Start of a marathon race in Iceland.
(Photo: Getty Images)

The 48-Hour Pre-Race Countdown

A checklist of training, nutrition and gear priorities during the hours leading up to your big race

Start of a marathon race in Iceland.

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The final two days before a race are very important. The final workouts, meals, equipment and mental preparations and logistical planning you do in this window can have a major impact on your performance — for better or worse. Here’s a checklist of things to do in the 48-hour race countdown to ensure that you get the most out of the hard training you’ve done.

48:00 — Do a short, fast workout

Your next-to-last workout before a race should be relatively easy, so you’re not fatigued on race morning, but it should include a dash of speed to prime your nervous system for competition. For example, run three miles easy, then run 6 x 30-second relaxed sprints.

47:00 — Start carbo-loading

Research shows that one day of very high carbohydrate intake (4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight) is sufficient to maximize muscle glycogen stores. But you might as well start two days out for good measure. The best time to start carbo-loading is right after your short, fast workout, when your muscles are most receptive to glucose.

It takes some work to consume 4.5g of carbs per pound of body weight in a single day. To get there, be sure to consume high-carb foods and beverages at every meal (e.g. oatmeal and orange juice for breakfast, noodle soup for lunch and a rice dish for dinner) and supplement with high-carb beverages such as Ensure between meals.

47:00-39:00 — Stay off your feet

Avoid spending any unnecessary time on your feet today. The yard work can wait until next weekend!

31:00 — Get a good night’s sleep

Getting adequate sleep is critical to endurance performance at all times, but it is never more important than in the final days before a big race. In a recent British study, runners covered 6 percent less distance in a 30-minute time trial after being awake for 30 hours than they ran after a full night’s rest. While that’s a pretty extreme sleep deprivation, even a few lost hours of rest could keep you from reaching your race goal.

Because of pre-race jitters and early-morning race starts, it can be difficult to get a full eight hours of shuteye the night before a race. So be sure to get a good, long sleep two nights out.

22:00 — Do a short, easy workout

A short, easy workout is better than none at all the day before a race. It relieves mental and physical tension and keeps the body primed for performance.

21:00-10:00 — Keep carbo-loading

Maintain your high-carb diet throughout the last day before you race. Choose familiar foods that have always worked well for your body in the past. Now is not the time to experiment.

20:00 — Get your gear together

There’s nothing worse than showing up at a race venue and realizing you forgot something important. To avoid this nightmarish experience, take some time to get all of your gear together now. It’s best to create a race gear checklist that you use for every race. Go through it and check off each item before you travel to out-of-town races and go through it again on the morning of pre-race day, so you have plenty of time to replace anything that’s missing.

18:00 — Plan for race morning

Race morning logistics can be a pain in the neck, especially if you are not prepared. Minimize the hassle by making a concrete plan for race morning that includes a wake-up time, a route to the race venue, a parking site and arrangements to get home after the race. Spend some time on the event website and/or looking over the race’s official printed materials to gather all of the information you will need for a smooth race morning.

9:00 — Visualize your race

Mental rehearsal, or visualization, is a powerful tool of psychological preparation for a race. It is not a tool you have to save for the night before a race, but there is certainly no better time to use it. After settling into bed, clear your mind and imagine the next morning’s race as vividly as you can.

Obviously, you can’t go through the entire course in real-time, so focus on critical parts such as the start, challenging hills and so forth. Imagine moving with impeccable form and feeling strong, but not unrealistically so. Don’t complete your mental rehearsal race miraculously free of fatigue. Instead, see yourself fighting through the fatigue.

3:00 — Wake up early

Research on the relationship between circadian rhythms and exercise performance suggests that optimal performance is not possible within a couple hours of waking up in the morning. So set an early alarm to give your body plenty of time to get up to speed. Try to climb out of bed at least three hours before the start horn blasts.

2:45 — Eat your pre-race meal

Nutrition is more important than sleep on race morning, so it’s also important to wake up in plenty of time to consume and digest a high-carb pre-race breakfast. Aim to consume 75-100 grams of carbohydrate three hours before your race start, or at least 50 grams two hours out.

2:15 — Make sure your gear is ready

Before you leave home, go through your gear checklist and your actual gear one last time. Be sure not to forget the small essentials such as sunscreen, race number, etc.

0:30 — Warm up thoroughly

Start your warmup about half an hour before your race start. Begin with easy jogging, then do some dynamic stretches such as walking lunges and arm circles, and finish with a few 20- to 30-second bursts at race pace.

From PodiumRunner Lead Photo: Getty Images