After many months and many miles, it is great to know that race day is approaching. Whether running in Chicago, New York, or Orlando, 26.2 miles is still 26.2 miles. Elevation changes and weather are factors, yet appropriate training should have runners factor these variables into their routine. Fuel and hydration should have been tested during long runs and sticking to what has worked will help you avoid stomach issues. What goes through a runner’s head days and even hours before running a marathon should be anticipation and reward for all the time and sacrifices spent in training. The time to doubt is over and the time to go to work begins. Still, there are things to bear in mind before setting the clock to get up on race morning.
The last two weeks before racing are probably the most difficult for many marathon runners. After 16 to 20 weeks of aggressive running, the period known as “tapering” begins. Whether you have been running four days a week and peaked at 45 or 50 miles or run six days and hit 70 to 80 miles, you should be accustomed to a steady diet of running. Mile repeats, hill workouts, and long runs are regular activities that add quality to your base miles. Training should follow a cycle of build up and recovery with the goal to peak on race day. An experienced runner will know there is little that can be done the last couple of weeks before a race to improve performance, but much can be done to ruin all your hard work. Runners are naturally tired at the end of their marathon cycle and tapering provides an opportunity to recover. Balance is needed. Runners still need to get in some miles, but the intensity must be reduced to allow for gaining strength and rest. Some runners drive themselves and their families batty as they are so used to running and their energy level rebuilds making them antsy. This is normal. Avoid the temptation to “burn it off”. Stay busy, but don’t leave your race on the roads back home.
Being prepared for different weather conditions on race day is important. Most marathons are held in the fall and early spring. While there is typical weather in the city a race is held, there are also unpredictable days that make looking ahead to race day tough. Bring running clothes for any condition. If it rains or is windy and cold, races are not postponed. Runners need to have certain clothing ready. Throw away cotton gloves are great for cool race starts, yet if it will be below 45F or 50F you might want a decent pair of wind proof gloves. Speaking of throw away clothing, visit the local Goodwill store and spend twenty dollars on an oversized sweatshirt and sweatpants. Waiting two or more hours for a race to begin in a cold parking lot will be easier to tolerate if properly dressed and you probably don’t want to toss a good running jacket three miles into a race once it becomes too warm to wear. Test different types of wind pants or tights and shirts and lightweight jacket combinations on long runs to know what works best. Hats, sun glasses, and socks should also be ready depending on what the forecast will be race day. Arm warmers are popular with cyclists and more recently with runners who need the warmth early in a race and will roll them off or up (if you don’t want to toss them or tuck them in the back of your shorts).
The race expo is exciting and there is much to see, but all that extra time on your feet the day before a marathon is not recommended. Like other pre-race plans be prepared before entering the expo. Have appropriate identification ready and documents signed and with you. Many races mail or have online maps of vendors and a list of speakers available so you can decide what you want to see before going to the expo. Expos can be crowded and noisy, yet are a necessary fixture for large races. They may also be a bit stressful for some runners, so spend only as much time as necessary at the expo. Another reason to avoid spending too much time at the expo is the temptation to buy new clothes or shoes and race day is not the time to test new things.
Sleep is crucial to feeling prepared and running well. Plan to get more sleep than normal the week before your marathon. It may be difficult to sleep the night before your race, so if you’re well rested the days before it should have less impact on your performance race day.
Runners rarely think about having a plan for emergencies, but this something to think through early. Wearing an ID with emergency contact information is wise. Many race bibs have a form on the back for medical information and contact information. Consider using this to speak for you if you are unable. No one plans on being hurt, but it does happen and being ready for anything goes beyond normal inconveniences.
When you finally line up at the race corral you may laugh at all the extra clothing you brought. Make a list of everything you want to bring including watches, bandages and special food or fuel you’ll need before the race. Check the list twice before you leave. Being a bit over prepared is better than having a meltdown race morning because you forgot something important like Body Glide. You didn’t train all that time to stress out on race day. Have a great run!