2-6 WEEKS BEFORE RACE DAY
1. Trust your training. You’ve logged a ton of miles, consumed a lot of GU, woken up at ungodly hours. You’ve trained your body, so allow your mind to believe that your body is capable of running 26.2
2. Prioritize your sleep. If there is one single thing you can do to improve your marathon performance without doing anything, it’s sleep. Over the next six weeks, aim to get into bed just 30 minutes earlier. Shut it down, turn it off, and go to bed. As marathon day approaches, consider choosing a few minutes of sleep over a mile of running. For example, if your schedule suggests that you run 6 miles on a Thursday, but this would require you to wake up at 5:00, consider running 5.5 miles to wake up at 5:15. It won’t make a bit of difference in your performance to run that ½ mile, but the benefits are cumulative. Try and capitalize on that.
3. Rest is best. Now is the time that you start to feel worn down, achy, and a little fatigued. If you need an extra rest day after that 20 miler, even if your schedule says otherwise, take it. Similarly, if you have a little ache or pain, take an extra rest day. This will also thwart off potential injuries.
4. Hydrate. You’ve been hydrating all summer; but the cooler temps now may not prompt you to drink as much. Drink a lot. Drink often. Not only is it good for recovery, but helps lubricate those muscles and joints that may be feeling sore from all that pounding.
5. Visualize. Study the map of the course over the next few weeks and periodically visualize yourself running it. Even better, find a youtube video of the course. Visualize each segment of the course—I like to divide the course into four parts: 1-8; 8-16; 16-20; 20-26.2. Visualize yourself running strong and passing the landmarks and monuments.
6. Practice drinking. Drinking along the race course is a bit of an art. Slow down, make eye contact with the volunteer, grab a cup, squeeze at the top to make a small opening, slow to a jog or walk, tip it back like a shot glass and drink. This takes practice, and if you can, perfect it so you are hydrated. If you can’t consider bringing your own water so you aren’t stressed; Similarly, practice with Gatorade. The last thing you want to do is to shock your body on race day.
7. Practice eating. Now is the time to experiment with your nutrition. If you are struggling with the GU during training runs, consider something else, such as raisins, but you must practice with these before race day. Practice taking nutrition every 35-45 minutes.
8. Shoes. About 3 weeks before race day, replace your shoes. Don’t wait until the week before.
9. Limit junk food. You are likely hungrier than ever right now with all this running. It’s also getting close to Halloween. What better way to satiate your hunger than a giant bag of candy corn! Don’t. Aim to eat whole foods, high quality protein, few processed foods, good fats, and healthy whole grains.These adjustments will help you recover from runs and improve your race performance.
10. Keep stress level minimal. Stress can affect our sleep, eating, mood, and running. If you can avoid stressful situations, do so, and if you cannot, try and control how it affects you.
11. Limit alcohol. No explanation necessary.
12. Trust your taper. A good taper is one that reduces your mileage, but not intensity. Two to three weeks before marathon day, mileage should be reduced about 10-20% of your overall mileage. One week prior to race day, mileage should be reduced by 50%. Avoid cross-training and weight training. Use the extra time to sleep and visualize your race and come up with a mantra.
13. Speaking of a mantra, this may sound cheesy, but a positive mantra can really help you during your race. Write the mantra on your hand, think of it when the going gets rough. Perhaps a simple word, such as “believe,” or “One mile at a time.” Whatever it is, make it a positive mantra, not a negative one, such as “Don’t stop.”
14. Fuel appropriately. Beginning about the Wednesday before race day, start changing the ratios of your food. Start eating more carbs and reducing protein. Avoid eating MORE food, just change the ratios. Some great carb sources include sweet potatoes, quinoa, and squash. Continue to eat whole foods and avoid junk calories, as you are running less. Starting one to two days before race day, This is when your food consumption really matters. If you are anti-carb, now is the time to suspend your evil notions of carbs and embrace them to fuel your glycogen stores. Endeavor to eat three to five grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight. Carb sources should be easily digestible and dense sources to minimize the overall calories. Good sources—familiar, easily digestible foods-cereal, oatmeal, breads, pasta and rice, juices, fruits, and starchy vegetables. Again, don’t eat more, but rather adjust your margins. Have a small piece of chicken and a larger portion of pasta, instead of your typical portion ratios. If the race day forecast is going to be particularly hot, add a little more sodium to your diet. Sodium is an electrolyte and is necessary for absorption of hydration. This extra consumption will help improve your ability to perform on a hot race day. Drink a V-8 or two before race day. MOST IMPORTANTLY, DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW.
