It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But I’m not talking about crisp weather, brilliantly-colored leaves, Pumpkin Spice Lattes or breaking out cozy sweaters.
As much as I love those things, there’s one thing that truly gets my blood pumping around this time: the fact that we are now in the middle of fall marathon season!
In honor of the upcoming Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Detroit Marathon (i.e. my hometown race), my folks forwarded me an article from Freep fitness columnist LaTasha Lewis in which she revealed her “26 insider tips on training for race day.” Although Lewis will have a three-hour head start (thanks to the ET/PT time difference), we’ll be racing the same distance on the same day, albeit a few states apart.
And as I read through her list, there were a few things I wanted to add from my own experience, so I thought it was only fitting to create a version here to share with you. On your mark…get set…here we go…
My 26 tips for running 26.2
Before the race:
1. Commit to the plan. Almost anyone can cover 26.2 miles, but if you want it to be somewhat of an enjoyable experience, you’ve gotta prepare your body properly. Depending on your goal (finish, PR, win), you’ve chosen a corresponding plan and hopefully made the most of the journey.
2. But mix it up. My last approach was overzealous and unbalanced, which resulted in injury, so this time I focused on overall fitness by incorporating lots of cross-training into the schedule. From swimming, stretching and biking to yoga, foam rolling and boot camp, prime your body in a variety of ways.
3. Make new friends. Bond over a common goal, and you’ve got some instant – and awesome – friends. I learned this firsthand when @PavementRunner invited me to join his weekend run crew. Not only have we logged a lot of miles, but those social workouts are much more rewarding experiences.
4. Save your soles. Repetitive motion can make you more prone to injury, so I try to limit any contributing factors wherever possible. When I know I’m going to be logging lots of miles, I buy two pairs of the same shoe and swap them each week to keep my feet cushioned throughout training.
5. Know the course. If your marathon is full of hills, try your best not to train on flat-as-a-pancake routes. Locals, consider training along the actual course; out-of-towners, well, it can help to view the course online or scope it out by car on the day of the expo to avoid any race-day surprises.
6. Set three goals. I read an article recently that talked about setting three goals – an ‘awesome’ one, a ‘great’ one and a ‘good’ one. If the day goes perfectly according to plan, awesome indeed; but if not, you can still aim for the great or good goal and have a satisfying race experience.
7. Trust the taper. It’s a natural tendency to get amped up in the final weeks before the race, but now’s not the time to squeeze in more mileage. Allow your body sufficient time to recover and rebound before the big day. Focus on healing any lingering aches and pains, and enjoy all the “found” time!
8. Pick a mantra. When the going gets tough during the race – and trust me, it will – I like to block negative thoughts by repeating a mantra. It can be anything from, “Trust your training,” “Keep pushing,” or “Fight through” to something humorous that’ll make you crack a smile when you feel like absolute hell.
9. Lay out your gear. Race day nerves tend to override all common sense. Case in point: When I left my timing chip in the hotel room and noticed only as the gun went off for one of my half marathons. Do yourself a favor and organize everything ahead of time. Double-check the weather, too, while you’re at it.
10 Figure out logistics. The last thing you’ll be equipped to deal with on race morning is a wrong turn, a traffic jam or a parking situation. Check the race website beforehand, and figure out your plan of attack for getting there, getting situated and getting to the starting line with some time to spare.
11. Stick with what works. When I did the Chicago Marathon, I ran in a shirt I bought at the expo. Newbie mistake! All went well, thank goodness, but that was an exception to the rule. Race day is not a time to test new apparel shoes of accessories. Use what worked during training to avert potential issues.
12. Stay with safe foods. The same goes for pre-race eating habits; just as you don’t want to experiment with new gear on the outside of your body, you don’t want to do anything to upset your insides in the days leading up to the race. Most importantly, don’t overdo it on your carb-loading the night before!
13. Enjoy the expo. You’ve put blood, sweat and tears into training, so now’s the time to reap a few of the rewards, including a leisurely walk around the expo. Collect your bib, check out the goodies and chat with other participants. Go early to avoid long lines, and try not to be on your feet for too long.
