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26 Tips for 26 Miles

by Coach Tim Cary

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When your race day is fast approaching, the brain begins to whirl with what if’s and gotta do's.  In honor of the 26 miles that many of you are about to attack, here's a list of 26 tips to help you succeed on race day.

  1. Rest - The hay's in the barn.  You've done all the work, so now it’s time to rest and let your body recover, refuel, and rejuvenate for race day.  There are no fitness gains to be made over the last week.  So, if you are going to make a tapering mistake, do too little rather than too much.  That means get your sleep, try to stay off your feet as much as possible, and just chill out.  Remember those long run mornings when your alarm would go off and all you wanted to do was curl back up and sleep?  Well, now you get to do just that (except for race day, but we'll get to that later).
  2. Be Strong - You've gone through training to be a better runner and to prepare your body to test its limits on race day.  Don't change your goal, now.  Stay on target.  Too often, as we get close to race day we begin intense negotiations with ourselves about what to shoot for.  Some lose confidence and doubt their training and their ability to attain what they've worked towards for months.  Remember, competence builds confidence.  You've done the training and earned the right to go for it.
  3. Stay Humble - Some people get worried and doubt their abilities as the race draws near, while other become ten feet tall and bulletproof.  The marathon is a humbling event that needs to be respected.  Don't start shooting for the moon because you felt amazing on your last long run or tempo run.  You can recover from conservative mistakes made early, but you can't recover from an erroneous aggressive start.
  4. Check Your Gear - I'm not talking about taking advantage of the race day gear check.  I'm talking about taking inventory early in the week of everything you'll need.  Eliminate as much late week distraction as you can.  Take stock of what you have and what you need - and then swing by FLEET FEET as soon as possible.
  5. Eat - This is not the time to start some new diet.  Actually, hide your scale this week.  Your body is going to want to store as much fuel as possible while you taper.  You've subjected it to months of strenuous labor.  It knows that something's about to happen to it.  You're body's not stupid, it's preparing for what's to come.  The scale may display a higher-than-average number, but so will a scale that's weighing a race car full of fuel.  On race day, would you rather your tank be full or empty?
  6. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate - Hydration not just a race day or during-the-race thing.  Make sure you're drinking plenty of fluids throughout race week.  The better hydrated you are, the better your body will transport fuel to your muscles, carry waste away from your muscles, and cool you - basically making the race a much smoother event.  
  7. Map It - Check out the course map.  Have an idea of what you'll be traveling over, under, around, and through.  If you know where you're at, it will give you a familiar feeling and make the race go by quicker (at least mentally).  If you have the opportunity to drive the course ahead of time, I recommend doing so.  Pick out landmarks that you can spot from far away to identify critical mile points (halfway, mile 20, mile 25,..). 
  8. Stretch and Foam Roll - Smooth those knots out and keep yourself as loose as possible.  You're going to put the effort in during the race, so you might as well work to stay loose so your body's not fighting itself each and every step of the way.  FLEET FEET is having a Rock 'n' Roll Shake-Out Run & Stretch this Friday for just this reason.
  9. Carbo Load - Don't fear the carbohydrate.  I'm not saying go carb-crazy the day before the race.  Up your intake of carbs the last two to three days before the race to help top off your body's energy stores.  Make sure they're good, complex carbs and not from donuts or highly-processed foods.  We want to put good fuel in the race car.  Bad fuel can cause your engine to sputter.
  10. Packet Pick-Up - Picking up your packet at the expo is like trick or treating.  There is so much to see and sample that it's easy to go crazy and take some of the zest out of your race.  Your marathon is in a day or two, not at the expo.  Plan ahead and set an expo time limit.  Preferably, choose a time that avoids the crowds and that gives your legs some recovery time before race morning.  And of the must-do things that are at the expo, visiting the FLEET FEET booths is second only to picking up your packet.  
  11. Pre-Race Packing - The night before the race, set everything out that you plan to wear during the race.  Make sure to attach your number to your top or race belt and, if it's not attached to your number, the timing chip to your shoe.  "Nothing new on race day" should be your mantra as you plan your wardrobe.  Now is not the time to be fashionable and try out that cute new top.  Go with what you know.  Pack up everything you might possibly need for after the race into an appropriate bag.  The gear-check and post race pick-up will likely be closer than your car and you'll want that soft, warm, dry outfit after the race so you can truly enjoy the post-race party.  Put your gear bag by the door or, better yet, in the car before you hit the sack.
  12. Relax - Don't play the "what if" game.  As a coach, I hate that game.  You cannot plan for everything; there are too many variables on race day.  You can drive yourself nuts attempting to plan for all of them.  You've done the training.  You've prepared yourself.  It's now time to relax.  The race is going to happen and you'll be there ready to give it your all.
  13. Sleep - Early to bed, early to rise.  It's tough to sleep well the night before a race, so make sure that you get plenty of sleep on the last couple of nights before that.  You don't want to count on that last night to catch up on any missed sleep.  If you've ever pulled an all-nighter, then you know that the next day is rough but manageable.  It's two days later when you really crash.  The night before the race, make sure to hit the sack early so you can get up early and not feel rushed.  Get up, eat breakfast, and use your own bathroom to reduce the number of porta potty pit stops you'll need at the race.
  14. Parking Plan - Check out the race map to see what streets are closed, which one's are open, and where the parking looks best.  Have a couple of lots in mind because a couple of other runners may think like you and fill up your primary parking lot before you arrive.  That being said, arrive early.  It's better to be early and have time to relax than to start off stressed because you're running late.  This is not your local 5K, so get there ahead of time.  Plan on arriving at least 45 minutes before the gun goes off.
