1. Review Your Log1 of 8
How do you keep track of the miles you've logged? Strava? Garmin Connect? Or do you take pen to paper in an old-fashioned training log like Shalane Flanagan, who recently shared a week of her plan on Instagram? Take a look at all the running you've done over the past few months if you've (mostly) followed a training plan, paying particular attention to when you nailed your workouts. Tap into the memory of how strong you felt, and bring that to the line.
For the week of August 14, Flanagan wrote at the top of her page her goal: Win NYC Marathon. On August 17, she recorded 10 one-mile repeats at 5:05 to 4:54. Nice!
"I looked at it every single week, hoping my positive thoughts and actions would manifest into reality," she wrote on Instagram. "I encourage everyone to share their goals with others or write them down."
2. Be Kind to Yourself2 of 8
You had every intention of doing all your workouts, but life intervened: You started a new job, broke up with your cheating boyfriend or moved across the country. Even "good" change is stressful.
Your body releases stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, both of which boost your performance on the day of your race. But in chronic doses over the course of many weeks will weaken your immune system, disrupt digestion, and cause general anxiety. If your life got in the way of nailing all your workouts, don't make yourself feel bad by looking over all those zeros in your log.
Instead, adjust your goals accordingly. Aim to start slow and finish feeling strong. Run-walk with your mom (unless she's a speedster, in which case, go with Grandma). If you must have a predetermined race pace, here's how to figure out just how slow to go: Look at the longest run you did in the past two months, and use the average pace of the second half of that run as your goal.
3. Go to Sleep Already3 of 8
Elite runners have the luxury of eight hours a night, plus mid-day naps. Must be nice, huh? But if you're not making a living winning marathons, you might not get that much exclusive time with your pillow. Studies consistently show that even a few nights' decreased sleep can disrupt your metabolism, causing you to bonk early, among other unpleasant side effects.
Because it is harder on our schedules and our bodies to sleep in, it's better to try to go to bed earlier in order to fit in extra snooze time. So, throughout the week before your big event, aim to hit the sack one hour earlier than usual. And read a book, not your phone, as the screen's bright light makes it harder for your brain to shut down.
4. Assemble Your Gear4 of 8
If you're tapering for a marathon or half, you might find yourself edgy, anxious and worried about losing fitness with the decreased endorphins and increased time on your hands. Resist the temptation to cram in one last speed session, or attack the garage in an organization frenzy. Though it may be difficult, conserve your energy.
Remember, nothing you do now will improve your race, but many things can sabotage it. Instead, use the extra time to assemble your gear for race day: clean all your outfit options (short sleeves, tank, tights, shorts), figure out what you'll wear to the start (do you have throwaway gear?) and buy whatever gels, sports drinks or bars you want to consume on the course.
5. Get in the Zone5 of 8
Did we mention anxious, edgy and worried? Master of positivity and U.S. marathon record holder Deena Kastor would tell you all the nervousness you feel before an event is a good sign. It means you're invested in the outcome. But she also advises to reframe "anxiety" as "excitement," which offers more empowerment and control.
If you are doing a marathon or a half and can easily access your event's course, run the final two to three miles of the race while visualizing the crowds cheering your successful finish. If you can get to your turkey trot 5K course, run it a week before race day--slowly!--noting the turns, hills and mile markers.
6. Set a Happy Mantra6 of 8
Pick a few words you can call up during your race. They shouldn't be complicated; three words are about as much as you'll remember.
Kastor notes the importance of framing your mantra with positivity, otherwise your mental loop will get stuck in the negative. For example, if you tell yourself, "Don't freak out," your mind may naturally start eliminating the "don't," leaving you with a seriously negative command. Instead, use action verbs like Shalane Flanagan's mantra as she threw down 5:09s to run away from Mary Keitany in New York on November 4: "Keep it together."
7. Think Positive7 of 8
Tell yourself you are running tall and strong, and listen to spectators who cheer, "Looking good!" Positive feedback can actually improve your efficiency, according to a 2012 study out of the University of Nevada .
Your inner cheerleader can also improve endurance, according to research conducted in 2014 at Bangor University in the U.K. In the study, cyclists who were given encouraging phrases to repeat to themselves for two weeks were able to improve performance by 18 percent, while their rate of perceived exertion dropped. Their motivational phrases included "feeling good" during the early stages of their workouts and "push through this" in the difficult later stages. Plan your own positive phrases for the stages of your race.