15. Plan to eat a light high complex carb meal 1-2 hours before the race. Eat something you know will not upset your stomach, e.g., something you have eaten prior to training or racing before. Suggestions include whole wheat toast with peanut butter, cereal, oatmeal, banana, or bagels, with 16 oz of water. If you are used to drinking coffee, have some. Caffeine has an ergogenic effect and is a performance enhancer, but can also lead to GI problems, rapid heartbeat and other side effects so if you have not experimented with this in training, do not try it on race day, but if you have, take some caffeine about 15 minutes before the start, if you can. One caffeine pill is equal to one cup of coffee and is sufficient to boost performance, provided this is something you’ve practiced with; otherwise, do not risk it. Do not eat simple sugars that morning ( If you eat mostly simple sugars such as candy or sweets, your blood glucose levels will spike and then drop rapidly, leaving you with low glucose levels at the start of the race. STOP eating within 1 hour of race start, but you can have sips of water at the start.
16. Dress as if it’s 20 degrees cooler than the highest predicted temperature for race day. If it’s expected to reach 60, dress as if it’s 80. Bring throwaway clothes and a trash bag at the start to keep warm. If it’s raining, consider bringing throwaway socks and shoes to replace your footwear immediately before the start. Throwaway gloves, and arm sleeves are great options as the temperature rises throughout the race.
17. At the start line, Warm up with dynamic stretching (butt kicks, high knees, strides) for 5-10 minutes before start in corral. Remind yourself not to start too fast.
18. Don’t go out too fast! If you feel like you are going too slow, you are probably running at an appropriate pace. Use the “talk test” to ensure that you are not running too fast and depleting your energy. Maintain a steady pace throughout the race and break it down by miles. You cannot bank miles! Going out too fast will deplete your energy stores that much quicker, while tearing up the muscles you need to get through the last ½ of the race. Even if you bank two minutes during the first half, you will lose that very quickly if you need to slow down 15-30 seconds per miler later on. Instead, aim for a negative split. “Gee, I wish I had pushed the first half and ran as fast as I could, so I could run slower and walk a bit during the second half,” said no runner, ever.
19. Watch the tangents. Start on path of least resistance- try not to weave around other runners, which will use up unnecessary energy. Stay focused on a straight path to pass through the crowd, rather than around them at the beginning. Typically the far outside of the pack is less crowded, but if you are running along the side make sure to watch your footing for any potholes, gutters, grates, etc. and remember to still aim to run the tangents of the course to avoid adding extra mileage to the course. To do this, when the course curves, do not run along the curve- rather, aim for the next curve that comes into sight a run diagonally to the next point. In longer races, running the tangents can take several minutes off your finish time.
20. Even effort on hills. Take advantage of the downhill, not the uphill. When running uphill, allow your pace to slow a bit, shorten your stride, keep your head up, look twenty feet ahead, and try to stay light and avoid exerting too much energy. Once at the top, pass all of those who passed you on the way uphill.
21. Have an “A” plan and a “B” plan.—Stick to plan A, and if it’s not your day, instead of resigning to having a bad race, focus on plan B to stay in the game. For the first few miles, you should not be racing anyone but yourself. After you settle in your pace, focus on every legal advantage: running tangents, drafting if it’s windy off someone taller than you, pacing with someone who is running your pace (while paying attention to the pace to ensure you are not going too slow or fast), and taking in nutrition.
22. The last four miles of a marathon is the race—Use the first 22 miles of a marathon to prepare for the final four. Keep your pace steady, exert as little energy as possible otherwise—don’t surge or weave, and avoid too many high fives and energetic gestures. Mentally prepare for mile 22 and know that mile 22 is where the race begins. Nutrition intake before and during the race will determine whether there is a “WALL” at mile 20 or an open door toward a strong finish. It’s going to hurt. Embrace the suck, use your positive mantra, which leads to…
23. Consider asking a friend or family member to stand at mile 23-24 to get you through the last 5K. Each time you pass the mile marker, think about how far you've come since you started training. If you start to feel depleted, remember that the discomfort you are feeling is very temporary and the accomplishment of finishing your first race is permanent!
24. Consume nutrition with protein, ideally 4:1 carbs:protein ratio within 30 minutes of finishing. Consider having a family member or friend meet you at the finish with a chocolate milk or anything with some protein and carbs, as bagels and bananas only are not enough. Eat and hydrate as soon as you can, which will speed up recovery.
25. Continue walking after crossing the finish line and for several days thereafter. Walk (or even light, non-impact cross training such as swimming) as much as you can the next few days to remove the lactic acid from those legs. Treat yourself to an ice bath.
26. Refrain from racing for at least a month. While you may feel amazing and want to capitalize on your fitness gains, you need time to recover. You’ve torn your body to shreds, and if you rush your recovery to run a 5K, that will increase your injury risk significantly.
26.2. Be proud of your accomplishment. Apply it to other aspects of your life. Take it with you and don’t diminish it. Regardless of your time, you traveled a distance that 90% of our populations would never imagine or be capable of achieving.