With your spring marathon looming there are a few last minute rituals necessary to make sure you line up in the start area in tip top psychological and physical condition, ready for the off!
Firstly, the tapering should be well under way. I go by the general rule of a 16 mile long run 2 weeks before and a 10 mile long run the week before and cut down my mid week training accordingly. I’ll swap my usual speed session with a few efforts of marathon pace mile reps just to keep my legs moving.
Really important in the last couple of weeks is recovery and making sure any niggles that have developed from the last few high mileage weeks are ironed out
Daily stretching is also an essential and it’s not too late to catch up on some core stability work that tends to get pushed a bit further down my to do list! I work on transverse and oblique abdominals with pelvic floor and deep gluts work, might add in some planks if I’m feeling up to it! If you don’t have a core stability or stretching programme it’s probably a good idea to seek some advice from a physio or personal trainer rather than starting something new this late in the day. Check out my stretching exercises on the injury forum page.
Make sure you cut your toenails (not too short) a couple of days before. Your feet will swell and your toe nails can be damaged due to friction against your sock or trainer. I always rub Vaseline between my toes, around the balls of my feet and heels (and thighs, underarms and boobs but that might be a little too much information!). Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet in the run up to the marathon that includes a little more than normal carbohydrate and cut out or cut down on alcohol. I find that carbo loading at the pasta party or eating more carbs than usual the night before leaves me bloated, crampy and likely to need the toilet mid-race! I tend to have an early tea involving carbs and protein and porridge with honey for breakfast. That way my body has gradually stored carbs over the previous week and I wake up on race day fuelled, but not over full, and the combination of porridge and nerves makes sure I arrive at the race without a full bowel (again, too much information!). Avoid any sudden change in diet or new food close to race day.
Hydration is the most important thing to make sure you keep going on race day. Make sure you drink plenty of water during the 2 days prior to race day. Drink water with breakfast, go to the toilet before you leave for the race, and take a bottle to sip on your way to the start zone. I always find a toilet when I arrive at the start (or a she-pee!) but make sure I leave a small amount of water to sip slowly during the warm up. During the race take water on board at every station, if you feel thirsty it is already too late and you are not optimally hydrated. I find that in any race over 10miles (or over an hour in length) it really helps to refuel. Have a plan and know where the re-fuelling stations are along the route. I always take a sachet of Maxi-Fuel lemon and lime for every hour I am expecting to run and always take it just prior to a water station. This enables your body to get the fuel to your muscles efficiently and leaves less of a horrible taste in your mouth.
Last but not least make sure your whole kit is tried and tested. That includes trainers, socks, shorts, vest, underwear, rehydration belt and fancy dress costume!
The most important thing is to arrive at the start area with enough time to wee and warm up knowing that you are well prepared in every way you can possibly control, confident and excited about what you might be able to achieve if you work as hard as you can and push through the pain that you will inevitably feel.
Visualisation during the few days prior to the marathon can be an effective way of controlling pre-race nerves and remaining calm and confident. Imagine yourself crossing the finish line in a PB after a well- executed and perfectly paced race. There will be rough patches but the trick is to zone out, don’t worry about losing time. It will pass and you will start to feel to stronger again and inevitably catch up on those lost few seconds.
Anyone who has specifically trained for a marathon will have a target pace. Don’t worry if you set off a bit too quickly. My advice is to run at a comfortable pace at the start of the race, but don’t set off too fast. When you are warmed up and ready to go the excitement of the race makes marathon target race pace seem too slow, you will probably waste more energy trying to slow to target race pace than if you just go with the flow feeling comfortable and happy. You will struggle to maintain target pace in the closing stages so at least you’ll have some precious seconds in the bank!
After the race try and keep your legs ticking over for a few minutes, just a slow walk is sufficient. Re-fuel as soon as possible with some fluid, fast release carbohydrates and protein. At this stage it doesn’t really matter what you consume. It is often difficult to stomach food at this point so I usually go for chocolate milk or whatever energy drink is in the post-race pack!
The most inspirational part of mass running events is reading the tributes on people’s backs that tell part of the story that has brought them to the start line. I always take some cash to the start to throw in a few charity buckets to get people going!
For me, I just love running and love being surrounded by people who are pushing their limits. In almost every race there is a time when I am thinking “this hurts, why am I putting myself through this?” and then I am inspired by the runners around me, get back in my zone and remember that amazing feeling of achievement that comes with crossing the finish line. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you run, whether you are an elite athlete, in fancy dress or running with the masses, we all start at the same place, finish at the same place and run in the same race. Now, there aren’t many other sports that can stake that claim, and that, in my opinion, is what makes running so great!
Good luck all you Marathoners out there!