"Absolutely I get nervous for every race!" says Nell Rojas, who is a professional runner and run coach. Part of what helps is having a pre-race evening routine. Taking action to prepare the mind and body for the next day prevents scrambling around in the morning. That way, you can head to the starting line calm and collected—or as calm and collected as possible when you're about to push your body to the limit.
- Nell Rojas, Nike-sponsored long-distance runner and former triathlete
What does a pre-race evening routine look like for a professional runner? Here, Rojas shares hers, including everything from what she has for dinner and how she calms her nerves, to what time she hits the lights.
Nell Rojas's pre-race evening routine
One last run
"I always like to run the day before a race," Rojas says. Three and two days before race day, she says she rests up. Then, the day before she'll go for a nice easy run—nothing too strenuous. "It's always good to run the day before a race because you want to make sure your muscle tension is right and ready to go your race distance," she says.
Rojas says she'll do a short run at whatever pace she wants to maintain the next day. Then, she'll finish with some dynamic stretching. Getting your body moving is a good way to shake off some of the jitters too.
The pre-race day dinner
While Rojas says she doesn't have one dinner in particular she likes to eat before every race ("You never know what you'll have access to if you're traveling," she says), she does follow a few food rules: Stick with something bland, low in fiber, and high in protein and carbs. One example of what this looks like is chicken and rice—with no veggies.
Normally, eating fiber-rich meals is great for the body. But the reason why Rojas minimizing the nutrient the night before a race is because she wants to stick with foods that are easy for the body to digest.
She also makes sure she eats early in the evening, too. "That way, my body isn't up late digesting the food, and I'm able to sleep well," she says.
Shifting her mental mindset
Whether you're a recreational runner or someone who does it for a living like Rojas, it can be easy to focus so much on finishing the race under a certain time that it can overtake all your other thoughts. "The most important thing I do before a race to help calm my nerves is manage my expectations," Rojas says. To do this, she says she focuses on "process goals" instead of "outcome goals."
"Process goals are little goals to focus on during the race, like maintaining contact with the front of the pack or not starting out too strong," Rojas says. She says outcome goals, on the other hand, are more focused on the end result—namely that race finishing time. "There's so much pressure, especially with social media, to have these great finishing times." This, she says, can take away from what the race should be about: having fun!
Prepping for the morning
One of the most important parts of Rojas's pre-race evening routine is making sure she has everything ready to go for the morning. That includes breakfast. "Similar to the dinner before a race, I like to have something bland for breakfast that has protein and carbs," Rojas says. For her, that's typically oatmeal with honey and peanut butter. Since most races are early in the morning, she packs oatmeal, honey, and peanut butter with her if she's traveling for a race. That way, there's no morning stress of trying to find a place that's open that has what she wants to eat.
She also says she lays out what she's going to wear, including her bib and safety pins—you don't want to be hunting around for those in the morning either. "I look at the order of events and make sure I know where I need to be by what time," she says. This could mean taking time to figure out how to get there, whether it's a certain bus or arranging a Lyft.
"I also make sure I have what I'll want for after the race," Rojas says. On her list are a jacket, a banana, and a protein bar. "I've done too many races where I'm freezing and starving after I finish," she says. "So now I come prepared."
At 10 p.m., it's lights out. "If I go to bed any earlier, I just end up lying in bed awake," Rojas says. For her, this is the perfect sweet spot for getting enough sleep before the big day. And with all her prep done, she can wake up cool and confident, ready to race.
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