I'm not quite sure why I think I'm qualified to write a post on how to survive marathon day. I've only run ONE marathon in my life, and that was nearly SEVEN years ago! My SECOND marathon EVER is in two short days. Yikes! I have, however, run a handful of shorter-distance races since that awful first marathon, and I have learned a thing or two that I wish I'd known before-hand. It's still hard for me to believe that I started out my racing addiction with a full 26.2-miler. Not a 5K, not a 10K, not even a half-marathon (which I just learned should actually be called a Pikermi)! A full marathon! I was dumb. And not prepared. And slow. So hopefully these tips will come in handy for me this Saturday. If I live to tell about it, I'll let you know!
- SKIP THE PASTA PARTY. Yes...your body needs carbs. But you don't need to load up on them ALL. AT. ONCE. I'm actually sort of already in carb-loading mode. I'm loading up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. I'm trying to limit refined sugar (I finally had to throw away my son's left-over birthday cake...I couldn't stop myself!). I actually plan on eating a bigger meal for lunch on Friday, so I don't overdo it Friday night. Stomach issues are not what I want during the race. I've never had issues, but my husband sure has. Code brown=not fun (unless you're going for the best story...then go ahead and order a spicy burrito the night before!)
- DON'T DO ANYTHING NEW. This one is kind of hard for me, because my training hasn't been consistent! I don't eat the same things each time I run, I don't wear the same things each time, etc. And I actually just bought a new pair of Newton Running Shoes a few weeks ago. These shoes require time to adapt...and I haven't had much time. My husband might have to bring my old ones just in case I need a quick change. If I were following my own advice, however, I would stick with a routine. I don't plan on this marathon being my last, so hopefully I'll be able to develop a better routine that works for me. My longest training run (20-miles) was actually my best. I'd already done Zumba for an hour in the morning, and 90-minutes the night before. I was STARVING. Before the run, I went to Jamba Juice for a Peanut Butter Moo'd smoothie, then stopped at Subway for a turkey sandwich on wheat, then ate a slice of leftover pizza. I don't think I'll be able to get all of that in the morning of the race, but my body won't already be as depleted as it has been on a typical Saturday morning during training. But enough rambling...find what works for you WHILE you train, and stick with it on race day. Don't use marathon morning as a time to try all the goodies in your little swag bag. That said.....
- EAT FIRST THING IN THE MORNING. Most of us don't normally eat breakfast at 4:00 am, but most of us don't run 26.2 miles starting at 7:00 am either. Whatever you do, DON'T SKIP BREAKFAST! If you go to bed at 9:00 pm (wishful thinking for me), and the race starts at 7:00 am, that's 10 hours. In that time, your liver glycogen (stored carbohydrate) gets depleted. Eat a simple, high-carb breakfast. Bananas, bagels, energy bars, and smoothies are good picks. I'm also planning on eating a handful of chia seeds before the race starts.
- CAFFEINE UP! Some researchers at Yale did a caffeine-endurance study. The exercisers on caffeine had higher levels of beta-endorphins and a lower perceived effort. Sounds good to me! Lots of GUs and other gels now contain caffeine (my favorite is GU with roctane). Or you can even take caffeine tablets. If you want to be scientific about it, you can take tablets 60 to 90 minutes before the race at a dose of 3 mg per pound of your body weight. That's a bit too complicated for me. I'm not a coffee drinker, and not a soda drinker. But on race day, bring on the caffeinated GU!
- DON'T OVERDRESS! You may be cold at the start line, but you'll most likely be hot before you know it! Check the weather forecast several times and plan accordingly. I'm planning on making a trip to Deseret Industries (a local thrift store) tomorrow to find a throw-away zip-up jacket. I'll wear it at the start, and will ditch it within the first few miles. Most races donate tossed clothing to charities. It's worth $5 to me to not have to worry about retrieving it later, or taking it off sooner than I want to. When you're running, it will generally feel about 10 degrees warmer than it is, and temperatures will rise as the race progresses. If you overdress, not only are you carrying extra weight, you'll also sweat more than you want which increases the risk of dehydration.
- AVOID CHAFFING LIKE THE PLAGUE! Body glide is a runner's best friend. Put it EVERYWHERE! Armpits, toes, neck, thighs. I have some nice scars to show from not following this advice. A chest strap (from my beloved heart rate monitor) worn for 26.2 miles can do some serious damage. So can the rubbing together of inner thighs. I'm no longer a big fan of running skirts for this reason :) And my husband will never again run without nip guards (or Band Aids). I've yet to get the blood stains out of his bloody-nipple marathon shirt. Ouch. (Side note: body glide also works great for wearing high heels!)
- WEAR SUNSCREEN. Got it? Sadly, I neglect this advice far too often. I love me some sun-kissed skin. But lobster skin? Not so much.