14. Don’t forget to double-check! Yes, it’s worth repeating (see story above about me at the starting line…sans timing chip). Make a list, check it twice, and do yourself a favor by having a friend or spouse triple check everything to make sure all your gear’s ready to go.
During the race:
15. Carry some sustenance. Sure, they’ll have aid stations with drinks, gels, shots, blocks, etc. But if you’ve got a troublesome tummy, like me, (or maybe you just don’t want to make any stops), it’s a good idea to pack your own mid-race treats. Tuck one or two in your pocket – or sports bra! – just to be safe.
16. Start conservatively. The gun goes off, and your first inclination will be to sprint because, hey, You’re! Running! A! Marathon! But resist this urge; it’ll only bite you in the butt later when you burn out halfway through. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it’ll get you to the finish line in one piece.
17. Pace yourself. Again, think conservatively and have a plan for how you want to attack the race. As Central Park Track Club coach Tony Ruiz told the New York Times, use the “10-10-10” method of compartmentalizing the marathon. “Run the first 10 miles below your race pace. Run the second at race pace. And then go all out (with whatever you have left) in the final 10 kilometers (6.2 miles),” he said.
18. Remember to fuel. I’ve been experimenting with mid-run fuel more frequently this time around, and here’s a tip: Eat before you feel like you actally need it to keep energy levels up. By the time you start to feel tired, it’s too late, and your body has to struggle to process it and catch up. Stay ahead of the curve!
19. Crowdsource strength. My favorite races are the especially raucous ones with crowds that get a kick out of interacting with runners. Put your name on your bib so people can cheer you on (you’ll appreciate it come mile 20), read their signs, nod when they shout words of encouragement and take it all in.
20. Pay it forward. If you see a fellow runner struggling, feel free to offer them a few words of encouragement. Keep it from sounding condescending (or you might get a swift kick in the shin), but something simple that just might shake them from that inevitable mid-race mental spiral, such as, “You’ve got this.”
21. Anticipate peaks and valleys. There will be great moments; there may be awful ones – but hopefully more of the former! Having a realistic attitude will allow you to manage the highs and lows of race day without making it an uphill mental battle. And when all else fails, just put one foot in front of the other.
22. Smile! Remember, there’s a reason you chose to do this. Smile at fellow runners, smile at the crowd, smile to yourself when you hit a goal or push through a painful spot. And most of all, don’t forget to look up and grin as you cross the finish line because that moment in time will be one to cherish.
After the race:
23. Stop and stretch. The last thing you want to do after running 26.2 miles is to keep moving, but resist the urge to curl up in the fetal position in the finisher’s corral. Walk around to loosen legs, grab a drink and a bite, take your official finisher photo – and then get serious about some stretching.
24. Document the day. Whether you snap solo selfies or reunite with friends and family, take a few more pictures after the big finish. You’ll be sweaty and sloppy, but who cares? You just achieved something incredible and lived to tell the tale, so capture that moment and bottle it for later inspiration.
25. Reward yourself! Pick your poison – massage? dessert? burger and fries? all three? – and enjoy! By all means, don’t go crazy and overdo it, but it’s important to celebrate the fact that you accomplished something you set out to do after many months of hard work, dedication and determination.
26. Process and reassess. In the event that your race doesn’t go as planned – and not all of them will; that’s just the way it works – i.e. when I got injured and had to drop out two weeks before the NYC Marathon – do not beat yourself up. Your body has probably already done that to itself, so no need to compound things; instead, take a step back and re-evaluate the situation once you’ve had a few days (or weeks) to rest, recover and recuperate. Then get back in the game, but with a new approach.
And my final slice of advice (because we can’t do 26 without the .2!):
.2 Look forward. It’s normal to feel some post-race blues, but there’s no better time than your recovery days to take stock of how you did and start to set some new goals. Pick your next race; whether it’s longer, shorter or a different discipline altogether, and challenge yourself to apply what you learned from this experience so you stay motivated for the next one. Happy racing!