Marathon Training: Getting Faster, Part 3

5 Race Day Rules to Help You Achieve Your Marathon Goal

You’ve done the training (see Marathon Training Part 1 and Part 2), you’ve tapered properly, you’ve cleaned up your nutrition habits and now you are toeing the line in your new running outfit and shoes ready to set a new PR or qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Stop! Go back to the first paragraph, reread, and remember Rule Number One of race day: Never, and I mean never, do anything new on race day. That means don’t use a gel that you haven’t trained with, don’t use the carb drink they are supplying unless you researched and used it during your training. Don’t try something new for breakfast, and DON’T wear a pretty new outfit and new shoes. Can you say chafing, blisters, or just plain old discomfort for 26.2 miles? Even if your shoes are a new version of an old pair, wear them on a few short runs before the big day. Same goes for shorts, tops, bras, and socks.

Hopefully, over the course of your long runs, you have learned what to eat, what your stomach can handle, how to manage fluids, which gives you a plan for race day. Rule Number Two: Stick with what works. Eat your gels, drink your fluids just like you planned. Learn from my mistake: When I ran the St. George Marathon, I was feeling so good for the first 15 miles that I was afraid to upset the applecart (remember, I tend to have nausea problems). I didn’t take any gels, although I did drink fluids (I carry my own Cytomax). Yes, I felt great until I hit mile 20 when I started to feel weak and depleted, and could barely keep up an 8 minute mile (the first 20 I was averaging 7:15 per mile). It took all I had to finish that last mile. If I had fueled properly and maintained my pace, I had the chance to take another four minutes off my time.

Retake on the race start: you’ve fueled up for the race with a light breakfast that you know will work because you’ve eaten it before your long runs. You are wearing an almost new, but still very cute, racing outfit, and your lightly used shoes are still bright and shiny clean. Your pack or pockets are bulging with the racing fuel of your choice, and you’ve either tried out the race brand of carb/electrolyte replacement or are carrying your own. The guns goes off and you start racing. Rule Number Three: Slow Down! The urge to start off too fast is almost irresistible. I know, I’ve been there, done that. Remember to run what you trained for. If your goal time is 3:30, about an eight minute mile, don’t start off running a seven minute mile! It is not “money in the bank,” you are not suddenly going to develop into a mystical being who will run a 3:03 marathon (yes, that is what a seven minute pace would equal).

My husband loves to tell the story of the first time he ran Boston. Because he was very fast, his qualifying time put him up near the front with the likes of master marathoners Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers. When the race started, he started running with these champions. When he found himself at mile 10 in an hour, he knew he was cooked. That’s on pace for a 2:37 marathon, much faster than the 2:59 time he qualified with. (When he had to finally slow down at mile 10, he managed to pull himself together and still run 2:58. That mental toughness and determination.)

Unless you’re doing a Galloway Walk/Run plan, Rule Number Four is Don’t Walk (too much). The problem with walking is that by mile 20, it just feels too damn good. The more you walk, the harder it is to get started running again. Plan ahead for your walking strategy. I used to plan to walk through the water stations (when I set my PR, though, I didn’t walk at all). Unless you’re injured, make yourself start running again as soon as you can, even if it is really hard to do so. You will feel better once you get rolling again.

This final rule covers a lot of things, Rule Number Five: Shit happens. While not a real rule, per se, mentally planning for it will help you run a successful marathon. Over the course of 26.2 miles, there will probably times where you won’t feel good, you might start to develop a blister, your play list will go whacky and you’re forced to listen to the sound of your own breathing. So many things can happen that might derail your race. It will be up to you, your mental toughness that you have been developing over the last 4-6 months, that will keep you going, make you keep pushing, help you carry on. I can’t make you do it. Only you can. Like I said in yesterday’s post. It will be hard. It will hurt. But, if you’ve followed the training and gotten this far, you can do it.

Note: there may be circumstances, like an injury or other health problem, that you really should quit. I myself have dropped out twice for health reasons, the exercise induced asthma-I couldn’t breathe-all the fortitude in the world can’t make up for that. Be smart, make the right decision, and live to race again.

St. George Marathon

It was a few years ago, but here I am, on the way to my PR of 3:16:38 in the St. George Marathon

Those are my race day tips for running a successful marathon. I know it’s not a complete list, because in the interest of brevity I skipped some basics like hydrate, wear your number on the front, wear sunscreen, etc., that apply to every level of marathon running.

Did I miss something important? What tips would you add to the list?

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  1. says

    I especially love the don’t walk too much! It is so hard to get started again after you slow down. For me, walking takes me out of my tough mental zone that I started with. Great, great advice! Also, I start to speedy…darn the adrenaline!

  2. says

    I love these rules – great reminders! I especially loved the story of your hubby starting out running with the marathon greats, it still makes for a good story, even if he did break the rules. πŸ™‚ Adding on to rule #5, I start envisioning the things that I suspect might happen during the race (cramp in my right foot, heat, etc) and how I’m going to acknowledge it and overcome it. It’s like a mental dress rehearsal and it really does help!
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  3. says

    I cannot thank you enough for this series! I will be starting training for my first full in August and am scared, excited, nervous and so many other emotions! These tips are fantastic and help put me at ease. For the most part πŸ™‚
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  4. says

    Great post… love your tips and agree with them.

    I do the run/walk and take a 30 sec. to 1 min walk break. It gives me small goals to accomplish (26) of them. Run just one mile at X pace. Ok. Good job. Now run this mile at X pace. Nicely done. And so on. One mile at a time.
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  5. Leah Rindner says

    My past few marathons I’ve walked through the waters stops, because otherwise I end up with water all over my body and none in my mouth (this is particularly obnoxious when I’m trying to consume sticky sports drinks). Next marathon I’m hoping to qualify for Boston. How do you drink water without significantly slowing down?

    • says

      I always carry my own water/sports drink and that eliminates the problem. If you don’t want to do that, try pinching the top of the cup, leaving just a little opening for drinking. I do that in shorter races. Then it doesn’t spill as much and you can drink a little slower.

      Good luck in your BQ attempt.
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