  15. RunGuard - Coat yourself in Run Guard or some other form of anti-chafing/anti-friction compound.  Race day is a different animal.  The best synthetics in the world have their saturation/breaking point.  RunGuard is your safety net to help prevent or at least alleviate any blisters that can halt even the toughest marathoner in their tracks.  Don't be stingy with it either.  Use liberal amounts to keep you rolling along.
  16. Dress Appropriately - Race mornings are typically quite cool... which is good.  Optimal race temperatures are the mid-40's to low-60's and with a low humidity.  When you're running, you'll be generating heat like a champ, so don't overdress.  Dress for temps that are 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer reads at the start.  "But it's gonna be 15 degrees warmer when I finish than when I start..."  Good point, that leads into our next tip...
  17. Throwaway Shirt - I have a drawer full of old race shirts that I just don't wear anymore - and that's where I go for my race morning shirts.  If you dress as if it's 20 degrees warmer out than it really is, how do you take into account the fact that it's going to warm up as the morning progresses?  Wear a long-sleeved shirt that you just don't want/need/use anymore.  Wear it while you stand around in your corral waiting for the race to start.  Once you start running and warm up, gradually move to the edge of the pack and toss your "throwaway shirt" to the shoulder.  Make sure not to hit anyone behind you or leave it in the street where some may trip over it.  These shirts are collected and donated, so you're doing your good deed for the day.  Other methods for adapting to the changing temperatures are the trash bag (turn it into a poncho by cutting a hole for your head and two holes for your arms) and arm warmers, which can easily be tucked in your waistband when you're through with them.
  18. Meet Up Plan -  Pick a spot close to the finish line that is easily recognizable but not too popular for your supporters to meet you after the race.  If the race results will be checkable by phone, it's also a good idea to set a time based on your finish time to meet.  For instance, "I will meet you at the (fill in the blank) thirty minutes after I cross the finish line.  If live results won't be available, choose a time of day based on your predicted race time.  
  19. Usable Chunks - As you know if you've been reading my blog, I am a big believer in the Law of the Ladder.  Breaking the race into usable chunks is a close cousin to that process.  26.2 miles is too much to tackle all at once.  You need to run a marathon like you'd eat an elephant...one bite at a time.  As a former miler, I love the number 4 (4 laps to the mile).  By giving each quarter of the race a goal and focus, you take the whole and break it down into usable chunks.  Set a strategy goal, not a time goal, for each quarter of the race and you will give yourself the best opportunity to maximize your abilities on race day.
  20. Start Slow - As I wrote earlier, the mistake of starting too slow can be made up for.  The mistake of starting out too fast, however, can ruin your race before it's really begun.  There is no bank to put time into during a marathon.  If you think of energy as cash, would you rather approach the end of the pay period with more cash left - or no cash left?  The fastest race car in the world isn't very fast when it's out of gas, so don't waste that gas in the excitement of the early miles of the race.
  21. Pit Stops - If you haven't experienced some GI distress during a marathon, you likely haven't run many marathons.  It happens to everyone at some point in time.  If you know that the runners trots always hit you, then take an Immodium or Pepto Bismol tablet an hour or so before the race.  Get up extra early and try to take a pit stop done before doing so.  If you do have to stop and sit in an on-course porta-potty, walk the last 30 to 50 meters to the porta-potty to give your blood pressure a chance to stabilize.  Occasionally, if you sit down quickly after running you'll get light-headed or nauseous when you stand back up.
  22. Be Flexible - There are days when we are full of run and there are days when every step is a struggle.  Be objective and listen to your body during the race.  There are times when we have to put our pride aside, when the stopwatch does not display what we want it to - and that's okay.  If you find yourself having one of those races that just needs to be endured, listen to what your body's telling you and throttle back.  Finishing with a slower time is more respectable than dropping out because you were prideful.
  23. Pinch the Cup - I usually recommend that you run on race day with the water bottles you used in training.  That way, you can have fluids when you want/need it rather than relying on the water stations to be in the right place at the right time.  If you're not carrying your own fluids, grab a drink whenever you come to a water station.  Drinking while running is much tougher than it looks or sounds.  There are few ways to get as much fluid as possible at a stop.  One is to grab a cup, run to the end of the station, step out of everyone's way, and then stop and drink.  If you want to drink while running, pinch the cup to leave a small "V" opening and drink from there.  Doing so reduces the amount of air you're gulping and, therefore the corresponding burping and/or stomach pain.
  24. Not My Fault - Do not be upset with anyone who tries to encourage you after mile 20.  They're just trying to help.
  25. Smile - When you're coming down that homestretch there will be several photographers there to capture the moment.  Smile so you've got a great pic to show off to all of your friends.  That'll improve your chances of convincing them to join you on your next marathon adventure.
  26. Have Fun - Enjoy it all.  Running a marathon is an adventure.  You get to travel through neighborhoods you may have never even driven through.  You'll see things we often miss.  Use your senses.  Smell that bakery that you've only driven by with the windows up.  Listen to the sound of the leaves blowing on the tress in the park.  Feel the warmth of the sun when it finally arrives.  Make friends.  Marathoners are an interesting lot who can can definitely fill many miles with conversation.  Enjoy the experience, because you didn't spend all these months of training to just "get through this."   You trained your butt off for the experience.

Tim CaryTim Cary is Fleet Feet's Assistant Training Manager and coach of the Fleet Feet-sponsored Runnababez Elite team.  Over his more than two decades of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors.  Click here to receive Tim's weekly article via email.

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