Training for a marathon takes months of guts, determination, dedication and a ton of good luck. Racing a marathon takes all of those components and crams it into just 26.2 miles. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the final few hours before your race when–all of a sudden–you get that feeling in your stomach that tells you that your body now realizes that the big event is about to happen. This article will cover how to transform that feeling from fear into positive action, making sure that you run to your fitness potential on your marathon day.
Nerves Are Your Friends
Let’s start with that feeling in your gut. It’s not a bad thing — it’s a sign that your body has finally synced with your mind. Now everyone is on the same page: the race is almost here and we have some work to do. The key, of course, it parlaying this heightened awareness into optimal performance.
The best way to do this is to give direcion to this new energy; without direction you’ll end up wandering the race expo or frittering away valuable time and focus. Here are three key things you can do before your next marathon to stay on point.
#1 — Pack Your Race Morning Bag
This bag has everything you’ll need for your race (save for what you will be wearing!). In addition to your race shoes and socks, you’ll want to include any or all of the following items:
- nipple guards
- gel/race nutrition
- sports drink to sip
- a small pre-race snack (if required)
- toilet paper (never know!)
- cell phone
- music and/or reading materials
- alternative warmer/cooler gear in case of last minute weather.
Remember this bag is often your finishline bag, so have room to put the clothes you have on into it (or at least include some warmer items for post race).
#2 — Review (or Create) Your Race Pace Plan
Knowing that you want to run a sub-four hour marathon is a goal, not a plan. A plan is what you expect to have to do between miles 1 and 26.2 to make it there by the four hour mark. Don’t confuse the two!
A good race pace plan is more than just dividing four hours by 26.2 miles. A good plan will allow for a smart start to your race, will take the terrain into consideration, and will have you ready to tackle the final 10k (6.2 miles) of your race. Experienced runners can leverage past racing experience to clearly identify the smartest strategy; newer runners will have to make their best possible guess and then stick to it.
Classic marathon mistakes include:
- A fast first 10k that is way beyond your ability.
- Missed early nutrition due to excitement or confusion.
- Inability to adapt to changing weather or personal condition.
- Poor last-minute equipment choices that permaturely end race day.
- Zero preparation for the mental and physical challenge that is the last 10k.
We have a full post on the Marathon Nation site about building a race plan, including a link to download a FREE PDF planner. Learn more here.
#3 — Know Your Worst Case Scenario
No race is perfect. And no race is without a story. Meet a runner at the marathon finish and they’ll have a 3+ hour story about their race! And just like any story, the main character (that’s you!) will have ups and downs. The difference here is that you can re-write the story before the final chapter. By planning for the worst case, you’ll be ready to handle almost anything that can happen.
The easiest way to do this is to mentally rehearse your race, and then reviewing key points of divergence where things can go wrong: packing the car, tying your shoes, running the first mile, hitting an aid station, etc. Exploring these dark areas isn’t a prelude to disaster, it’s a means of being prepared. Knowing to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency is one thing, but studies have shown that people who have actually picked up a phone and pretended to dial (like kids!) are far more likely to both respond (at all) and much faster than anyone else.
Here are some worst case scenarios to think of. As you go through the list, think of how you’d deal with each one.
- You forget your timing chip/band.
- Your watch batteries die.
- You suddenly can’t drink what’s on the course without puking.
- You have to pee and you are stuck in a race corrall and can’t move.
- You just missed a critical aid station.
- The temps have gone way up and you are in a long-sleeve shirt.
- You are running well but your heart rate is through the roof.
- You hit halfway but are 5 minutes off your time goals.
- You have a debilitating cramp in your ________.
- You are hitting the wall, your body wants to know why it should go on. You say _____________.
- You are so nervous you can’t eat breakfast.
Have more of your own? Please add them in the comments below.
Good luck and have fun out there. Remember that when all else fails, a good smile goes a long way.