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What to Do the Days Before the Marathon: Chill!

Posted Sep 28 2012 9:40am

Many of you are in the back-half of your fall half or full marathon race training and race day is starting to pop into your mind more and more. Many runners get antsy and on edge the days before their race and some seem to lose all ability for rational thinking. It's called the pre-race jitters. They'll start to obsess about their training. Did I do enough? Should I have done more 20-milers? Are my shoes too old? What should I wear?

Rest assured. That's all normal, particularly if it's your first marathon. The main thing you need to do the week before the marathon is enjoy your last week of the taper. Don't try to "fix" anything. You should be running very little. No need to worry that you've not been running much the last couple of weeks. If you've put in the training, you've done all the work. The taper is time for your body to heal, repair, get strong, and prepare itself for the upcoming race. As I tell my runners over and over during their training..."Trust in your training. Believe in yourself. And, you'll Conquer your goals." Self-doubt and second guessing yourself only does one thing....wear you down mentally. Your mind needs time to relax and prepare for the upcoming race too. So let it. Focus on the positive. Celebrate all that you've achieved.

Below are a few more tips to keep in mind before the big day.

Prepare the Family...

  • Taking the family along with you to the race? Family support can be an awesome thing at an endurance run like a marathon, but make sure everyone is on the same page, particularly if your race is in a touristy or vacation area. Sit down with your spouse and family and get everyone on the same page with expectations. You will not be able to spend 12 hours at the theme park the day before your race. Make sure your family understands that. Make sure your spouse or significant other is willing to do things on his/her own. This is particularly important to clarify if there are kids involved and your spouse may have to keep them busy while on the trip. Bringing along a grand parent, sibling, or good friend to help out might be a good option. 
  • Determine in advance good places for the family to support you along the race route and how they'll get there. This info is often provided on the race website. 
  • Determine in advance where you'll reunite with your family after the race. Some races have family reuniting areas, but others do not. Finding your family in a sea of 30,000 runners can be a nightmare if you've not prearranged where to meet.


Two Days Before the Race...

  • Unless the race is in your town or nearby, try to arrive two days in advance of the race. This gives you two nights to adjust to sleeping in a new place and new bed as well as time to acclimate to the area and find your way around. 
  • Visit the expo and pick up your packet. Expos of the larger races such as NYC and Chicago are huge. It can take a hour or more to check out all the vendors. That hour or two on your feet really isn't the best thing to be doing the day before the race. Speaking of the expo, if you buy something--clothing, gadgets, or food--DO NOT use it (them) during the race. Never, Never, Never use anything on race day that you've not used during your training. Also, be wary of all the free food samples given at the expo. Take all the pre-packaged items you want, but I highly recommend avoiding the taste testing. Save that for after the race. Don't risk eating something new that causes you stomach distress the night before the race or on race day. 
  • If you're with a group, this night is a great time for that group meal together. You'll be more relaxed, you'll still need to watch what you eat, but not as closely as the night before the race.

The Day Before the Race...

  • Chill. Relax. Enjoy the day. Mentally prepare yourself for the race. 
  • If you're in an area great for sightseeing, be careful not to spend the day walking all over town. Walking and standing all day can really fatigue the legs. 
  • Don't run. Rest.
  • Hydrate. Carry a bottle of water around with you and sip on it throughout the day. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Be careful not to over hydrate. This can flush out your electrolytes needed for proper hydration and preventing cramping. Try adding a little sports drink to your water or munch on something salty such as pretzels during the day. This will ensure you have good electrolyte levels for race day.


The Night Before the Race...

  • Lay out all of your race-day clothes and gear. Go ahead and pin your race bib to your shirt. Then place any other gear beside your outfit--hydration belt, ID, water bottle(s), GPS watch, etc. Don't forget to lay out your old sweats too. Many races have you arrive at the start hours before hand only to hang around in the cold. To avoid getting chilled, go to the Salvation Army or Good Will and buy a cheap pair of old sweats to wear atop your racing outfit. Then right before the race you can toss them. Many races collect these discarded pre-race clothes and distribute them to area homeless shelters.
  • Next pack your after race bag. Some large races will let you check in an after race bag with a change of clean, dry clothes, shoes, etc. If you're going to be hanging around any time after the race, it's a great idea to put a pack of moist towelettes in the bag for a quick wipe down. Don't put any money or valuables in this bag.
  • Get about 8hrs of sleep. However, don't go to bed too early. You may wake up and then have a hard time going back to sleep. If you have a hard time sleeping and only get a couple hours of sleep, don't fret. Research shows that if you routinely have a good sleep pattern of at least 8hrs of sleep each nigh, having only a couple of hours of sleep before the race won't hurt you. I've been there. It's true.
  • Eat your normal pre-long-run meal. Staying in a suite or hotel room with a kitchenette is great because you can take along (or purchase locally) the food you normally eat and prepare it in your room. If this is not an option, scope out on the Internet in advance local restaurants that may have the types of foods you normally eat. Many restaurants will have their menus posted on their websites so you can see the types of foods they offer and how they're prepared. Pasta is often a favorite pre-race meal. At today's restaurants, however, the portions are huge and many times loaded with lots of heavy sauces and meat. Don't hesitate to ask the wait person if you can modify your dish to suite your needs. 
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