How to Deal With Marathon Race-Day Problems
Here's a quick primer on how you can make adjustments to keep yourself on track on marathon day.
1 of 19
Whenever possible, whenever you are faced with a choice, be conservative. Find the easy option, the one that requires the least effort and creates the path of least resistance.
During-the-Race Tweak #1
2 of 19
I am kind of bunched up in a group, and running five seconds slower per mile than I'd like. I can either sprint ahead of this group, or I can simply ease off the gas and let them pull away, then drop into my given pace. The second option is best here.
During-the-Race Tweak #2
3 of 19
It's not that hot, not that cold, and I am not sure what to wear. I can either just wear what I think I need, or I can bring that extra layer just in case. Bring that extra layer or two.
During-the-Race Tweak #3
4 of 19
My nutrition plan says to eat a gel every 45 minutes. I have 15 minutes to go to my next scheduled "feed," but I am starting to get hungry right now. I can either tell myself to suck it up and wait like I have trained, or I can have the gel at the next aid station with water and make a note to adjust moving forward. Go with the second option here.
5 of 19
All of a sudden you wake up to discover that the temperature outside is significantly different than you had anticipated. Don't worry—you still have time to adapt. Better to know this now than to find out halfway through your race! Here's what you can do...
Colder Temperature 6 of 19
Know that you'll be less likely to want to drink, so make a note to stick with the proper hydration cycle. Don't make up for the morning temps with excessive hot beverages, as they'll function like a diuretic, robbing your body of critical H2O. Cover your extremities like your head and hands with some lightweight gear that can be stowed easily or tossed to a friend. Plan on dressing very warm before the race and afterwards, reducing your body's need to use energy to create warmth.
Hotter Temperature 7 of 19
This can be a race killer, so be very careful here. Consider adding some more fluids (sports drink) to your morning routine as well as bumping up your hydration cycle from 15-minute to 10-minute intervals. Any calories you take in will require a bit more fluid than usual, so be sure to eat close to the aid stations, and slow down as required to get in as much as you want.
Hotter Temperature Con't 8 of 19
You'll want some sunscreen and coverage on your head and eyes. Avoid pouring water over yourself unless it's a last resort; holding ice in your hands is just as effective at cooling you off. And don't forget that wiping your face can make a difference too.
Wind 9 of 19
A serious head wind can present a major challenge on race day; it's like running uphill for the better part of your day. It can take a real physical and mental toll. If you find the wind in your face, focus on the effort you are running. Your 9-minute effort into a headwind might only get you a 9:30 pace, but that's preferable than having you run 8:30 effort to earn the 9:00 you want to see, and then imploding long before the finish line.
Wind Con't 10 of 19
Conversely, don't "chase" a tailwind. It's tempting to run much faster when you know there's a wind at your back, but all that speed isn't exactly free. You are still running harder than you've trained, and the cost of that subtle change won't be evident until it's too late. Also, remember that without wind in your face, you'll feel hotter than it actually is, so hydrate accordingly.
Wind Con't 11 of 19
Don't be afraid to draft off of a similarly paced runner; simply slide in behind or next to him/her such that they stand between you and the wind. It's not so much about free speed as it is getting a break from the full effect of the wind.
Late Arrival 12 of 19
Due to poor planning, traffic, getting lost etc., you arrive at the race much later than you'd hoped. You can fix this situation by working backwards from your race start in your head and eliminating all your "want to do" items such as stretching, warm-up, early seeding, etc. Focus on the critical stuff such as fuel, getting your gear on and settled properly, and taking care of any last minute issues first. You can warm up as the race starts but you can't get dressed after it starts.
The Bathroom Break 13 of 19
It turns out that the Red Hot Chili Sampler Platter isn't the ideal pre-race meal. Now it's race morning and you have to take care of your body—this is non-negotiable. In the modern day era of chip times, your personal race won't start until you cross that starting line, so take a deep breath and focus on getting your body in as good a place as possible. Ideally you'll be able to get rid of most of you pre-race food with an early morning trip to the bathroom; sometimes coffee helps with this.
The Bathroom Break Con't 14 of 19
Consider something like Tums to neutralize the situation (with water). If you want to go nuclear and take something like Immodium, know that while that means no potty breaks it doesn't mean that your tummy will feel any better. Do what feels right and just try to make the best decisions when eating.
The Pace is Forced 15 of 19
You've been training at your goal pace for a few weeks now, and it's always felt natural, but on race day it's just not there. Don't fight the pace; your body is sending you messages for a reason. Settle into what feels right for you. A marathon is a long way to go, and there will ideally be opportunities where you can pick up the pace later in the day. But fighting it now only means that you'll have a very long day ahead of you should things go south.
Nutrition 16 of 19
You hit mile 14 and suddenly your beloved strawberry-banana gel packets are your mortal enemy. You are burping like mad, can't take in your food, and have a ways to go. Don't panic! The easiest way to solve a nutrition problem is to slow down. Ease off the gas and sip a bit of water to facilitate the absorption process. Better to take two minutes now than have to take the final 10 miles off because you imploded.
Nutrition Con't 17 of 19
If you can't use or have lost your personal nutrition, it's time to turn to what's on the course. Consider the sports drink there, with some water at each aid station, until your stomach gets under control. Once things have settled, you can try to eat something else (with water), and just continue to monitor your body.
18 of 19
Problems happen to the best of us. Ignoring a problem isn't a strategy, it's a coping mechanism. Pretending your problem isn't there won't make it go away. In fact, it will most likely lead to other more complicated issues. Your top priority should be resolving the issue at hand as quickly as possible so that you can get back to the business of running.