Race Day Preparation (for the High School Track Athlete)

by Coach Frank Pucher

A great performance always starts with great preparation. If you've followed the (proper) principles of training, you should be fit and ready for competition. Now comes the Race Day preparation that will bring your hard work to fruition.

High School Track Runners basically fall into 2 categories: Sprinters & Distance Runners. First, let's define each category.

Sprinters
A Runner who competes in events ranging from 100meters - 400meters. During an Indoor Track Season, a sprinter may compete in a 60yd or 60m race. This event isn't contested during the Outdoor Season. Typically, due to the duration of these events a competitor may compete in several events during a Meet. For example, one may compete in a 400m race and later return for a 200m race. If called upon, the athlete might also compete in another sprint race such as a 4x 400m relay. Sometimes, sprinters are also Hurdlers or Jumpers (as the explosive nature of a Sprinter is needed in these more technical disciplines.)  Due to the scheduling of events however, it is rare that someone would compete in a 100m, 200m & 400m in the same meet.

Distance Runners
An athlete that competes in races of 800meters - 3200meters. During an Indoor Track Season, a distance runner may compete in a 1000m race. This event isn't contested during the Outdoor Season. Typically, a runner in this category will compete in 2 events during a Meet. For example, one may run the 3200m and later com back to run the 1600m. Another scenario is an athlete who runs the 1600m and later runs the 800m. Due to the longer duration and subsequent recovery, it's rare that at the competitive levels an athlete will compete in more than 2 events.

As you can see, the events and requirements for each category are different. So too are the Race Day needs for each category and athlete.

Generally, a Track Runner needs a 15-18 minute warm-up to prepare to race well. It's what the athlete does in that time period that varies by category/event.

For a Sprinter here is a typical warm-up: 6-8 minutes of light running, 3-4 minutes of drills (to increase Range of Motion) such as skips, butt snaps, and fast feet/high knees. Another 5 minutes will be spent with a series of sprints/strides of about 40-60m @ Race Pace. Adequate recovery and stretching in between is a must. The sprinter may adjust the distance and speed of the drills/strides according to the race being run. Between the warm-up and the race the athlete should stay loose and switch into Spikes or Racing Shoes.

A typical warm-up for a Distance Runner includes an easy run of about 10 minutes followed by a series of drills (similar to above). Several strides of about 60-80m in length @ Race Pace are also ideal. The athlete should spend the remaining time before the event stretching and switching into Spikes or Racing Shoes.

How Long Before A Race Do I Begin My Warm-Up?
Approximately, 25-30 minutes.

If I Have 2 Races, Do I Have To Warm-Up Again?
Yes, just do ½ the usual warm-up routine!

After your events, it is very important that you cool-down properly. Even though you may be done competing for the day and feeling tired, the cool-down is the 1st thing you can do to get ready for your next race. The reason for the cool-down is to flush out the "toxins" that build up in your muscles during a hard race or workout. Just like the warm-up brings "fresh" blood into the muscles before a race, the cool-down takes "tired" blood away.

How Long Do I Cool-Down?
Here, there is little difference for Sprinters/Distance Runners; an easy jog/run of about 6-10 minutes followed by some stretching of your tight muscles is all you need. If you have another race to do, cool-down for ½ the usual routine.

Other Tips:
1) Keep some light sweats on until you switch into your Spikes or Racing Shoes.
2) Wear a T-shirt or Top until you approach the start line.
3) If there is an hour or more between events, you may consider sipping some Gatorade or possibly eating something small like a POWERBAR. If there is less than an hour between events, water alone is fine.
4) Always prepare for unpredictable weather by bringing extra socks, shirts and sweats.

The tips/suggestions I have written about are all very general. Track is a highly individual sport with each athlete having their own abilities, needs & limitations. Through trial and error you will learn failure and success. In becoming a student of this great sport you will become more than just an athlete, you will become a runner.

I've never finished a run and thought, "that was a waste of time."


Frank Pucher is a former 2x All-Conference Distance Runner and NCAA XC Qualifier for East Stroudsburg University. A 6x Boston Marathon Qualifier, he owns a Sub-3hr PR in the Marathon and a ½ Marathon best of 1:15. In addition to being the personal coach to many outstanding athletes, Frank is also the owner of Fitness 121 Personal Training in Livingston. He is one of the few Coaches/Trainers to receive certification as an Endurance Performance Specialist from The National Endurance Sports Trainers Association (NESTA). Frank is also certified by The American Council on Exercise and The Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research in Dallas, TX. Visit his websites: TheRunCoach.com and Fitness121Online.com.

Read Frank's other articles:

  • 7 Tips & Tricks for the High School Track Athlete
  • Strength Training for the Track & Field Athlete
  • Evaluating the Fitness Assessment
  • Mens Sana in Corpore Sano (A Sound Mind in a Sound Body)
  • Nutrition Checklist for Cross Country
  • Pre-Season Track & Field Conditioning
  • Curing the Runners Side Stitch