As elite marathoner Caitlin Batten said earlier this week as she thought about the upcoming Austin Marathon (7:00 a.m. on February 18), “The marathon is a very tricky race to get right. For one thing, you can’t run multiple marathons back to back. So you really only have one shot at any given time.”
With that in mind, it’s important to handle you race weekend properly. There’s nothing you can do right now to improve your fitness, but there are ways to help set yourself up for the best possible race. Here are some proven race-weekend tips to get you to the starting line with all systems go.
Saturday, February 17
Rest. If you run at all today, keep it down to two miles just to stay loose. Otherwise just take a rest day.
Drink. Not alcohol, although one beer or one glass of wine is fine to relax the nerves. We’re talking water here, along with some sports drinks to top off your carbohydrate tank. Make a point of stopping at water fountains or carrying a water bottle with you. But don’t over-hydrate. Drink about 4-8 oz of water every hour. Race-day temperatures are looking to be in the low 50s, which is good, but hydrating is always standard procedure heading into a marathon.
Eat. Many athletes have embraced a low-carb (or ketogenic) diet, and that’s a good thing: in addition to numerous health benefits, it teaches your body to burn fat. But even the strictest believers in keto acknowledge that for races like the marathon, you must bump up your carbs the day or two before. Choose a dinner that you know will have enough carbohydrates and is something that your stomach is used to. There are plenty of healthy carbs out there, from sweet potatoes to bananas and oranges.
Take it easy at the Expo. All runners love Race expos. The gear and accessories are usually offered at hard-to-beat prices, and there’s so much stuff to choose from. Plus, they’re great for people-watching. It’s amazing the sizes and shapes marathoners come in, but you’ll mostly see a very fit-looking crowd. One caveat: don’t spend hours perusing the aisles. If you do, your feet will remind you of that fact on Sunday morning.
Sleep. We all know that it’s vital for the body to get enough sleep in order to rebuild and recharge. But we also know that there can be a bit of anxiety the night before a marathon. Shoot for eight hours of sleep, but don’t worry if you only get a few hours. The amount of sleep you get on a regular basis plays a much bigger role than what you get the night before the race.
Sunday, February 18.
Breakfast. Get up super early (about three hours before the race and eat a light breakfast. Even if you normally do not eat anything before your long runs, do so today. It will help set you up for better race, and not “bonking.” Eat stuff that you know agrees with you, and is not too filling, and don’t experiment with something new. Time-tested pre-race meals include oatmeal—add honey and bananas to top off your carb tank—or toast with any type of nut butter. Stick to what works for you!
Dress accordingly. If the temps are indeed in the low 50s, you won’t need more than shorts and a short-sleeve shirt or singlet. Make sure you are wearing sweat-wicking apparel and wear a throw-away long sleeve shirt to stay warm at the start.
Arrive on time. Get to the start with plenty of time to find your pace group, etc., and get some blood flowing to your muscles with an easy warm-up. We’re not talking about stretching here, but easy jogging with some pick-ups, or dynamic movements if that’s your practice.
GO! Start at a pace you know you can hold the whole way. Don’t try to put “money in the bank.” Trust in your training and fitness. Keep an even effort on the hills, and don’t charge them. Take advantage of the aid stations and enjoy the crowd support. It’s not every day you get cheered on along for 26.2 miles. You’ve got this!
Upcoming races: Saturday, February 24 at 8:00 a.m. Run for the Bluebonnets 5K at 1200 Willow Street in Bastrop. Saturday, February 24 at 10:00 a.m. Awesome Blossom Run 5K at Sweet Eats Fruit , Old Highway 29 in Georgetown.