On any given weekend morning, you can probably find a road race going on in most major cities. For those lining up, it usually comes with a pretty set routine: waking up to a super-early alarm clock, scarfing down a quick prerace breakfast, and squeezing in a warm-up right before the gun goes off. Depending on the distance, you’re usually done around lunchtime—leaving the rest of the day to rest, recover, and go about your weekend.
But the same old routine can become rote, which can make running start to feel—dare we say it—just a little bit boring. That’s why changing up the timing of your races can be a simple way to breathe some new life into your running routine.
Evening or late afternoon races can be, well, simply fun: You can compete under the streetlights and stars, zoom around in glow-in-the-dark gear, and sometimes even enjoy nightlife elements like live music as you cross off your miles.
Take Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas, for instance: The nighttime running events, which include a Saturday evening 5K, 10K, and half marathon, provide constant entertainment from the expo to the finish lines—think: Blue Man Group performance at the start, DJ battles, and pre- and post-race parties at local nightclubs. (Registration for the 2024 event, scheduled for February 24–25, is open here).
“We call this the world’s largest running party,” event race director Nicole Christenson tells SELF.
While these kinds of races can be a great way to break out of a running rut, they can come with quite an adjustment for those who are used to lacing up in the early morning hours. And if you don’t prep for the time change, you can end up feeling sluggish and tired for the competition—not exactly prime party mode.
That doesn’t mean you need to skip the later start calls and stick to your same old, though. With a few tweaks to your routine, you can become a nighttime racing pro. We have you covered with plenty of recs to help you get ready to run your best night race yet.
While there’s no one “best” time to exercise if you’re looking to improve your performance, there is one thing to keep in mind: Training at the same time of day as your event can help give you a boost, as a new review in Sports Medicine concluded.
So if you normally run in the mornings, you might want to try an afternoon or later workout—whatever time matches up with the start of your upcoming event. Your goal is to acclimate your body to hard effort later in the day, at a time when you likely won’t feel as fresh as you would first thing in the morning, Vanessa Peralta-Mitchell, a certified run coach and founder of Game Changers, tells SELF.
Recognize that “you have this whole day on your back and shoulders, so your legs are going to be tired,” she says. The same workout that you easily crushed first thing in the morning may hit a little differently after you’ve been up and walking around for several hours.
That’s why Peralta-Mitchell recommends incorporating one or two evening training sessions a week from the start of the training cycle, so it’s not a shock on your body come race day.
There’s also a mental benefit to this too: It can help you feel more confident running in this new time and environment. “You'll feel like, I know this space,” Peralta-Mitchell says. “My body, my mind has been here before. This is second nature to me. I don't have to adjust; I'm ready. I got this.”
Unlike a morning competition, nighttime events give you the opportunity to eat multiple meals before toeing the line. That’s great for making sure you hit the start fueled up, but it also gives you more chances to make a mistake that can leave your GI tract churning. So use this time wisely to avoid an upset stomach during the race, Meghann Featherstun, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian and marathoner, tells SELF.
For race-day breakfast, Featherstun recommends a meal that includes simple carbohydrates with a little bit of fat and protein. “We really want to make carbs the star of the show,” she says. That’s because that macronutrient provides the quick energy for body systems—including your muscles, brain, nerves, and other tissues—that are crucial for athletic performance. A bagel with cream cheese plus a banana and some orange juice or an egg sandwich are great options. “Make sure a solid 75 to 80% of what’s on your plate at breakfast is carbohydrates,” she says.
Because lunch is much closer to the race, Featherstun recommends being a little more cautious about food choices, limiting fiber and fats—which can commonly cause stomach issues like cramping—and sticking with the same carb ratio as breakfast. To give your body ample time to digest, have your last full meal three hours or so out from the race, she says.
Once you’re about an hour out from your event, fuel up with a light snack, Featherstun says. A simple carbohydrate, like graham crackers, digests quickly. If solid foods that are close to a competition aren't your thing, Featherstun recommends higher-carb drinks such as Maurten 320 or Skratch High Carb to help provide a last-minute boost before the gun goes off.
In many places, the late afternoon or early evening can actually be a lot hotter than the early morning hours, which means hydration can become even more important.
