You've (hopefully) done all the necessary training. Preparing for the big race day, though, involves more than just logging miles in your running shoes.
I've been running (and racing) for 16+ years. Needless to say, I have learned a lot through trial and error (emphasis on the errors).
A little planning ahead of time can ease the race day stress. It may not eliminate the start line nerves, but having a lot of the details ironed out before the big day will make getting there a little easier.
Tip 1 - First of all, take the taper seriously.
A taper (that period before a race where you scale back the mileage and intensity of your workouts) isn't usually necessary for a short distance, like a 5K or even a 10K. For a longer event, like a half or full marathon (or even longer distances), though, a taper is crucial. A lot of newer runners may fear they haven't done enough, especially if they have not hit all of their training miles or had to skip a few scheduled runs. Likewise, experienced runners can sometimes be over confident in their body's ability to recover. None the less, a taper period (usually 2-3 weeks, depending on the distance of the upcoming event) is vital for your body to rest and be thoroughly recovered prior to the start line. There's nothing to be gained by making up a few extra miles in the final week(s) leading up to the race...and you put your body (and its performance on race day) at risk for injury by over-doing it that close to the race itself.
Tip 2 - Carbo-loading is tricky.
Some carbs the day (or evening) prior to the race will give you a few extra calories (and some peace of mind), but you actually need those carbs a few days prior as well. In fact, the entire week before your race should be devoted to sensible food choices, not just the 12 hours prior to the race. Over-doing the pasta could leave you feeling bloated, and that's not very race day friendly.
Tip 3 - The same goes for hydration.
Yes, your body needs plenty of water for (and during) the race, but it's best to be mindful of staying hydrated in the week prior as well. Just like with carbo-loading, too much hydration at the last minute could have you in the porta-potty more than you desire.
Tip 4 - Consider doing a trial run in your race day outfit.
The weather can be a wild card, and is always a factor we cannot control or change. A couple years ago, the weather looked less-than-desirable the entire week leading up to one of my half marathons. It was early May. The temps were predicted to be in the 50's and rainy. Ugh. I can handle rain on a hot summer day, but it's a different ball game on a cool morning in the spring. I got the idea (the day prior, which had almost identical weather) to do a "trial run" in a similar outfit to what I planned to wear for the race day and see if the layers would work...and it was a success! Whew!
Tip 5 - Do a Race Day Preview.
Even though I do this to show the virtual world my racing outfit, more importantly, it gives me a chance to make sure I have everything ready to go when the alarm goes off the next morning. I seldom ever get a good nights sleep before a race (more on that in a minute), so I don't want to leave it to fate that I'll remember everything with a cloudy brain. Also, even though I lay out the race bib (if I already have it), I don't pin it on because I don't want it getting all crumpled under a seat belt. Instead, the bib gets tucked into the recovery bag (see below), with all four safety pins attached.
Tip 6 - Have a post-race recovery bag on standby.
I wrote a blog post on this awhile back (details HERE). Again, with that early morning wake-up, I have learned to not trust my memory with necessary details. Having the goody bag packed up (and hanging on the door knob) before I head to bed gives me peace of mind.
Tip 7 - Don't fret over how much sleep you'll be getting the evening prior.
I'm a night owl (AND also an early bird) by nature. I am good with 5-6 hours of sleep. I have tired to go to bed earlier than usual (to allow for the earlier than usual wake-up on race day), but it's seldom a successful venture. I tend to lay there TRYING to fall asleep instead of actually sleeping. I would simply suggest trying to be restful if you cannot actually sleep, and not just for that one night....allow yourself some relaxation that entire week if possible. Attempting to force your body into sleeping more than it is accustomed to, or going to sleep sooner than what is typical, is not always a smart move.
Tip 8 Finally, consider mapping out your driving route a few days ahead of time.
This is especially helpful if it's to a place where you're not familiar. That good ole GPS is not always 100% accurate. It may direct you to the shortest route to your destination, but it may not be the easiest route to navigate...especially if it's still dark when you're driving. Also, the GPS doesn't always have access to the temporary closed streets (due to the race course). Just something to think about.
A few related posts:
Bottom line, a lot of race day fears and anxiety can be lessoned with experience. Also, knowing you have trained properly (which is a very personal thing for each of us) can give you peace of mind as well. Even with all the necessary training and preparation, it still is acceptable and A-Okay to have some nerves as you toe the start line...it just shows you really care about your performance. That's not a bad thing.
How does race day affect you? Has it gotten easier, the more races you've done? Anything you'd add?