5 Things That Can Ruin Your Race Day

© lzf | Dreamstime.com

© lzf | Dreamstime.com

Sometimes you train for a race and everything in training goes perfectly. Your running feels great; your training feels great, and your taper goes well too. As you toe the line of your goal race, you feel confident in your abilities.

At the starting line, you’re ready and feel like you’re going to crush a new personal best.

But despite weeks or months of training, a race day disaster happens. Maybe it’s preventable, or maybe it’s not. Whatever the case is, the race doesn’t go according to plan.


Many things can cause a race day disaster, most of which I’ve dealt with personally. It’s important to remember that one race does not make or break your running career.

1) Weather

As someone who can attest to this, the weather is the biggest make or break factor. This year alone, I’ve raced in all of the following conditions:

  • Two torrential downpours (thank you Shamrock Half Marathon and the Broad Street 10-miler!)
  • The April Fools Half with 50 MPH headwinds
  • The Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half when a hurricane was blowing through and they almost canceled it.
  • Most recently, Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia when it was more humid than a mid-summer day.

So weather wise, Lady Luck has not been on my side.

Weather is obviously, completely out of any runner’s control. It’s important to take a moment and look at the weather beforehand. Don’t be scared to adjust your goals if need be.

Yes, it’s not greatest feeling to change goals because of the predicted weather but give yourself some slack. You aren’t going to race the same time on an inclement weather day.

2) Going out too fast

Most runners have learned this lesson the hard way. Starting a race too fast can lead to a much slower second half as the wheels come off. Personally, I’ve had a few races where I’ve “blown up.”

My two most notable were the Phoenix Full marathon and this year, the Shamrock half. I added a couple of minutes PER MILE in the final miles. I learned a lot about myself and race strategy during both of those races. Sure I felt good in the beginning, but no one sees that.

When you put the time in during training but don’t execute the race appropriately, you won’t achieve your race goal.

3) Trying Something New

I’ve run 31 half-marathons, and you think I would have learned my lesson by now. During my 30th half marathon, I ran in a brand new sports bra and had the chafing to prove it. I finished the race, but it was one of the most painful experiences I’ve had.

Don’t try anything new and make sure you’ve run or used everything you plan to race in.

Trying something new is one of the easiest issues to prevent but most runners have dealt with this race day fiasco…

4) Poor Fueling

Poor fueling falls along the same lines as don’t try anything new. It’s important to make sure you are fueled for the race you’re running. The last thing you want is to have a fueling issue after training hard for a race.

A few tips:

  • Don’t try anything new on race day. I can’t stress that enough!
  • Research what kind of fueling options will be on the course. Will it be gel? Gatorade? Water? Make sure you know and have tested whatever product is used.
  • Make sure to hydrate in the days before the race. Sure you could hydrate during the race, but you should also hydrate before and after too!

5) “Stuff” Happens

Sometimes, for whatever reason, the race just doesn’t go your way. It’s not the answer any runner wants to hear but for whatever reason, your legs just don’t have it.

It’s important to take a step back and look at possible causes for a “bad” race. Don’t forget; there are races almost every single weekend and just because you had one bad one, doesn’t mean they will all be bad. Regroup and pick out a new goal race!

Have you dealt with any of these four issues in a race?

10 comments… add one
  • Laurie July 1, 2017, 11:47 am

    Training be damned – we all do it because, basically, you’re an idiot if you don’t. So not matter how well, smart, detailed…… the plan, we don’t know what body is going to show up on race day. I will admit to looking at bio-rhythyms ahead of time to select races as I work my way through doing a marathon in every state.

  • Michelle June 8, 2017, 2:23 pm

    Stomach problems right before a race that I should’ve PR’d for sure. PR’d a much harder race two weeks prior. Nuff said. Some races are better than others.

  • Frederick May 24, 2017, 9:32 am

    I was in a large race and completely underestimated the time it would take me to get to the start. I took a gel when the gun went off, but then I didn’t reach the start for another 20 minutes, which ruined my whole fueling schedule.

  • Mike Rockow February 20, 2017, 3:43 am

    I would add scout out race day logistics and plan for them. I thought I was well prepared for the NYC marathon, but my eating schedule was off because of the long wait at the start. I figured I would eat before I got to the starting area like I always do. I didn’t think it would make much difference, but I was very wrong.

  • paula w February 9, 2017, 1:53 am

    I live in Highland Park and I, along with many others, can’t even get out of my own driveway on Mercedes Marathon race day, not even to go to church! The police block off every street for hours and make it impossible for residents to get where they need to go. If they were simply to allow a car to pass through it would be great but they won’t because they don’t want to slow the runners down. To heck with anybody who might need to get somewhere, like to work, or church. That is UNFAIR! And if you have any kind of emergency, God help you, because you can’t get out.

  • Kay Eaton January 18, 2017, 3:13 pm

    Thank you for this article. It is interesting that the weather is #1. I agree. I have run and completed 21 half marathons. My last half marathon was out of town, in December and was my slowest. I underestimated the weather. It rained two days before the race, the day before the race, the full 13.1 miles of the race, and the day after the race. Temperatures 49-51 degrees. (normally a good temp unless you are drenched.) I ran through 1-3 inches of water on the road, with no waterproofing on my sneakers, no visor cap, only a hoodie. Began the race wearing a garbage bag, but removed it at mile 3 (thought the rain was going to stop). Glasses fogged. It was my most miserable, slowest race. A month later, I feel like I am still trying to get my joy and confidence of running back. It was a Rock n Roll race without all the Rock n Roll… I think my biggest lesson was: wear waterproof head cover or cap, waterproof shoes as possible, keep the garbage bag on.

  • Jennifer Disien November 30, 2016, 10:02 am

    My first 10k was at the Marine Corp Marathon. I traveled from Ohio for the race and woke that morning to aweful stomach cramps. My husband and brother chalked it up to nerves. My stomach cramped up through the race and at the 3 mile mark I saw a porta-John. I figured I better use it while I had the chance. I ended up w/a bug that last a week (not nerves). BUT, I FINISHED THE RACE. THAT IS SUCCESS TO ME. I’m now training for the MCM Historic Half in May.

    • Rachel December 6, 2016, 12:25 pm

      A word of the (not so) wise to the willing: when I did the Historic Half, I was unprepared for the weather (incredibly muggy, didn’t wear proper attire) and under prepared for the hill climbs / descents. It wasn’t the big hill that was a PITA, it was the many climbs and descents before it! Otherwise, I thought it was a beautiful race, though wished they could have hosted more of it downtown.

  • Nicole November 20, 2016, 11:45 am

    My training was spot on and I was ready. It was only a 10K, but still. I was fueled and ready. The race started on time. 1.34 miles into one of the best runs I’ve ever had everyone stops. We were taken on the wrong course (how does that happen?). After 5-10 minutes we have a complete chip restart and began again. This time I’m feeling low and needed to hump it. At about mile 4 I started my period (early) with zero back up and was wearing blue — not black tights. Talk about a fail fail. The most memorable race to date. I still finished strong, but had other things on my mind at the finish line. ?

  • MAx Robertson November 2, 2016, 12:42 pm

    Hi Hollie
    It sounds like you live in or near Richmond Va when you mention some of your races. I done a few of those most recent was the Va. Beach half and yes I did think it would be canceled by the Sat weather but Sun turned out pretty good. Im doing the Richmond half next weekend and hope to see you there. Shooting for a new PR and hope I dont get “race day ruins” 🙂

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