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5 Tips for a Stress-Free Marathon

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This piece was written by guest contributor Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field certified coach at StrengthRunning.com and 2:39 marathoner. To learn more about Jason, check out his website

The day you run a marathon, the hardest work is already done. Months of long runs, tempo workouts, and more mileage than you care to remember are behind you. The only thing in front of you is the marathon itself. Get excited!

But just because you trained well doesn’t mean you can skip the pre-race planning. A regular routine will help reduce stress on the morning of the race and get you ready to perform your best. You’ll get to the starting line ready to run without the stress of wondering how to get there or where your favorite socks are hiding.

Your Action Plan
 

You’ll have a lot to worry about on race day—like running 26.2 miles—so make sure you take care of all your preparations the day before.

  • Plan all transportation to the starting area.
  • Bring enough clothes to stay warm before the start.
  • Set two alarm clocks (and allow extra time for traffic, long bathroom lines, and warming up).
  • Pack your race bag with everything you need: fuel, water, breakfast, race gear, and anti-chafing cream (c’mon, you know you use it!).

Take an extra 20 minutes the day before the race. That precious time will help you stay calm when you’re rushed in the morning. Nobody wants to stress out about socks or energy snacks before a marathon.

Hopefully during training you did enough mileage, workouts, and long runs to prepare physically for the stress of a marathon. If you’ve trained well, there’s nothing to worry about.

The day of the race should be similar to a tough long run—everything from your warm-up to your breakfast should be similar and familiar. Don’t just practice running during your training, practice everything. To make sure race day isn’t a shock, keep these helpful tips in mind:

  • If you drink coffee before a workout or long run, stay on the caffeine train! It’s a proven performance enhancer so keep the coffee flowing.
  • If you take gels and water during your long runs, do the same while racing the marathon.
  • Eat the same breakfast as you normally do before a long run (you may want to eat a few more carbs to continue carbo-loading; marathons require a lot of energy from carbohydrates, so do your best to have a carb-rich breakfast).
  • Don’t run in new or different shoes—make sure you’re comfortable with your racing shoes well before the race.

Experimentation and new routines are for training—when your performance doesn’t have to be at its peak. Your race should be controlled so make sure you don’t break your training habits at the last minute with new techniques.

Each marathon is different and will present different challenges: Some have tortuous uphills or quad-busting miles of downhill running while others include hairpin turns and long stretches of solitary running on quiet streets.

No matter the terrain or obstacles, study the course map and elevation profile before race day to ensure you know what you’re facing. The strategy you take will depend on the type of course. Courses that start on a long downhill with big hills later in the race (like the Boston Marathon) will require a more conservative approach than a flat course like Chicago.

Another important aspect of road racing is to avoid the camber of the road. A road’s “camber” is when it slopes toward the curb for drainage. If you always run with the curb to your left, you’re essentially running with a leg length discrepancy!

Instead, stay in the middle of the road where it’s more level. The only time you want to be close to the curb is when you’re going around a tight turn to ensure you’re running the tangents.

Trust your training. You’ve trained for this day and you’re ready to perform. But you might be nervous—and that’s okay! Being nervous is just a good reminder that you’re still alive and you’re about to do something important.

Don’t sabotage yourself by not believing in what you’re capable of accomplishing. Execute the race just like a hard long run and you’ll be successful.

The training is done and you’ve done the work (hint: that’s the “secret” to good running!); now it’s time to test yourself and have some fun out on the race course!

A race can’t be won in the first minute—but it can be lost. In the case of a marathon, it’s always best to run the first 1-2 miles conservatively and ease into your goal pace.

Running hard from the very start can put you over the pace you should be running, increasing your heart rate past the aerobic zone and into anaerobic territory. Don’t burn all that sugar when your body will need it in the final miles of the marathon!

In other words, “don’t write checks your body can’t cash.”

Before your next marathon, take a half hour the day before to organize your gear and plan the morning of the race. You’ll wake up with less stress and more focus that can be channeled into your race. Now go get that personal best!

How do you psych yourself up the day of the big race? Share your marathon preparation tips in the comments below.

Jason Fitzgerald is a USA Track & Field Level 1 certified coach with over 15 years of competitive running experience. After competing in high... Read More »