Finalizing Your Marathon Preparations
By Carolyn Mather, RN, PhD.
The last few days have been a little cooler, and after the hot and humid summer we have had in the south, I am sure many are now planning their fall or early winter marathon or half-marathon. Being a longtime participant of these events I thought this would be a good time to offer some surefire tips to make the event a bit easier for you.
Training for a distance event requires a great deal of commitment and mileage. Unfortunately improper planning or lack of planning can derail all of your dedicated months of preparation. As you enter the final weeks of training it is a good idea to choose and practice a strategy to assist you in dealing with the rough patch that inevitably occurs in every marathon. Having selected a strategy and used it in training will help you calmly and rationally deal with rough patches during your race. Having a mantra to repeat to focus your mind definitely helps. Select something that will work for you. For instance I often use "I am strong and well prepared." Altering your stride for a few steps can help. Your mind is just trying to trick you as you get further into the race. Using a strategy will help you focus your attention on the race and not on your mind's tricks. You are well prepared!
You need to hydrate well in the weeks before the race. Definitely practice drinking the fluid that will be available on the course. There is nothing worse than realizing during the race, that the fluid being offered at the aid stations is causing you an upset stomach or cramping. Drink it at home and during your training so you can accustom your body. This information should be available on the race web site. If not, then call the race director.
If you are travelling to a destination race, plan to give yourself time. I recommend that you arrive at least two days before the race. This way you can get to the expo, get your number, figure out all of the logistics, and then have a day to rest. Additionally with air travel these days, your flight could be delayed. A few years ago I was scheduled to run the national masters marathon championships. I planned to arrive in the host city early on Friday afternoon before the Sunday race. However the airline had different plans as I was delayed 10 hours. I sat unhappily in the airport not eating properly and generally upset. I arrived exhausted at my destination in the middle of the night. Needless to say I did not have a good race. If you are flying, try to prepare by taking food with you and trying to rest through any delay. Be flexible but have that extra time.
If you check luggage, do not check your racing clothes or shoes. Also carry any things you have to have during the race. It is best to carry on all of your stuff. That way you know it is with you. Take whatever gels or goodies you plan to use during the race. Do not plan to buy them at the expo or at a nearby store as this is one sure way to make certain you do not have what you specifically like. Also take clothes you can wear to the start that you can leave there. Most races require you to check your bag many minutes before the start. If it is cold or wet it is nice to be comfortable until you get moving. I often wear a T-shirt over my racing clothes the first few miles until I am warm. Leave your valuables at home or at your hotel. I often spend several hours the day after Grandma's Marathon in the marathon office. I am truly amazed at the things people take to the start with them. One woman this year had lost her driver’s license and credit card on the course and was wondering how she was going to get on her plane home. She assumed the articles had been found and turned in. Races do their best but things do get lost. Or you lose them along the way! This year, among the items Grandmas office did have were a credit card, a designer wallet complete with money and identification and credit cards, and an inhaler.
If you need specific foods take them with you. Plan on what you will eat and with these days of the internet you can make sure specific things are near your hotel. You can indulge in local favorites after the race.
Once you arrive at your destination, figure out all of the race morning logistics like where to catch the bus, how to check your bags, how much time you need to allow to get to the start, and any other pre-race needs. If possible, run the last few miles of the course the day before. It is a great feeling to see familiar landmarks during the last few miles and know you can get this last little bit done.
After you get your number and race packet, take a few minutes to actually read the instructions. Race directors do not put these together just to have something to do. Having finished 113 marathons, several ultras, and not finished a dozen or so, I am always amazed that each race does something a little differently and it is nice to be aware. Although you do not plan to drop out, you should be cognizant of where drop out points are or you will find yourself like me last year having to convince a policeman to give me a ride to the drop out point. I then sat there for three hours. I could have walked in rather than wait! I did not think I needed to think about dropping out so even I, a seasoned veteran, skipped that section on the race instructions. Shame on me!
Do not obsess about the weather. You can expend endless energy over something that is out of your control. Hopefully you have trained in all kinds of conditions. Remember that weather is the one true equalizer. It is the same for everyone. I always tell race directors that when one of them can guarantee perfect conditions at their race, I will be there every year!
Whether you are leaving for the start from home, a friend’s home, or a hotel, pack your bag the day before. Put your number on your singlet, your chip on your shoe, and organize all you are going to wear, eat or take with you. I put all my clothing out in the order in which I plan to put it on. I have this recurring dream that I get to the start in my warm ups and when I take them off I do not have my shorts on! Nothing is worse race morning then trying to find your gels or your drink mix or whatever. Always be prepared for any kind of weather. Dollar store ponchos come in very handy in the rain or cold.
One thing I find invaluable is a list I develop during my training. I add all of the things I want to take and print out the list before I pack. It gives me a sense of assurance that I am not forgetting something I will need. I still remember one of my teammates arriving at a marathon with two left shoes. Oops! Check those shoes.
Although I say it often, it seems the one thing folks tend to forget. You spent months preparing for this race and besides your entry fee, you have more than likely spent money getting to the race and staying overnight. Do not do anything new. Do not sample the food at the expo unless you have had it before. Do not vary your routine. Do not try a new gel that is offered during a race. Do not wear new clothes or new socks. Do not cut your toenails the night before the race. Do not eat something new the morning of the race. Don't vary from what is tried and true for you. Every run during your preparation should have been geared to trying things to see what works. Don't change now!
Realize that you will most likely not get your best night of sleep the night before especially if you have to get up much earlier than normal (it would be good if you had also practiced that). Try to get good sleep the week of the race and one night should not make any difference. Just try to relax and rest quietly.
Finally, remember your manners before and during the race. Wait patiently in the porta potty lines. Do not stop at water stations unless you are sure you will not impede a fellow runner. Do not take water at the first table. Move smoothly through the water station especially in the mega races. Pay attention to the runners around you and do no harm. If you feel you need to walk or stop, get to the edge of the course and out of the way. I would encourage you to leave your headset at home but know my view on listening to music while running a race is not a popular stance. If you have to have your music then keep it low so you can hear instructions and other runners. My best recounting of how much music distracts you is the report of a man being killed by an emergency landing airplane while he was running on the beach with his music on. Really, the music is so loud or distracting that you cannot hear an airplane? Lastly remember to say thank you to the volunteers. They have given up most of their day to provide support for you. It is a long day for them too.
If you arrive at the start of your race prepared and not hassled by the small stuff on race day, you will run well. Enjoy your day and perhaps your mantra can be "I am prepared for anything!”