The Countdown: Three-Week Race Preparation Timeline


, by Matt Fitzgerald

Photography by: sippakorn

Every day of training is important, but none are as important as the last three weeks of training before a race. Matt Fitzgerald shares how to prepare for a race and give yourself the best chance of success.

Each day of training is important in its own way. But none are more important than the last 21 days before a race. The choices you make during this period will determine whether you get the most out of all the hard work you have done. To ensure you do, heed the tips in this handy race preparation timeline, which I’ve adapted just for you from The Complete Runner’s Day-by-Day Log 2024 Calendar.

Three Weeks From Race Day

Now is the time to put the finishing touches on your race fitness. You’re fit enough to take on your most challenging and race-specific workouts this week, but you won’t be race-fit until these workouts are completed. Here are sample “dress rehearsal” workouts for the four mostly common race distances:

5K Dress Rehearsal

  • 1 mile easy

  • 6 x 800m @ 5K pace/0:45 rest

  • 1 mile easy

10K Dress Rehearsal

  • 1 mile easy

  • 6 x 1 mile @ 10K pace/1:00 rest

  • 1 mile easy

Half Marathon Dress Rehearsal

  • 1 mile easy

  • 8 miles @ 13.1 pace

  • 1 mile easy

Half Marathon Dress Rehearsal

  • 2 miles easy

  • 12 miles @ 26.2 pace

  • 2 miles easy

STRAVA TRAINING PLANS: Customized workouts delivered daily to your inbox

Use this week also to finalize your race goal based on the latest data from your training. Use the numbers from recent workouts to choose a target pace you’re confident you can sustain for the full distance, but only with maximal effort.

Photography by: nenetus

Consider choosing a theme or mantra for your race—something specific to this moment in your athletic journey that captures what your upcoming event means to you. Meditate on it as race day draws nearer and feed off it during the race itself.

Two Weeks From Race Day

Begin your pre-race taper. Maintain your normal running frequency while gradually reducing your mileage. Don’t eliminate efforts at higher intensities—they’re proven to enhance race performance when compared to an entirely low-intensity taper.

Take some time each day to close your eyes and visualize your race. Make these mental rehearsals as vivid and realistic as possible. Envision a challenging process with a successful outcome.

One Week From Race Day

Check out the race-day forecast and prepare accordingly, whether this means applying a lubricant to prevent chafing in wet weather, altering your pacing strategy in anticipation of headwinds and tailwinds on an out-and-back course, or adjusting your fueling plan for high temperatures.

RELATED: How Often Should You Race?

Create a detailed logistical plan for race day. Spend time on the event website and learn how to get to the race venue, what time you need to be there, where to park, etc.

Consider watching an inspirational running movie such as McFarland, USA or reading an inspirational running book like Running the Dream. This will get you fired you up to compete!

Prioritize sleep. If you get plenty of sleep throughout the week, a shorter or more fitful sleep the night before your race won’t hurt you.

If you’re competing in a race that is likely to last longer than 2.5 hours, increase your carbohydrate intake to 70 percent of total calories for one to three days. This will make you less likely to hit the wall.

Photography by: Maridav

Race Day

Focus on controlling the three things you can control—effort, attitude, and judgment—and let go of the rest.

Stick to your race plan until and unless it becomes truly necessary to depart from it. For example, don’t speed up at mile 5 of a marathon if your planned race pace feels too easy. Do slow down if your planned pace feels too hard.


Order a burger and a beer or reward yourself in some other way. Now is not the time to worry about eating and drinking for optimal recovery. It takes a while for the body to recover from a race, and there’s very little you can do nutritionally or otherwise to accelerate the process. Live a little—you deserve it!

RELATED: Effort, Attitude & Judgment: Your Benchmarks of Success

Take some time to sit down and analyze your performance. Reflect on what you did well and what you could have done better, then commit to applying these lessons in your next event.

Ease back into training in a manner that considers the nature of the race you completed, how hard your trained for it, what’s next, your current motivation level, and self-knowledge about how you tend to recover from races. In general, the longer and more challenging the race and the harder you trained for it, the more cautious you should be in returning to training. At least once a year, all runners should take a couple of weeks off from structured training for deep recovery. Never feel compelled to return to serious training before you’re motivated to do so.

Feel free to modify or add to this timeline based on what you learn from using it. The process is a little different for each athlete, including you!

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