Follow These Do’s and Don’ts of Marathon Race Week for a Successful Performance
While covering the marathon distance has become relatively routine for me in training for ultramarathons, the idea of running for performance has become more foreign. The last time I stepped to the starting line to run 26.2-miles for a performance goal was in 2019. I’ll be toeing the line for the California International Marathon in December. Thus, over the next few months, I’ll be retraining myself on many different aspects of running this shorter long-distance race. As race week approaches, I’ll be reminding myself of the Do’s and Don’ts of Marathon Race Week.
Many of the following suggestions apply for ultramarathons as well. However, the more commitment you have to work for a specific time goal, the easier it can be to lose focus on what you need to do throughout race week.
Circumstances out of your control, such as bad weather, sudden illness, or travel delays, can cause unnecessary anxiety. While focusing on the elements of preparation that you can control can give you the best peace of mind that you have done the correct work for race day and prepare you for any unplanned events that might occur.
Marathon Race Week – Do
It’s essential to try to maintain your routine up to race day. This includes the time of day you wake up and go to bed, when you train, and when you eat. Your body and mind work best off consistency, so don’t disrupt it before a big race. If you regularly run four days per week before your long run, then maintain this number of runs (just shorter distances and efforts) before race day. Of course, you may have to adjust this some as marathon race week approaches; see point three below.
Are you experiencing worries before a big race? Often, these worries center around doubts in the training we have completed. Take your mind off the race by reading a new book, meditating, going for walks, or starting a new TV or movie series. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about the things that you cannot control. Learn to focus on the positives of having more time on your hand with less training during your race taper.
For example, two weeks before the San Francisco Marathon race week in 2018, I took a weeklong trip as a leader for a high school church conference at the University of Tennessee. I could have easily worried about only running 9 miles the whole week, dealing with the impact of humidity, or getting very little sleep each night. Instead, I looked to the positives, such as helping our youth transform their lives. I walked 80 miles up and down the hills around campus and enjoyed some time away from work.
If you are not an early bird already, then as your race taper approaches, try to transition to waking up early in preparation for race day. Many marathons have a start time between 5:00 and 7:00 AM. I like to be awake at least 90-minutes before all my long runs, which means setting an early alarm clock on race day. Is your body used to be awaking at that hour, let alone ready to run 26.2 miles? Give yourself plenty of time to wake up, eat breakfast, hydrate, get dressed, and get where you need to be on race morning. Start building that routine one to two weeks out from race day so that you won’t have to be running around stressed on race day.
Likewise, if your marathon start time is later in the morning than you are used to (i.e., Boston Marathon), prepare yourself properly in your pre-running routine and throughout the marathon race week. Practice running some of your long runs during training later in the morning and early afternoon as well.
Eating a large meal the night before the race or chugging a gallon of water the morning of the race is not going to help your performance. Instead, the focus on hydration and eating should start early in the week. As a long-distance runner, a routine for eating and drinking should already be in place. Marathon race week is the time to follow that plan and avoid cheat foods and drinks. Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go if your schedule is a busy one, prep out meals for you to eat, and stick to your routine.
Start making your packing list and bringing everything together in one place before marathon race week approaches. I’ve been guilty before of leaving town without gels or the right socks. The stress of finding where to buy these items is not worth it once you are on the road to your race. You know from all your training what you will need for the race, so get it organized ahead of time. If you are traveling by plane and need to check a bag, put the running essentials in your carry-on to avoid getting lost.
Many races will offer a gear check at the start line as well. And, some races have restrictions on what gear can be used on course. Know these details ahead of time about your race and plan to utilize race resources if necessary. An extra shirt or pants can be excellent for a cold morning start to pull off a stow at gear check right before the gun goes off. Likewise, getting out of your race clothes after you finish can make post-race celebrations more enjoyable.
Marathon Race Week – Don’t
I’ve witnessed many runners buy a new pair of shoes marathon race week, change up something in their diets, or switch out the brand of anti-chafing cream they use because of a good review they heard. You need to do everything you can do to resist these temptations, especially from the race expos!
Your training plan was the time to figure out what worked and what didn’t work. This goes for shoes, shorts, socks, gels, sports drinks, shirts, anti-chafing cream, bottles, watches, and everything else you plan to use during the race! If you feel that you didn’t nail down your gear and nutrition plan completely, that’s fine. Keep going with it through this race to see what happens, then try to improve during the next training block.
Sometimes a new project at work or home is unavoidable. If this happens during marathon race week, don’t stress. Take a minute to sit down and collect your thoughts to make the best plan with whatever has come up. If there is the chance that something will not get done because of travel plans, then let those involved know ahead of time. If training for a particular race has been a big part of your life, then the chances are that family, friends, and co-workers know when your event is taking place. Make sure they understand your limitations throughout race week.
It should go without saying, but just as you should not experiment with new gear or food come marathon race week, don’t start a new type of exercise. Often, our taper phase can leave us feeling anxious or very energetic. Likewise, a destination race can make us want to explore and try new things. Again, avoid the temptations and plan accordingly. For destination races, try to arrange the adventures for after the race and take a few more days to celebrate your race accomplishments.
Many marathon and race expos can be quite the experience. Sponsors and vendors bring out products to sample or celebrity athletes to talk to. However, spending too much time on your feet the day before the race isn’t the best strategy. For significant races with multi-day expos, try to get your race packet and expo experience out of the way on the first or second day, not the day before the race. Then, get away from the race scene and relax. If the day before the race is your only option, then set a short time limit on yourself, then get off your feet and relax.
Remember, marathon race week is about giving yourself the best possible chance to perform to your expectations. Trust that your training has been sufficient enough to get you through the event. If you’ve had a successful race before, try to remember what you did throughout race week. Then, duplicate that routine as much as possible. Find what works and stick with it. Lastly, remember that each race is the reward for all your hard work. Avoid temptations, cancel doubts out with positive thoughts, and have fun soaking up the experience of completing your challenge.
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