Marathon training might as well be a full time job. It takes over your whole life and sucks all your time. Even when you’re not running, it can dictate so many other things in your life: what you eat, how many hours your sleep, how much you drink, etc. Most marathon training plans are somewhere 16-18 weeks, but we all know it’s really much longer than that, you don’t start from nothing.
Once the race starts to get closer, it can be a bit of a relief that things are winding down a bit, but just because you’re visiting Taper Town doesn’t mean you get a vacation from getting yourself ready for race day.
Here’s how I start to prepare for marathon race day…
Four weeks out
At this point, there’s not too much to do besides sticking with my training schedule and pushing myself through my peak week(s), but I like to start thinking about things I need to try or practice for race day. This includes picking out race day clothes and gear and putting them through a few test runs to make sure they’ll work for me. This allows me to see where any chafing may occur so I know where to lube up on race morning. The Richmond Marathon will be my first race as a woman so this was especially important this time around.
I also start making sure to be practicing my race day nutrition to test for any possible issues it may cause. Even though this is something I feel like I’ve got figured out, I still like to make sure nothing has changed. This particular time around, a lot has changed…like, you know, all the hormones in my body! On my long runs, I’ll take a vanilla Clif Shot energy gel every five miles just like I do on race day. I’ll also try to eat a similar breakfast of either PB&J or a bagel, an apple, and a Picky Bar or Lara Bar.
The last important thing I do this far out is try to finalize my race strategy. As I get closer to taper, I know how my training has been going and what I can reasonably expect from it.
Two weeks out
Besides normal taper stuff like decreasing my mileage and intensity, starting two weeks out from a marathon is when I really try to get my sleep schedule in check. I am generally good for getting around 6.5-7 hours of sleep a night, but for the last two weeks before a marathon I try to get myself closer to 7-8, if I can. I also try to be careful about my diet and what I’m eating. Coming off peak week and 14 weeks of hard training, my appetite is generally pretty out of control and tends not to come back down until weeks after the marathon itself. It takes some serious self control to keep myself in check during these two weeks.
This is the time when I get REALLY paranoid about getting sick. I generally trust my body’s immune system, but during training I do my best to keep my distance from anyone who seems like they might be sick. Once I’m in the last two weeks I’m even more paranoid. Cue non-stop hand washing!
One week out
Once I’m only a week away from race day, I stop drinking any and all alcohol. I don’t drink too much during training to begin with, but during the last week I don’t drink a drop! It’s overkill, but it’s just my personal thing. I’m a lightweight so just a two or three beers can sometimes give me a light buzz and mess with my sleeping. Not worth it.
I start to really take a good look at the course map so I can familiarize myself with where to expect water stops and where the hills are. In addition to the course map, I’ll take a look at everything I need to know for race day so I’m not worrying about all that at the last minute.
I also like to make sure we’re stocked up on energy gels (I take one pre-race and then one every five miles up through mile 20) and my race day clothes are washed and waiting. I won’t start packing yet, but I will start a packing list so I don’t forget anything.
Three days out
Three days is when I start the whole carbo-loading thing. For me, this means two (or more) bagels a day, plenty of pasta, some ice cream, and maybe even a little candy. Oh yeah, and some extra fruit as well! I’ll also make sure I’m getting myself plenty hydrated so I’m not chugging water come the night before or even that morning.
Depending on the race, I may also take this time to pack and travel. Since I’ve already made a packing list, I typically only need a few minutes to grab everything on the list and throw it in my bag.
The day before
By this point, there’s not much else I can do. Everything should be done and ready. I’ll continue my carbo-loading and hydration and make sure to have a nice big dinner earlier in the evening. I don’t have any particular meal I prefer the night before a marathon, but typically it’ll be something with pasta because, you know, that’s what we do, right?
Before I go to bed, I like to set out my entire race day outfit and even pin my bib on my shirt. I’ll get all my gels, armband, headband, and throwaway clothing and set them next to my outfit as well. Everything I need in the morning should be right there in one place.
Sometimes I like to shower the night before, but this usually depends on how much time I have. I’ll prioritize getting to bed nice and early over taking a shower anytime.
My bed time varies based on race start time, but it’s generally before 10pm. I shoot for no less than eight hours of sleep.
I typically try to wake up at least two hours before race start, but it really depends on what kind of travel is necessary to get to the start. Disney races often require waking up even earlier than that since there’s busing involved.
The very first thing I do when I wake up on race morning is drink a big glass of water and eat my breakfast. I want to make sure I’m finishing up any hydrating early enough that I can pee out the excess before getting in my corral and I want to give my stomach some time to work on digesting my breakfast. Breakfast generally consists of a PB&J sandwich or a bagel, depending on what was easiest. I’ll also have an apple and a Picky Bar or Lara Bar. Just like before my last few long runs.
Once I’m dressed and ready to go, I like to do my best to get to the starting area at least 45 minutes before the race starts. This gives me plenty of time to wait through any bathroom lines and do a quick warm up.
Right after I get into the corral, I typically shed most of my throwaway clothes immediately. I’d generally rather start off being a little cold than have to deal with shedding layers while running. I’ll also gulp down my first energy gel.
At this point, especially if it’s a race that I’m actually racing for time, I’m generally pretty focused and I block out everything going on around me. I start up iSmoothRun on my phone and run through my race plan in my head.
So that’s about it for me! The marathon is really the only distance that I take this seriously. With the exception of race morning, I don’t typically do any of this stuff for other races.
How do you prepare for marathon race day, or any race day for that matter?