Mental Preparation Leading Up To A Peak Race

Everything you can do to be ready on race day

Preparation for a peak performance starts months before the race even starts. Getting mentally ready for a race is just as important as doing the physical work!  

The key, we’ve found, is writing down your goal and developing a pre-race routine.  These two steps will make race day second nature and will have you mentally prepared for success on race day.

Mental prep leading up to a race will help you on race day

Like we said above, having a plan to run your miles is great – and needed – in order to run your best. But you also have to prepare your mind for competition.

Coach Marc showing his 4:50 mile
Coach Marc prepares his mind (and body) prior to running a race

Step 1: Goal Setting

Identifying your racing goal is the first step.  It gives you a benchmark to visualize, and the ability to check your progress during your training.  Additionally, think about why you want to achieve your goal. Do you want to better your health and fitness? Are you setting an example for your children?  Or maybe you just agreed to run a marathon with friends.  These are all sources of motivation that will help you overcome rocky times with a can-do attitude.

When you know your goal and you physically see it every day, it sets the tone for the type of training you’ll need to reach that goal. Seeing it taped to your mirror will remind you that you can’t take a day off! I write my goals in my training log, but I know other people who like to write their goals down on paper. If you’re a paper person, this article about goal setting is for you.

Step 2: Establishing Race Day Routine

Establishing a race day routine is something a lot of runners overlook. Having a plan in place creates a mental road map that gets you to the starting line confident you’ve completed the necessary preparation to succeed. Below are some key factors to consider when developing your routine. Knowing what to do when you get to race week will help you calm your nerves, help you sleep better, and allow you to save valuable energy.

Below, you’ll find 9 tips to help get your mind and body on point so you can race your best.

Step 3: Night before Race

  • Eat your favorite pre-race meal. Some people like a heavy carbohydrate meal like pasta; others prefer a high protein diet such as salmon salad.     
  • Check your gear. Is your watch charged? What about headphones and music? If you have your bib already, pin it on your racing top. Pack a bag with your race top/shorts, shoes, watch, music, and any snacks you’ll use during the race. 
  • Mentally think about your race strategy.  Review your race goal and pace. You’ll want to have a Plan A, Plan B, and maybe a Plan C. Each plan should have different contingencies – in case the race goes extremely well, how you planned, or if things are falling apart. Visualize yourself feeling strong and fresh as you run along the course.  
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  Even If you’re restless and can’t sleep, stay off your feet to keep your legs fresh.   
Preparing your mind will allow for greater performances
Coach Marc mid-5k

Step 4: Morning of the Race

Have a plan for everything, from when you wake up to when you’ll want to eat. Here’s a post about the 75 minutes prior to a race.

  • Breakfast– How long before the race should you eat? What will you eat?
  • Race nutrition – Will you use gels or energy drinks? How often should you use them during the race?
  • Take a hot shower/bath and use a foam roller or massage stick to get your muscles warmed up.
  • Pre-race warm-up: How long before the race will you warm-up, for what length, and what mobility drill or stretching will you do.   
  • Have a plan to get to the starting line.  Leave early enough to find a parking spot, or have a friend drop you off so you don’t waste time and energy stressing.
Carly mentally preparing for an upcoming race
Establishing Race Day Routines

Step 5: Implementation of Plan

Once you decide on a routine, begin experimenting to find out what works, and what doesn’t.  Try a few different meal options for dinner and breakfast before a hard interval session.  Long runs are a great time to test nutrition products like gels and energy drinks to see what keeps you hydrated and feeling fresh.  When deciding on a warm-up, it’s important to find the minimal effective dose.  Some runners waste too much energy running a long warm or doing too many drills.  The goal is to warm up your body just enough so that your body is not in shock when the race starts. If you keep a training journal, take notes annotating how you feel after experimenting with different meals and warm-ups.  This will give you a chance to go back and review what works best for you.

Finally, if your goal is to run a half marathon, find a 5K and 10K to race during your training build up.  These races will act as stepping-stones, easing you into the distance, and provide you with race day experiences to perfect your routine.

The more you are able to practice your routine, the better prepared and confident you will be when you step up to the starting line. When fear or anxiety enter your mind, remember what you’ve done to set yourself up for success.  

This post was brought to you by Jon Anderson.  Jon is a former NJ State Champion, Footlocker Finalist and ran collegiately for West Point.  Since graduating, Jon served 5 years in the United States Army as an artillery officer.  Jon has PR’s of 13:58 for 5k, 30:43 for 10k, and 54:19 for 10 miles.  To read about Jon’s comeback from Achilles surgery, head to his blog here.

For more stories about training to be the best runner you can be, look at the posts: Training consistencies, running to your full potential, workout ideas for all runners.

Searching for a running coach? TrainwithMarc has flexible schedules, dynamic plans, and access to a coach who’s worked with every type of runner.

TrainwithMarc will design a training plan based on your needs, running history, and your goals.

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Coach Marc does strides after easy runs to prime his legs

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Marc uses a massage gun to loosen up his legs

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Marc is a middle school Special Education teacher and the distance track and cross country coach who also works with distance runners seeking personal bests. He blogs at and writes a Friday newsletter. You can find everything Marc is working on here.

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