Race Day! 8 Tips for a Successful Marathon

I’m a little embarrassed. In Monday’s post, I promised to give you tips for returning to the marathon after a (long) layoff. While I thought at the time that sounded kind of familiar, it wasn’t until I double checked that I realized that, ahem, I had already written that post  Which doesn’t mean it won’t be useful though. Check out 5 Tips for Returning to the Marathon. At least I caught it before I wrote it all over again.

Instead, to stick with the marathon theme (since I’m running Rock and Roll San Diego in two weeks 11 days), we’ll talk about race day. After all, you’ve just spent anywhere from four to six months in an intensive effort to run a successful marathon. You had a training plan, followed it, did all your workouts, you’ve tapered, and now you are ready to go. Having a plan for race day is essential too.

Whether this is your first marathon or your 36th (or, as in Alan’s case, your 66th), it is a good idea to remind yourself of these simple race day tips.

Race Day Tips Race Day! 8 Tips for a Successful Marathon

Eat Breakfast

Try to eat a moderate breakfast two or three hours before the race. You need to top off your tank with easily digestible foods (that you have hopefully tried during your training) like oatmeal, bananas, cereals, yogurt, or toast. Drink water or a sports drink throughout the morning, all the way up until the race starts.

Nothing New on Race Day

Your training has been like a three or four month long dress rehearsal for your big day. Over that time, you’ve found the right combination of nutrition and hydration, as well as the right shoes, clothing, even socks. Don’t mess around with success on race day by wearing the cute top that you bought at the expo, or using the gel that is being given away on the course (unless you’ve been training with it). While new shoes are a great idea for the race, take them for a spin or two before the event, even if they are they same model as your old ones. Stick with your tried and true pre-run meal, which can be a little difficult if you traveled to an event, so make sure to plan ahead.

Logistics

You do not want to be sitting in traffic trying to exit the freeway as the gun goes off. Plan ahead to get to the venue early. Check out the race website for information about parking, shuttles, clothing drops, etc. Depending upon the size of the race, there may be long lines to use the portable toilets, so it is a good idea to head there right away.  Drop off your clothing bag and get to your corral at least 15 minutes early. Better to stand around waiting a little while than try to squeeze in when it is full. If the weather is cold, stay warm with a throwaway shirt that can be tossed after you warm up. If the weather is damp or rainy, a trash bag makes a great poncho to keep you dry while you’re waiting to get started.

Race Pictures 001 Race Day! 8 Tips for a Successful Marathon

Wearing both a throwaway and a trash bag in the 2000 Los Angeles Marathon. My girlfriend and I kept them on for the whole race due to the pouring rain and near freezing temperatures.

Start Slow

No matter how many marathons you have run, this may be the hardest advice to adhere to. The excitement of the moment, being surrounded with other excited runners, sometimes even a downhill start of the course all conspire to make you start out too fast. There’s no such thing as time in the bank. Getting more miles in at a faster pace is not going to help you finish your marathon faster. In fact, it will probably backfire, you will over extend yourself, use up crucial energy and fuel, and your time may very well be slower than you planned. Start out at your goal pace or even slightly slower. This will allow you to conserve both your energy and your fuel, enabling you to keep the pace during that last 10k.

Have a nutrition plan and stick to it

I will admit it. I made a huge nutrition mistake in what turned out to be my PR marathon. The thing is, I should have run that race five or even 10 minutes faster than I actually did! I have always had issues with fueling and nausea during the marathon, and during that race I was feeling so good I didn’t want to mess it up by ingesting anything. So, beyond water and the carbohydrate drink I was carrying I didn’t eat anything. So what happened? Well, at mile 20, I was on pace for a 3:10 finish, and I bonked so hard I could barely sustain an 8-8:30 pace for the last six miles. I ended up running 3:16 in that race, a good time to be sure, but, after losing about a minute a mile over the last 10k, I learned a painful lesson.

St. George Race Day! 8 Tips for a Successful Marathon

I was carrying gels in that amphipod. I just didn’t use them.

The point is, you have been practicing your nutrition throughout your training, you have a pretty good idea what works, so, make a plan before the race and stick with it.

Don’t wear headphones

Don’t shoot me! I know that music lovers everywhere are saying “What???!!! I can’t run without my music!” Wait a moment and just listen to my reasoning.

You are about to embark on one of the most life changing excursions of your life. You will have to reach deep inside of yourself, use everything you’ve got, including all your mental strength, to stay the course, and to be successful in your endeavor. Having music playing in your ear, while it may give you a beat to run to, will distract you from all of that. While you may say that distraction is a good thing, it really is not if you want to produce your best effort.

On the other hand, if you are running to have fun and “just finish,” why cut off half of the experience by not communicating with the other athletes that are sharing this moment with you? I have met some amazing people during a marathon, something that would never happen if I cut myself off from them by wearing headphones.

The Last 6.2 Miles

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “There are two halves to the marathon: the first 20 and the last 6.2,” and that is true to a certain extent. That last 10k can really grind you into the ground. But, if you have followed the advice above, fueled correctly, and moderated your pace, you will have a much stronger finish. Some other ideas to keep you going strong: Break the distance down into smaller chunks. Think about a great two mile run that you enjoy; Think minutes instead of miles. Four or five minutes may sound better than a half mile; If you’re really feeling like you have to slow down, try instead to pick up the pace for a short distance. That little change can refresh your legs; Take one mile at a time; Positive self talk. Be your own cheerleader.

Have Fun

This is the culmination of months of hard work. Cherish the moment. Talk to other runners. Give high fives to the kids on the sidelines. Smile for the cameras. Thank the volunteers. Enjoy the scenery. Appreciate the body, however tired and sore, that has brought you this far.

What race day tips would you like to add?

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Comments

  1. says

    Love everything you said, less for the headphones. :)
    Now, that said, I DO try my best to not have music on unless I am alone and I must hit the play button on my iPod. It is about the race experience and it can be harder to take in some of the good stuff with music in your ears.
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