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Running Your Best RaceFor those who thrive on competition, races are excellent for improving your running, boosting your motivation and keeping your training on track. With summer and fall chock-full of races of a variety of distances – from 5Ks to ultra-marathons – you can fill your calendar as you prefer over the next few months.

Competitive runners – even just recreational ones – typically are eager to learn from each other about enhancing their performance. Let’s face it, running is hard, and almost anything that makes it easier or can help us do better is worth a try. In that spirit, we’ve compiled some top tips for running your best race:

  1. Check out the course – Of course, this may not always be possible, particularly for out-of-town races, but when you can, see the course or, even better, run the course, prior to race day. This can significantly increase your comfort level before and during the actual event. If this is impossible, look for reviews of this race or ask other runners about their experiences on this course.
  2. Rest – You may not sleep well the night before a race, but try to relax and read or watch a low-key movie before going to bed early. And make sure you’ve gotten a good night’s rest several nights before the race.
  3. Pace yourself – Easier said than done, but the most common error runners make is to start too fast and then be unable to sustain that pace to the finish line. Rely on your training and experience to set and maintain your pace for a successful race. It’s better to start slow and finish faster than the reverse.
  4. Manage your nerves – It’s natural to be nervous prior to a race, and you’re not the only one. But learn to control your nerves with breathing, meditation, music or whatever routine helps you relax. Focus on yourself, especially at the starting line, and don’t let other runners intimidate you.
  5. Set a goal – You tend to work harder when you are aiming for something. Your goal can be as simple as “finish the race” or “be faster than last time,” or it can be more specific regarding specific split times, a negative split or an overall PR. Work toward this goal, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet it. Celebrate what went well, change what you need to for improvement and try again during the next race.
  6. Use the bathroom – Sounds silly, but better safe than sorry. Even if you’re not sure if you have to go, give yourself time to wait in line, and try before the race begins. Odds are, you’ll be glad you did. If you’re running a longer race and have to use the porta-potty during it, just do it. Don’t try to wait until the end.
  7. Have a hydration plan – During training, practice hydrating on the run, and know where water stops are ahead of the race. Determine which stops you will take water, or Gatorade, if that’s what you’ve trained with. If you’ve never used sports drinks in training, don’t start during the race or you may end up with an upset stomach. Don’t skip all the water stops or your performance may be impacted.
  8. Stay positive – Have a plan for when you get uncomfortable, or when some doubt or negative voices set in. Focus on your goal, your training, fans cheering you on or favorite mantra that keeps you moving forward. Visualize yourself succeeding and getting to the finish line. Even simply smiling has been shown to have a positive impact both mentally and physically.

Have fun and stay fueled!