What are your Marathon (or other distance) race tips? Running your first race is certainly something special, but there are quite a few things you need to know about – especially if you first race is a Half-Marathon or a Full Marathon. The longer the race distance the more you need to be prepared – otherwise your race experience and performance could suffer quite a bit.
The Most Important Rule
DO NOT try anything new and untested on race day. This one is very easy – anything new can totally throw you off. Just imagine eating something you have never eaten before a race and you simply don’t know how your body reacts to this “untested” food under stress. Yes, running a marathon means stress for your body and food that you can usually handle just fine might suddenly turn into something that your stomach and GI system simply cannot stand while running.
Or imagine using a brand-new pair of shoes for your marathon. Shoes need to be broken in before a race. Otherwise you are risking blisters or worse a real injury because the shoes are too stiff and you need to adjust your running style to accommodate. I had actually planned to break-in my new Nike Pegasus shoes during my taper, but then I became sick and could not run for about 2 weeks right before my first marathon. So, I used the shoes as my day shoes the week before the race and I wore them to work and around the house + I had two 2 mile training runs in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday before the race. Apparently this was good enough because the shoes felt fine during the marathon and I had absolutely no issues with blisters or other feet related issues. I still think it was a close call and ideally I wanted to have about 30-40 miles on these shoes before the race.
Follow this rule with everything related to your race. Food, shoes, clothing, and so on. Don’t take any chances because you never know how it could jeopardize your race experience.
Set out all your running gear the night before the race. Put everything together – from shoes all the way up to your headgear. That way you will have less chances to forget something important.
Also, run in appropriate gear. Many marathons are during the fall or spring and the weather can be quite different from perfect. As an example, the Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon 2013 was held on October 20th. Many runners that ran in shorts and T-Shirt never really warmed up during the race because the cold wind made for a less than pleasant experience. So, make sure you have the right gear handy for the weather conditions during the race.
Many runners simply start the race out too fast and then hit the infamous wall later on. It is easy to get carried away from the hype and excitement when the race starts. Plan out your race before it starts and use your long runs as guidance. Ideally you want to run a so-called “Negative Split” which means you run the second half of the race faster than the first one. By starting out conservatively you leave enough energy in the tank for a faster second half. It also cuts down the risk of hitting the wall. Rather start out a bit slower, but put the hammer down and finish strong towards the end. However, if you have a certain goal time in mind for your race you need to make sure that your pace in the beginning allows to reach that goal. Let’s assume you want to run a marathon in 4 hours, but you start out the first 15 miles with an average pace of 10 minutes per mile. A 10 minute mile pace would bring you to the finish line at roughly 4 hours and 20 minutes. So, if you pace wrong in the beginning you might not be able to reach your goal. In general make sure you pick a pace that you feel comfortable with.
Re-fuel during the Race
If you run a 5K or a 10K you do not have to worry about refueling during the race. Your body consumes roughly between 600 and 800 calories per hour during a run and shorter distances due not require refueling because that amount of calories is usually available in your glycogen stores for immediate consumption.
However, once you go longer distance you will need to refuel during the run as otherwise your body will run out of energy eventually and it would make for an awful race experience. The key is to consume something that your body can consume and use immediately. On my long runs I eat a Gatorade Chew package roughly every five miles. I also drink Gatorade or PowerAde during my run. The Chews (or Gels) usually contain about 100-160 calories mainly from carbs. The Sports Drink also contains carbs, but also a mix of important electrolytes and minerals. All items are important to keep your body functioning while running.
There are several calculators on the Internet that help to determine how much calories and carbs you need to consume during a long run. While these calculators provide guidance, you need to test this out during your long training runs.
Re-fueling also includes drinking water or Sports Drinks during the race. Your body loses a lot of fluids through sweating and it is important to refill appropriately. For one, run in the center of the street when approaching the water stations – pay attention to if the station has only water or Sports Drinks as well and in what order what is offered. Make eye-contact with a volunteer or point at a volunteer to make for a smooth refill of fluids. Also make sure to thank the volunteers for their help and efforts.
Run the Tangents
Every race has turns and when a course is measured for the correct distance it follows the tangents to the curves. A tangent is the shortest possible way around the curve. If you run the tangents and avoid too much crisscrossing during the race your individual race distance will be much closer to the course distance. As an example, when I ran the Las Vegas marathon I ran 26.57 miles instead of running 26.2 miles. While it might sound insignificant, running more miles than necessary during a race can be quite tough – especially if you are not having the best race experience.
Listen to your Body
Even though you might be mentally ready for a marathon, your body might not be fully co-operating. Listen to your body and learn to recognize warning signals. As an example, many runners do not re-fuel or drink correctly during a race because they follow a plan apparently written in stone. However, it is important to understand that your body might not necessarily know about your plan and has something different in mind. So, when your body signals thirst make sure to provide fluids. The longer the race, the more significant the impact of ignorance can be.
Don’t turn the pre-race experience into a stressful experience. Arrive with enough time under your belt to make it to your corral on time. Know where you can park your car or how to get to the start area in general. Familiarize yourself with the starting area so that you know where everything is. There could also be long lines at the Porta Potties and it is not unheard of that one had to wait 30-40 minutes (or longer) in line for a Porta Pottie. Bring enough time pre-race and reduce the stress that could otherwise impact your race experience.
Each Race is Different
While many tips apply to every race, each race has its own personality and you need to make yourself familiar with whatever is different for each race. So, make sure to do some race specific research to avoid any unpleasant surprises that could affect your race experience.