How to eat for a night race

The majority of the races we run are usually morning races. Every once in awhile the opportunity arises to run a night race. Mixing it up can be a lot of fun, but it also mixes up how you would normally prepare for a race. On race day you may find yourself wondering how to eat for your race. Here are some tips on what works for me for a night race, with specific examples of what I did leading up to this past Saturday’s 5K, which started at 8:30 PM.

1. Eat a good breakfast. You want to eat a good breakfast that’s not too high in fats, as those will stay in your system longer. Stick to things that you would normally eat. On Saturday, I had scrambled eggs mixed with a little bit of cheese and salsa on top. I also had a piece of toast. I drank my usual morning coffee and had half a bottle of Fuze Banana Colada.

2. Eat a lighter lunch. Again, make sure you stick to foods you typically eat. As always, nothing new on race day! This tip works well for an evening race, but since Saturday’s start time was closer to my bedtime, I ate a larger lunch. I had a chicken sandwich and some fresh fruit.

3. Make sure to hydrate throughout the day. Keep a bottle of water with you to sip on throughout the day. Be sure not to overhydrate!

4. Stick to your normal pre-race routine. If you normally eat a bagel with peanut butter two hours before your race, you should do the same for a night race. I typically eat a Power Bar about an hour before a race. But sometimes I’ll eat a Cliff Bar or a Luna Bar. Before Saturday’s race I had a Luna Bar about an hour before start time.

It’s also a good idea to practice running in the evening at race time, if you’re usually a morning runner. This will give you a chance to practice running at that time of day and to test out how certain foods will work for you. When I am training for a specific goal race, I will try to do many of my Saturday morning long runs at the same time as the race start time. The same principle applies for a race with an evening start time.

Most of my weekday runs take place in the evening, and in the summer time they can sometimes be as late as what Saturday’s start time was. I eat a normal breakfast and lunch during the week, and then usually have a small snack before my evening run. But for a race, you add the inevitable nerves and you have to be a little more conscious of what you put in your belly.

I have run a few other races that had start times sometime other than the morning. Last October I ran the Haunted Half Marathon in Kingsport, TN. It had a start time of 4 PM. I followed the above guidelines, except on that day I DID eat a light lunch since the start time was in the afternoon.

The Blacksburg Classic 10 Mile is another race that has an odd start time. Since this race is run in February, and it’s often pretty cold here in Virginia, the start time is 1 PM. I ate breakfast as normal and then ate a Power Bar about around Noon, an hour before the race.

When it comes down to it, never try anything new on race day! Try and mimic your usual pre-race routine as close as possible.

Have you ever run a night race? If so, how did you prepare throughout the day?

What other tips would you add?

6 Comments

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  1. Great post, Meagan! Ive only run one race that didn’t have a morning start and it was the Rockville Rotary Twilight Run.

    I think you covered the important tips and the most important thing you said was not to try anything new of race day! I can vouch that that is true! 🙂

    1. Thanks! Nothing new on race day applies no matter what time your race starts 🙂 It’s one of the most basic rules of racing, yet I’m pretty sure most of us have broken it at one point or another.

  2. I recently read this article, which I think raises an interesting point about trying something new on race day:
    http://triathlon.competitor.com/2013/06/training/andy-potts-five-key-transition-tips-from-trirock-philadelphia_78044

    I agree. I’ve tried a lot of new things on race day and have found that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I think the stay conservative and “don’t try anything new” is oversold.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Brett. I think when it comes down to it, trying something new on race day is a personal preference. The article you linked makes a great point that racing is so different from training that trying new things on race day may be the only way to find out what’s best for you. I guess you just better be ready if what you try upsets your digestive system.

  3. [Sorry I’m late to the party here – finally catching up on a back log of posts and commenting!]

    Historically, I ran exactly 1 evening race per year, and I hated it. Then, a local running store started a series of evening races in the Winter and Summer – 12 races total. This helped me work out the kinks. And I basically ended up with a plan that looks something like yours. My major adjustment was that, while I could eat a snack before a morning race, eating the same amount, the same time, before an evening race was always too much. So I lightened my lunches (races at 6 or 6:30 PM), and ended up settling for some chews in the mid-afternoon, about 2 hours before the race. I found I tolerated these better than other kinds of food that I could eat in th emorning. As you say – practice, practice!

    1. Whether or not you enjoy a night race seems to come down to whether or not you got the eating part right during the day.

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