Drinking up doesn’t start when you’re racing either. Just as you prep your nutrition in the hours before your event, you should pay attention to your hydration too. Featherstun recommends runners take in plenty of fluids throughout the day—focusing on drinking to thirst—and stop at least an hour before the race in order to give the body enough time to process the intake and avoid any bathroom stops.
If you’ll be racing an event where it’s warm—take Las Vegas, for instance, where temps hover in the mid-60s in February—you may want to drink a little extra fluid (about 24 to 32 ounces more than a normal day) and supplement with some sodium, says Featherstun. Sodium is an electrolyte, which helps maintain fluid balance in your cells and is excreted through sweat. While everyone’s sweat rate is different, you can lose up to 1,600 mg of sodium per hour during intense exercise. So making sure you take in enough of this electrolyte is important. (Here’s how you can figure out how much sodium you may need.)
You can add to your daily total with meals or snacks like a salty soft pretzel, spaghetti with extra salt in tomato sauce, or a rice bowl with soy sauce. Then, once your race is over, check out these tips for making sure you rehydrate adequately too!
If you’ve heard the phrase “nothing new on race day” repeated ad nauseam, just know that there’s good reason for that: “You don’t want to cram for this type of test,” says Peralta-Mitchell.
That’s why she recommends practicing your race-day nutrition and hydration plan—in addition to your training runs—ahead of time. Taking the time to experiment and nail down your hydration intake, dinner the night before, plus race-day breakfast, lunch, and snack, will help get your body acclimated to the change—and give you a better idea of what you’ll be feeling like at each point.
Because you'll have a full day before you toe the line, you will likely be more physically and mentally tired during the competition. But if you hone in on your motivation—again, something to practice during your nighttime training sessions—you'll be prepared to push through once those feelings set in, Peralta-Mitchell says.
She taps into power words, sayings, and mantras to persevere when things get tough in a race. “When you're racing out there, you have those moments when you’re dialed in and focused, but you can easily be overcome with pain or the challenge, like, I’m running at night, why did I sign up for this?” she says. “But you’d be surprised with how the voice we hear the loudest is our own. If you practice [power words] weeks ahead of time, you’ll be surprised at how much more confident you’ll be able to show up on race day.”
For instance, a phrase that Peralta-Mitchel finds especially effective in her racing is “I shine, you shine.” You can test some of these out and tweak and modify in a way that works for you.
It’s important to know where you're going to go, what you’re going to eat, and what you’re going to wear beforehand. Cutting out the unknowns—and a lot of the decision-making process in general—can calm nerves, Peralta-Mitchell says. Mapping out your transit situation, looking up restaurants ahead of time (or bringing your go-to food with you if you’re traveling), and planning your outfit can all make things go a little smoother. (For evening races in particular, layering can come in clutch, says Christenson, since temps often dip in the later miles.)
Planning is key earlier in the day as well to keep race-day anxiety at bay: You’ll have hours to kill, so you’ll want to fill them with activities that keep your mind occupied without stressing your body. If your goal is to run a personal best, Peralta-Mitchell suggests staying off your feet as much as possible, avoiding strenuous movement, and sticking close to your home or your hotel. To keep your mind occupied while waiting for the event to start, you can also use this time to take advantage of more sedentary activities—say, catching a daytime show or movie or taking in a bus tour if you’re racing in a new location.
Peralta-Mitchell likes to remind her runners to approach every race as a unique journey. You may find your body reacts differently to evening races than morning ones—and that’s completely okay.
In some cases, you may feel a boost: Before she became the event’s race director, Christenson actually ran her half marathon personal best on the super flat, evening Las Vegas course. “Your mind is occupied by everything you’re seeing,” she says.
What’s more, a fun, nighttime atmosphere can “give you the opportunity to push yourself in ways you don’t normally push yourself,” says Peralta-Mitchell.
But in other cases, you may find it more enjoyable to simply pull back your pace and enjoy the ride, taking the opportunity to soak in all the things that make nighttime races feel so special. “The ground is not going anywhere, but you living in that moment is not forever,” Peralta-Mitchell says. “So take it all in!”