How to Run Your Best Night Race

Night Race Disney Wine and Dine New Balance
Photo courtesy of New Balance

While there are those who love to wake up at the crack of dawn and head out to the starting line of their marathon, half-marathon or 5K (and yes, they’re part of the majority), the phenomenon of running after sunset has really taken off. Night races have become more popular than ever nationwide, with thousands of participants donning neon clothing and LED-flashing accessories each month. The thrill of not having the sun beating down on your shoulders or having to wear sunglasses to keep your eyes open appeals to many — including us. DailyBurn decided to get in on the late-night action, joining New Balance for the Disney Wine and Dine half-marathon. Here are the pro tips we followed in order to complete our first nighttime half.

Race Prep

Find a training plan.
A running coach can be a great resource to help you create a schedule for training. Depending on race length — and sometimes ability — training hours and strategy will vary. But no matter the plan, knowing ahead of time which days you have long runs and which days you have shorter ones will make your scheduling easier and training less stressful. “Having a training plan allows your head to wrap around what it takes to achieve your goal,” says Andrew Kastor, head coach of the ASICS Mammoth Track Club. “Seeing all the workouts down the line helps you budget your energy for the whole training period, and teaches you to be patient with your training.”

If you don’t have access to a coach, find a training plan online from a trusted health and fitness site. There are numerous resources available, so make sure you’re getting one that works for you, for example, a beginner plan if it’s your first time.

Train the same time of day your race is scheduled for.
Yes, you may be able to run 10 miles without a problem in the afternoon, but what about at night? Research shows that in order to have the most effective training sessions, you should do them the same time of day that your competition will be. Because, while a long run at 3 p.m. feels great and boosts your confidence, a lot changes at night. Your body is used to winding down as opposed to getting ready to exercise, so it’s important to notice the difference and overcome it by training in the evening.

Race Day

Stay off your feet.
The morning of your race it’s OK to do a five to 10 minute shake-out run, says Kastor. But avoid doing more than that. You don’t want to tire out your legs waiting for night to come. While you may experience some anxiousness, it’s better to start a race with fresh legs as opposed to tired ones.

Eat smart on the big day.
Unfortunately, unlike morning races that only require one meal pre-start, night races give you several opportunities to fuel right. “The goal is to keep your blood sugar up all day and hydrate well water,” says Kastor. He suggests eating the majority of carbs at breakfast, having a normal sized lunch, and scheduling “dinner” about three to four hours prior to the start of the race — consisting mostly of nuts and fruit. This way you don’t have too much in your stomach during the race, but you’ll also have the energy you need to get through the course.

Give yourself enough time.
There’s nothing worse than having to rush around on race day — especially when you’re among thousands of other racers. Budget enough time for traffic, parking, bib pick-up, a quick warm-up and dynamic stretching. If you need to use the bathroom, try to do it right away, as lines tend to get extremely long quickly. “A relaxed evening is a fast evening,” says Kastor. “Anxiety can take away precious race energy.”


Don’t forget to eat.
After running, say, 26.2 miles, most people don’t even want to think about food. However, it’s important to chow down on something that will sit well right after your race, says Jenny Simpson, professional runner for Team New Balance and Olympian. You have to replenish your body after putting it through such a rigorous experience. She suggests packing your own food on race day, especially for night runs, when shops and restaurants may be closed. “Most people don’t run so late so you have to be thinking ahead about what you’ll need after,” says Simpson. “Eat what you know will work for your body post-run.”

Stretch out.
Even if you run every day, chances are you may think your legs feel fine, but it’s important to note that this race — especially if it’s a full or half-marathon — is going to make your legs sore. Running your furthest and pushing for the best time, your legs will work harder than usual. Simpson suggests using a foam roller to release tension in the quads, hamstrings and calves. Follow that up with some static stretching and plenty of recovery time. You’ve more than earned a rest day.

With these pro tips, hopefully you too can complete and dominate your race. Of course, always listen to your body and let that be the primary indicator of when things are right or wrong. Here’s to a great finish!

Have you tried a night run? How did you train for it? Tell us in the comments below.

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