Someone famous once said, “I love the smell of my racing checklist in the morning. It smells like… VICTORY!”

Okay, I know what you’re saying. Robert Duvall didn’t say that about racing.

But he could of!

Meanwhile, you’re tucked into your warm bed, dreaming of fat registration dollars, sold out venues, and…


What? Did you think you were going to sleep in on Race Day? Please!

You’ve got work to do!

That course is not going to set itself.

Those tents need popping, and those signs need hanging.

So many cones. So much survey tape.

Hopefully, you’ve been out on the trail a few times in the past week, looking for down trees, overgrown weeds, and trail debris.

If your arrows are not up, then you have even more things to get done in the dark of the morning.

Long before the sun comes up, you need to have your course marked, survey tape in place, and intersections closed off.

If you wait too long, the race schedule will completely get away from you before you have a chance to blink.

And that’s when you smell it.

Pre-racing in the morning!

The calm before the storm.

It is a sweet smell of dawn trails, morning dew, and fresh coffee.

You are the most peaceful you will be all day.

How can you be so calm?

Because you have a pre-race checklist — and you used it!

Wait. You did use it, right?

You do have a pre-race checklist, don’t you?

Okay! Don’t panic!

That’s why you’re here. To learn about the things you didn’t know you needed to know.

So let’s know it — I mean learn it — now!

Victory in the form of a list

Your pre-race day checklist it a tool.

Like a hammer?

Yes, just like a hammer.

It has a purpose and needs to be short and precise.

There is no point to a tool that does not have a use.

Our pre-race checklist has a very specific use:

It keeps you from forgetting to do something or bring something on race day.

That’s it.

Read it.

See it.

Bring it.

Check it off the list.

Simple and to the point.

What does Victory smell like?

It’s different for everyone.

But when you smell it, you never forget.

However, before you can shape your pre-race checklist, you probably need to see what one looks like first.

Here is a good example of a pre-race checklist:

#1 Week before Race:

  • Buy water jugs
  • Create direction and parking signs
  • Print all your forms and lists
  • Get extra survey tape, cones, and posts
  • Find reflective road guard vests
  • Get petty cash
  • Have your printed paper permits ready
  • Visit the venue, walk the trails

#2 Night Before Race:

  • Put gas in vehicles
  • Check gas in generators
  • Pack a shovel and an axe
  • Inspect your Owie-Boo-Boo Bag (Medical kit)
  • Grab your checkbook to pay officials
  • Stage and/or load vehicles
  • Check weather reports for next 12-hours
  • Bed by 9:00PM (If possible — I can’t sleep the night before a race)

#3 Morning of Race:

  • Wake up at 3:00AM
  • Coffee AND Breakfast (Might be the only time you eat all day)
  • Buy ice morning off the race
  • Drive to venue — Arrive by 5:00AM
  • Prep your volunteers
  • Prep your parking volunteers
  • Set your gear up at the venue
  • Mark the course and send out checkers
  • Setup registration
  • Set up timing
  • Turn on the music
  • Open Registration by 7:00AM
  • First Start by 8:00AM

Be Victorious

As you read through these lists, you may start to wonder about some of the line-items I’ve listed.

Trust me! There is a reason for EVERYTHING on these lists.

It is entirely inclusive?

No way.

Your list will be different.


Your venue, your course, and your schedule will change with your needs.

Some races require you to stay in a hotel.

It’s hard to stage your gear in your garage if you’re 100-miles away from your house.

Other races will require you to stage gear at the venue.

This may mean posting a watch (placing round-the-clock guards) and sleeping in a tent.

The weather might also mess up your list. Rain has a funny way of slowing things down or pushing them back a few hours.

But do remember the point of the pre-race checklist?

It makes you not forget to do something or bring something on race day!

Petty cash?

Forgot it twice.

Inspect the Owie-Boo-Boo bag?

Brought one with only dinosaur bandaids in it, and nothing else.

Gas in the SUV AND the generator?

Empty on both counts at the same race.

Extra survey tape?

Ran out when some volunteers used too much on a different part of the course, leaving an intersection without it.

Your list will include many of these “gotcha’s” brought on by your fight with Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame.

Mr. Murphy?

Oh, you don’t know Mr. Murphy? Let me introduce you.

When I was in the US Navy, and things went wrong, we often blamed them on a superstitious entity know as Mr. Murphy.

He literally is the personification of bad luck!

Mr. Murphy comes from the belief that If anything that can go wrong, it will.

All military operations are built on the premise that you need to plan for where Mr. Murphy might show up.

For example, carrying only one GPS system into the field is asking for Mr. Murphy, because when you need it the most, you will find it broken, or lost, or out of batteries.

This is the foundation of what most veterans call Murphy’s Law.

What does this have to do with me and my pre-race checklist?

Well, consider this example.

You have your pre-registration list on your computer at home and you print it out the night before like a good little race promoter.

Then you show up to the venue 100-miles away, only to discover — no pre-registration list and no 4G either.

This is a perfect Murphy’s Law scenario.

Mr. Murphy’s law firm, Murphy, Murphy, and Murphy have lots of clients.

I get free parking on most days.

But you don’t have to be a client of Mr. Murphy!

Murphy-proof your planning by thinking about what could go wrong if you didn’t do it, or forgot it.

When you know what that is, put it on the list.

Then use the list!

Say it with me:

Read it.

See it.

Bring it.

Check it off the list.

Mr. Murphy can be overcome, you just have to start thinking about him to keep him away.

And now you know!

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!