You’ve trained hard and prepared for this challenge. Now as the minutes tick down to the start of the race, nerves rattle and questions mount. Here are some tips to help you get to the starting line.
By Henry Howard
In a few weeks, I will be at the starting line of my 12th marathon. Even though the past 11 marathons have taught me a lot, I will undoubtedly feel a bit of nerves at the starting line.
Did I train the best I could have? Is my nutrition plan solid? Are those Oreos I ate a month ago going to affect my performance?
Of course, the starting line is way too late to make any adjustments that will create a better outcome. That’s why all the training, tapering and recovering are so crucial. But in the final 24 hours, there are some ways that runners can help themselves.
10 Ways To Prepare In The Final 24 Hours
I have learned a lot about what works for me as a race start draws closer. These ideas may not work for everyone as every individual needs to find out what works best for him or her. But all runners should be able to find something that works for them among the tips listed below.
Thanks to my friends in the MTA community, who helped out with some of the ideas.
1. Hydrate yourself and eat clean.
This is actually solid advice at any time but it’s best to be fueling your engine with quality water and food as you set out on your journey. For me, I try to sip water throughout the days before a race and focus on a combination of proteins and carbs the day and night before.
“I make sure I drink a lot of water the day before and eat clean, actually the whole week before. If I eat like crap I feel like it makes the race harder,” MTA member Tina says.
2. Don’t forget the carbs.
Lots of respondents to my inquiry on the MTA Facebook page indicated they eat carbs the night before a race. Spaghetti with meatballs, pizza and other carb dinners were mentioned. This is one of the recommendations that truly depends on the individual. I would advocate having some carbs the day before a big race. How many and what type is completely an individual thing. Try what works for you — but remember nothing new on race day. It would be best to test how different foods work the night before a long run before trying that food the night before a race.
3. Abstain from alcohol.
Yeah, that glass of wine might help you relax. But if you are aiming for a specific time — instead of just finishing, for example — the alcohol in your system may ruin your plans. The American College of Sports Medicine has released its guidelines on the effects of alcohol, including: “Psychomotor skills are adversely affected by acute alcohol consumption; maximal aerobic power as assessed by VO2max is minimally influenced with acute alcohol consumption; acute alcohol ingestion is not associated with improvement in exercise capacity and may decrease performance levels; the consumption of alcohol may perturb the body’s temperature regulation mechanisms during exercises particularly in a cold environment.” For me, I’ll raise a toast and celebrate with a beer after the race.
4. Making a list, checking it twice.
Anam recommends this advising that he “makes a check list and puts everything together the day before.” Of course, if one is traveling for a race, this list must be compiled sooner. But I agree that a list will help in the morning when you might be feeling groggy heading out to the race. Anything that will help you remember to bring the race bib/watch/headphones/nutrition/lucky hat or whatever is well worth the effort.
5. Lay out your running clothes.
It’s easy to find photos of “Flat Runners” while checking out social media feeds on Friday and Saturday nights during prime race season. Runners regularly lay out their shorts/skirts, shirts, hats, compression gear, sneakers and more as flat versions of themselves. It’s not only a good way to interact with some people on social media and get some “good luck” comments, but it’s a good way to account for all the gear you want to wear during the race.
6. Watch a movie for motivation.
Personally, I don’t watch much television but this may be a good way to relax while motivating oneself. “I always watch some kind of running movie the night before a race — Spirit of the Marathon or something like that. It gets my head in the right place,” Wendy says. I would recommend leaving enough time after the movie ends to let your mind settle so you can get to sleep easily.
7. Get loose.
I never run the day before a race, though I know that’s a thing for streakers. Instead, the night before my last several marathons, I have walked on the treadmill for 15-20 minutes to loosen up my legs and burn off a few calories.
It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep the night before a big race. If you are traveling this is especially true. When I travel out west for a race, I try to stay on Eastern time days before the race. This helps me fall asleep earlier and wake closer to when I need to be up for race day. But even if you’re not traveling, be sure to plan your day out so that you can get to bed early. An early dinner and relaxation will serve you well as you settle in for sleep.
9. Get up on time.
Wendy says she sets three alarms as her wake-up calls. I set the alarm on my phone and ask for a wake-up call if I am staying at a hotel. In any case, don’t let the quest for a few more ZZZZZZZs compromise your ability to get to the race on time.
10. Be positive.
Surround yourself with positive people — visualize a strong, happy race. Dedicate each mile to someone special, it can even be a prayer list, Pat suggests.
While your body is well prepared for the grueling task of your marathon, your mind must be just as sharp if not more. Remember, the mind will give up before the body does, as the saying goes. Ward off those negative thoughts with positive people, dedicating the race — or miles — to loved ones, and knowing that you do have what it takes to finish a marathon.
And when you do cross that finish line, enjoy your accomplishment, think about what worked — or what didn’t — and start planning how to approach the next big race.