The Best Preparation Plan For Your Marathon

05/01/2008 - 15:15

By Carolyn Mather, RN, PhD/Running Journal/November 2007

As you are preparing for your big winter or spring marathon I want you to include this holiday gift from me in your training package. Then when race day comes, you will have an arsenal of sound advice to prepare you for your best performance.

If you have put in all the prerequisite months of hard training you do not want to jeopardize your race with last minute glitches. While you are training, start making a list of anything that you use during training that works great for you. The right racing attire (jog bra, singlet, shorts, tights, shirt, hat, gloves, shoes, etc) should be put aside to take to your race. When you find something that is comfortable in all types of conditions, put it in your race kit. Develop this "perfect" kit as part of your training regimen.

Do not be fooled by "typical" winter/spring weather predictions. Take any type of clothing that might be needed for any weather situation. That windshirt really helps when the wind is howling and it is cold. If you are flying to your race, make sure you carry on every piece of your racing attire. And I do mean all of it, as the airline will surely misplace the luggage with that one piece of clothing you checked.

If at all possible, schedule to get to your race city two days before the race. This enables you to go to the expo, get your number, check out the lay of the land, and then have a day to really kick back. You will also avoid the lines and big crowds at the larger races. I strongly encourage you to run the last two or three miles of the course. Often marathoners get a bit foggy at the end of the race. It truly helps to see familiar landmarks as you near the end of the race. Also if you have any reserves at the end, then you will know when to pick it up. You have worked hard for this day, so give yourself that extra vacation day and go two days early.

While at the expo, please do not try any new foods or drinks. Hopefully you have been training with what fluids will be on the course and with what gels will be provided. Save any free samples for after the race. Many a marathoner has sabotaged all of their training with "sampling" at the expo. Do NOT go there. If you have a particular type of gel, make sure you take your tried and true flavors with you and plan to pin them to your shorts.

Once you have all the race stuff, have a good dinner and go to bed early. At many of the larger races you have to get up really early race morning to get to the start. More than likely you will sleep better two nights before the race than the night before the race. Do not set an alarm for that night. Let yourself sleep in if you can. You have worked very hard in training and deserve a full night's sleep.

When you awaken, have a good breakfast and then go for a short walk or jog. Do a few strides to get your legs feeling peppy. Go to a movie, take a nap, or do something restful. Please remember during all of the time you are at your race city DO NOT try anything new. And save your sightseeing for after the race when you need to be walking. Stick with what you have tested in your training and what you know works for you. If you have friends or family with you, go to the finish area and pick a place to meet. That really helps when you have finished and are tired.

Spend some time laying out your stuff for race morning. Put your chip on your shoe and your number on your shirt or shorts. Pack your bag to take to the start. Include your gels, a bottle of water and a bottle of replacement fluid, lubricating gel, extra pins, an extra pair of shoe laces, a throwaway shirt to keep you warm while waiting for the start, toilet paper, tissues, and anything else you might need. A special note for the premenopausal ladies, take your tampons and ibuprofen as your period will often sneak up race morning. You should have made a list of your personal necessities during your months of training so you know exactly what you need. Do not depend on the race volunteers to have things you need race morning. Remember to take a throw- away shirt or wear a plastic bag to keep you warm and conserve energy before the start.

Bring your race morning food with you. You know what you need so have on hand. That way you can eat in your room and not have to worry about that special kind of bagel or cereal or whatever. If your hotel happens to have breakfast, make sure that you know what they have and what time you can get it race morning. It is really easier to have your own stuff ready to go. It spares a little morning stress. But you must put some food in your stomach before the race.

Again do not do anything new. Do not clip your toenails the night before the race. Have everything ready before you go to bed. This is also a good time to actually read those race day instructions you received in your packet. I guarantee you will find out something that you thought you knew and did not! Have a movie or a good book to help you relax and go to sleep. Do not depend on the hotel's wake up. Set several alarms and one that does not need electricity. Be sure to get up early enough to do whatever your morning routine is.

As I said before, if you have opted for one of the big city marathons you may want to take your breakfast to the start. In New York I think they start loading the busses around 4:00 a.m. Just make sure you prepare yourself the night before.

Once you get to the start (do NOT take the last bus), you should be one of the most prepared people there. Do your pre- race routine and try to relax. Take small sips of your replacement fluid every few minutes. Be calm and once you get to the start take it easy the first few miles. If you plan to run a certain time, hook up with one of the pace groups if the race provides them. This is a great way to run evenly and run with others who have the same goal. The pace leaders are generally very good and can actually add some fun to your race.

Make sure you organize your start to match your finish pace. Do not get trapped behind a lot of slower runners or you will expend too much energy trying to get around people. Most races use your chip time as your official time for qualifying purposes for other races like Boston. The only exceptions are the Olympic trials standard and for prize money where only gun time is used. Know how many aid stations there will be and do not stop at the first table but go on down the line. You will avoid congestion this way. Plan to drink at least a cup of replacement fluid at each station and make sure you get water to chase down your gel. Start drinking at the very first aid station and continue to do so throughout the race regardless of the temperature.

Have fun and save enough for the last mile. Look up at the finish and forget about your watch. Your finish line picture will look much better and you can see the clock. Now just do it!

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