If you ask a group of runners about their pre-race routines, no two answers will be the same. From food preferences to warm-up methods, the pre-race routine is an individual ritual that takes trial, error and time to perfect. What you eat, how you sleep, when you hydrate and how you move can all impact your day-of performance. And for the professionals out there, that can mean a life-altering win or heartbreaking loss. Amid an already memorable 2023 racing season, we caught up with three individual champions chasing the podium once again: Molly Huddle, Susannah Scaroni and Des Linden. From their coffee orders to their travel must-haves, here’s everything they do to get competition ready.
3 Professional Runners Share Their Pre-Race Routines (from Marathon Rice to Nail Polish Superstitions)
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MEET THE ATHLETES
- Susannah Scaroni is a three-time U.S. Paralympian (2012, 2016, 2020) and two-time Paralympic medalist (gold and bronze). This past year alone, she earned the champion title in the women’s wheelchair division at the 2022 Chicago Marathon, the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon, the 2023 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and the 2023 Boston Marathon. The fierce competitor and inspiration to many is also a newlywed, having tied the knot back in September 2022.
- Desiree "Des" Linden is a two-time U.S. Olympian (2012, 2016) as well as the 2018 Boston Marathon champion in the women's open division (yep, that year, infamous for its high winds and freezing rain). She currently holds the world record for the women’s 50K, crossing the finish line in just under three hours with a time of 2:59:54. Linden is also the newly published author of her first memoir, Choosing to Run. As a self-proclaimed coffee expert and whiskey connoisseur, Linden enjoys training and chilling with her husband and dog, aptly named Boston.
- Molly Huddle is a two-time U.S. Olympian (2012, 2016) and three-time United Airlines NYC Half Marathon champion in the women’s open division (2015, 2016, 2017). She’s held numerous American records throughout her long-distance running career and is a co-host of the podcast Keeping Track as well as co-author of her first book How She Did It. In 2022, she added mom to her resume following the birth of her daughter, Josephine.
As a professional runner, what is your pre-race routine? What food and beverages do you have before a race?
Molly Huddle: I usually wake up two hours before the race starts at a minimum, and I’ll grab something to eat. I try to be a little flexible with my food, but it’s usually along the lines of oatmeal, a banana, a granola bar or peanut butter and jelly on a bagel. Those are my go-tos. Basically, I like carbs before a long race with a little bit of protein in there just to keep my blood sugar stable. Then, I hydrate—usually I’ll have some Gatorade. And then I foam roll my whole body to loosen everything up. After that, I get my uniform on, which I laid out the night before, and I'm ready to go.
Susannah Scaroni: As a runner, my routine is to try to get the best sleep I can. There can be nerves overnight, so I really try to stay restful and meditate, which can help sometimes. Then when I get up, I focus on hydration, so early in the morning I drink a glass of water. Then I move on to caffeine. I always like to have two shots of espresso before races and training, so I definitely try to get that in. Then I’ll have a carbohydrate-rich breakfast and more fluids. Later on, I might have a Clif Bar, and then at the start line, I’ll be sipping on things like Gatorade or some other carbohydrate beverage mix. At this point, I’m mentally in my own racing process, thinking about my goals and how I can break those down into small chunks. I’ll tell myself I just want to be efficient that day, I just want to breathe. They’re small things you can do that can add up to a great finish.
Des Linden: I have breakfast three hours before the start time, usually a bagel with peanut butter, coffee and a PowerBar electrolyte drink for hydration. For a half marathon, my warmup begins about 45 minutes prior to race time, and it consists of around two miles of easy running. After that, I change into my race shoes, do a few strides and drills and off I go.
How do you maintain routine consistency while on the road?
MH: Yeah, that can be really difficult. I think it's important to bring the things you need with you. I like to bring a pillow, my own little pillow, because that helps me sleep at night. It may take up a lot of room in your luggage, but for me, it’s worth it. I try to keep bedtime and wake time as consistent as possible. I know it's hard because on race day you're getting up around 4 a.m., but before that, try to keep your sleep consistent. And don't worry about losing sleep the night before a race, everyone does. You'll get through one day just fine.
SS: I try to stick to a schedule that’s similar to what I do at home. I try to get a good night’s sleep when I'm traveling because competition sleep is so important, but I still focus on drinking water as soon as I wake up. Getting outside and getting a training in while I'm traveling also helps to keep my body's rhythm the same throughout the day. If you train in the afternoon, I’d recommend trying to do something that's active in the afternoon, and then make sure you’re eating consistent meals and taking in plenty of hydration.
DL: To ensure consistency, I bring my own coffee equipment (MiiR Pourigami, Comandante coffee grinder, single-serve hot water kettle and Linden x Two coffee beans). My pre-race meal is pretty easy to access, but I try and stay flexible as well. If I’m unsure what will be available the morning of the race, I’ll make a trip to the grocery store the night prior so there are no surprises on race day.
Does your routine change depending on the race distance?
MH: Anything up to a half marathon is pretty much the same. The marathon is different because you need to fuel a little more. So, I might get up a little earlier and add an extra meal in there. My warm-up is also a little shorter for the marathon because you're already going so far you don't want to add miles to your day.
SS: My pre-race routine does differ depending on the distance. So, if I'm doing a half marathon or a 10K as opposed to a full marathon, the volume of carbohydrates that I would ingest that morning will be lower. But otherwise, my mental game and my hydration are all the same.
DL: Anything under the marathon distance and the routine stays the same—although the shorter the distance of the race, the higher the intensity of the drills and strides. For the marathon, I’m a bit more diligent about getting food in prior to the race. I’ll add some white rice to the pre-race meal mix as well and keep sipping on the electrolyte drink all the way to start time. The warmup routine gets much shorter as well, about ten minutes of light running is a sufficient warm-up for the longer race day.
Do you have any pre-race superstitions?
MH: Yes! I like to paint my nails before every race, and I do something a little different each time. For me, it’s like a fun, zen activity I can do the night before to just be creative, zone out and do something fun. Plus, then my nails look nice too.
SS: I do one thing during races that has helped me get through some challenging points, which there always are. I think of a song, and I’ll move to the beat of that song to help take my mind off what hurts and just focus on continually moving forward.