- STEADY DOES IT. It's so hard not to run faster than you should at the start line. You're nervous, you're excited, you want to beat that skinny girl in the yellow shorts over there. But 26.2 miles is a LOOOOOONG way to run! If you go too hard at the beginning, you'll slow WAY down at the end. This is one of the most important marathon strategies. EVEN. PACE. RUNNING. At the beginning, you may feel as if you're holding back, but it will feel great when you're passing people later on.
- PLAY MENTAL GAMES. This one is huge for me. I try not to EVER think about the full distance in front of me. I take it little chunks at a time. Make it to mile 5. Then to mile 10. Then to mile 15. If I only have to do 5 miles at a time, I can do it. If I have to do 26.2, there's no way! Part of the reason my 20-miler was so great was that my sister-in-law and I ran around the Olympic Oval track. Sounds like torture, right? I actually loved it because we knew that 11 laps equaled 3 miles. So I took the run 11 laps at a time. We only had to do that 6 1/2 times. Much easier to make it 11 laps 6.5 times than to count 73 laps. Run your marathon in bite-sized chunks. Towards the end when you've hit your wall, don't think about the 6 miles you have left. Take it one mile-marker at a time. I promise the end will come quicker this way.
- LEAVE THE HYDRATION PACK HOME. They're great for training, but most races have plenty of aid stations with water, Gatorade, GU, and even fruit. Don't weigh yourself down more than necessary on race day. It'll only slow you down.
- DRESS YOURSELF FROM HEAD-TO-TOE THE NIGHT BEFORE. Lay all your clothes out the night before, starting with the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Like to wear sunglasses while you run? Set 'em out. Don't want to search for a sock in the bottom of a suitcase at 4:30 am when you have a 5:00 bus to catch? Lay both socks out. If you're traveling to your race, dress yourself before packing your suitcase. What a nightmare it would be to realize on race-day morning that you didn't pack a sports bra. Yikes!
- SET SEVERAL ALARMS. I recently started teaching a 5:45 am Cycle class, and am picking up an every-other-week 5:00 am Zumba class. The night before teaching, I set the alarm on my phone, make my husband set his phone alarm, and we set the real alarm clock as a back-up. Worse than sleeping in for a waiting-group-fitness-class would be sleeping in and missing the marathon bus that you've spent MONTHS preparing to get on.
- DON'T STRESS THE WARM UP. You can warm your legs up a bit before the race, but you'll want to conserve as much energy as you can. If you're trying to get a certain finishing time, you may want to warm up a bit. If your goal, however, is just to finish, you have plenty of time to get those legs warm!
- AVOID THE RUNNING BUDDY. As much as I enjoy running with a good friend, I'm too competitive to have a running partner on race day. For one thing, if they're faster than me, I'll kill myself to keep up (and will end up crashing during the second half). If they're slower than me, I'll feel super awkward telling them that I'm going to go on ahead. There will be plenty of runners around you during the race...you won't feel alone! Listen to some good tunes to motivate you up the hills, and if you need someone to talk to, strike up a conversation with a nearby runner for a few minutes while your pace remains the same.
- HAVE A DRY SHIRT AT THE FINISH LINE. After a race, I don't feel like I want to rush and take a shower right that second, but I do feel like I want my sweaty shirt and shoes off. Make sure you recruit some cheerleaders to meet you at the finish line. My 5-year old has been given the important job of screaming for mommy to sprint to the end, and then promptly handing over a dry shirt, some chapstick, and some flip flops.
- DON'T STRESS TOO MUCH ABOUT SLEEP THE NIGHT BEFORE. The week before? Yes...stress about that. (I write as I sit here typing at 12 am). But don't worry too much that you're not getting a ton of sleep the night before. You can make up for it later. For me, stressing about no sleep usually makes me sleep worse! You'll be fine.
- HAVE A DESIGNATED MEETING SPOT AFTER THE RACE. As a runner, you may not be too worried about meeting up with your friends and family after the race. But as the one who's usually dragging my kids around as we search for my husband after he crosses the finish line, trust me. Knowing where he's going to find me would make life a whole lot easier. Finish lines are CROWDED. Pick a tree. Pick a corner. Just pick a spot for your party to wait for you while you relish in the post-race pampering. Then they won't wander around for an hour trying to find you. They'll just wait.
- ENJOY THE JOURNEY. Take it all in. You are part of an ELITE group. A very small percentage of the world's population can say they've run a marathon (or any race for that matter). Run proud. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't run as fast as you'd like. Fast or slow, short or long, crossing a finish line is a big accomplishment! And trust me--getting to the finish line is going to hurt! But you didn't sign up for this thinking it was going to be easy! The reasons are much deeper than physical, and you've worked hard to get to this point. You're going to have to work hard to finish. But it's time to enjoy every moment!
Any race day secrets you live by? Fill me in...I'm taking all the advice I can get! Wish me luck!