is even there. I will be running NYC with my iPhone though.

  2. Lisa @ Lulus Big Adventure

    When I’m not in the zone, I try to use music (during training runs) to keep me entertained, but I don’t usually use music for races.
    Lisa @ Lulus Big Adventure recently posted…Elective: Inner City HealthMy Profile


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