Race Day Strategies for Your Best Marathon

Coach Mike Broderick

You’ve trained hard, done all the long runs, gotten in the tough intervals at the track and now you are tapered, rested and ready to run your marathon. Now its time to focus on your strategy for actually running that race and reaching the time or finish goal you’ve set for yourself.

What follows is a simple race day plan for nutrition, hydration, pacing and race tactics which will help you to do your best come marathon day.

 Race Morning-Pre Race

-  Be sure you prepare your body for the work ahead by getting up early and eating a good breakfast to top of your liver and muscle fuel stores. Hopefully you’ve been practicing this in your training by eating before long runs and have learned what you like and what your body will tolerate.

 Rise early enough to eat a good breakfast at least 2-3 hours prior to the race start: favor easily digestible carbs such as cereal, bagels, toast, bananas, yogurt

-  Avoid food within 30-60 minutes before start to avoid insulin reaction

-  Drink 16-24 oz. water with breakfast

-  Drink 8-12 oz. water/sports drink just prior to startAt the Start-Warm Up

-  Try to move around actively for at least 10-15 minutes before the race starts to warm up the muscles and soft tissues to prepare them for the task ahead. Only do a strenuous warm up if you are hoping to really race the marathon hard and need to set a fast pace from the gun.

-  Warm muscles are better able to extract oxygen from the circulating blood and allow you to produce energy aerobically from the start-saving muscle glycogen.

-  Don’t overdress for the conditions. If you are warm standing around at the start you will overheat as you run. If it is cold at the start wear a top layer which you can discard.

Race Start-Ease Into It

-  In many races like the Marine Corps Marathon there is a very large crowd at the start and it is difficult to get to a normal running stride and pace.

-  Don’t panic and wildly zigzag through the crowd to get ahead. Be patient and look ahead of you for small seams in the runners ahead where you can move through without significantly deviating from your forward path. This will help to conserve glycogen that you will need later in the race.

-  It is often helpful physiologically to run the first couple of miles a few seconds per mile slower than your planned pace as you warm up.

Pacing: Even Splits =Best Performance

-  Know your correct pace from training.

-  Use mental discipline to hold back in early miles when pace feels easy and others are going out too fast.

-  Spare your limited energy to last through the race-a fast pace in early miles will burn more glycogen and lead to early depletion.

-  Can’t Put "Time in the Bank". You will pay back time for any fast early miles with double or triple the time in the final 10K.

Hydration: Do It

-  In warm conditions at racing intensities you may lose between 1 and 2 liters of fluid per hour.

-  Dehydration will lead to increases in heart rate and core body temperature, decreased blood flow to skin and working muscles, increases in muscle glycogen utilization, increases in exercise related discomfort and decreased performance.

-  For most runners under non-extreme environmental conditions somewhere between 17 and 27 ounces per hour should be sufficient-about the amount contained in one water bottle, or about 6-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes. Be sure to drink at every water stop and walk if necessary to get the fluid in you-not on you!Carbohydrate Replacement

-  Can be from Sports Drinks, Gels or other easily digestible products.

-  Aim for between 60 and 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour (about 240-360 calories/2.5-3.5 standard gels/GU) or 3-4 8 oz. cups of PowerAde at Marine Corps Marathon.

Race Performance

-  Focus on your own performance-not what is going on around you.

-  "Checklist of systems": periodically assess for any tightness, breathing rate, stride rate, fatigue, thirst, low energy and make corrections as needed.

-  Break race into smaller chunks: get to next mile marker, water stop, etc.

-  Positive self-talk: remind yourself that you have trained hard and prepared for the race.

-  Be "associative": pay attention to what you need to do right now to have a successful race (speed up, slow down, drink, get carbs, relax shoulders, shorten stride, etc.)

-  "Draft" or tuck in behind other runners to let them act as a wind block for you.

-   Run the "tangents" or the shortest lines along the course, i.e. the inside of curves.

-  Keep your brain in the race with sufficient carbohydrates in the later miles.

Follow these guidelines and you will have done your best to run your optimal race.

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