You have a great deal of control over how positive your race-day experience will be. Here is what I've learned during my five decades years of running and coaching more than 250,000 runners.
Know the Course1 of 16
If at all possible, get out on the race course for one of your final training runs. You'll learn how to get to the start, where to park (or which rapid-transit station to exit), and what the site is like. Run over the last half-mile of the course so your familiar with the end. Visualize yourself crossing the finish, then prepare to rest your body in the next few days.
Don't Run2 of 16
You won't lose any conditioning if you take two days off from running leading up to the race. If the race has an expo or other festivities, walk around, but don't walk for more than two hours. Some races require you to pick up your race number at the expo the day before. Other races allow you to pick up your materials on race day. Check out the information materials or the event website for instructions.
Fuel3 of 16
Some marathons have a dinner the night before the race. At the dinner, you can talk with runners at your table and enjoy the evening. Don't eat much, however. Many runners mistakenly assume that they must eat a lot the night before . This is actually counterproductive. It takes at least 36 hours for most of the food you eat to be processed and useable in a race. But eating too much, or eating the wrong foods for you, can be a real problem. A lot of food bouncing up and down in your gut when you race is stressful. Carbohydrate "loading" the night before can lead to carbohydrate "unloading" on the course itself. The evening before your long training run is a good time to practice your eating plan, then replicate the successful routine for the race.
Eating is optional after 6 p.m. If you are hungry, have a light snack you have tested before that has not caused problems. Less is better, but don't go to bed hungry. It's a good idea to have eight ounces of a good electrolyte beverage about two hours before you go to bed the night before your marathon.
Hydration Rules4 of 16
The day before the race, drink when you are thirsty. If you haven't had a drink of water or sports drink in a couple of hours, drink half a cup to a cup (four to eight ounces) each hour.
Alcohol consumption is generally not recommended the day or night before a race. The effects of this depressant carry over to the next morning. Some runners have no trouble having one glass of wine or beer, while others are better off with none. If you decide to have a drink, I suggest that you make it one portion.
Set Out Your Gear5 of 16
Pack your bag and lay out your clothes the night before so you don't have to think much on race morning. Follow this list:
- Your watch
- Race number pinned to the front of your top
- A few extra safety pins
- Fuel of your choice
- Food for the drive in and the drive home
- Bandages, Vaseline and any other first-aid items you may need
- Cash for registration if you are doing race-day registration (check for exact amount, including late fee)
- $25 to $40 in cash for gas, food, parking, etc.
- A few jokes or stories to provide laughs or entertainment before the start
- A copy of the race-day checklist, below
Finally: Sleep6 of 16
You may sleep well , or you may not. Don't worry about it if you don't sleep at all. Many runners I work with don't sleep at all the night before and have the best race of their lives. Of course, don't try to go sleepless...but if it happens, it's not usually a problem.
Hydration Plan7 of 16
When you wake up on race morning, drink four to six ounces of water every half-hour. If you have used a sports drink about 30 minutes before your runs, prepare it. Use a cooler if you wish. In order to avoid the bathroom breaks, stop your fluid intake according to what has worked for you in other long runs (usually one or two hours before the start).
Fuel8 of 16
Eat what you have eaten before your long runs. It is OK not to eat at all before most races unless you are diabetic, then go with the plan that you and your doctor (or nutritionist) have worked out.
Register or pick up your race number9 of 16
If you already have all of your materials, you can bypass this step. If not, look at the signage in the registration area and get in the right line. Usually there is one for race-day registration, and one for those who registered online or in the mail and need to pick up their numbers. Pin your number on the front of the garment you plan to wear when you cross the finish line.
Line Up10 of 16
First-time racers should line up at the back. If you line up too far forward you could slow down faster runners. You want to do this first race slowly and have a good experience. Because you will be taking your walk breaks as you did during training, you will probably need to stay at the side of the road. If there is a sidewalk, you can use this for your walk breaks.
After the Start11 of 16
Remember that you can control how you feel during and afterward by conservative pacing and/or walks. Whatever energy you save in the first half will be available to you during the last five miles.
If it is warm, slow down. Don't let yourself be pulled out too fast. Talk with folks along the way, enjoy the course, smile often.
Cross the Finish Line12 of 16
You'll be tired, but still feel great. Cross with a smile on your face and keep walking for at least half a mile after the race.
Refuel13 of 16
Drink about four to eight ounces of fluid within 30 minutes of the finish, have a snack that is 80 percent carbohydrate and 20 percent protein.
Take Care of Your Legs14 of 16
If you can soak your legs in cool water during the first two hours after the race, do so for 10 to 20 minutes. Walk for 20 to 30 minutes later in the day to help keep the blood moving.
The Next Day15 of 16
Walk for 30 to 60 minutes, very easy. This can be done at one time, or in installments. Wait at least a week before you either schedule your next race or vow to never run another one again.