I do not claim to be a running expert. So much so that I'll say it again. I do not claim to be a running expert. However, I have run quite a bit over the past few years, including 5 half marathons and 3 full marathons, and have learned a lot along the way. With the Lincoln Marathon/Half Marathon in less than 2 weeks, I thought it'd be timely to share some of my race day tips!
The Week Before
- Trust your training plan. Most training plans that I've seen include a taper (or reduction in mileage) in the weeks leading up to a long distance race. This might actually be hard to do! You may start to feel antsy or like you need to squeeze in extra runs, but don't do it. If you made it this far with a plan, trust it to the end. You're not going to get faster or improve your endurance at this point, so make an effort to show up on race day well rested and uninjured.
- Stay hydrated. No need to go crazy here, just be mindful. It's easy to be more lax about what you're eating and drinking when you're not running as much, so take care that you're not dehydrating yourself with loads of salt or alcohol.
- Rest. Rest your legs, rest your body, rest your mind. Light runs and some low intensity cross training will keep your muscles primed, but now is when you need to build up your energy stores and not break down your muscles.
- Make a list. Or lists. Start compiling lists of everything you need on race day: what you'll wear, what you'll carry, what you'll ask someone to hand you at mile 10, etc. The more preparing you do while you're thinking clearly, the better. If you ask me, race day morning is not the time to be deciding which shorts to wear.
The Day Before
- Go to the expo. Being in a room with all those runners is so exhilarating! Even if they're all strangers, you instantly feel a connection with them. There is something so comforting and energizing about being surrounded by people who understand you, have felt your pain, and are just as excited and/or nervous as you may be.
- Don't eat anything crazy. Eat what you're used to eating the night before a long run. I typically avoid spicy food and dairy.
- No alcohol. Some people might like to have a drink to help calm their nerves, but not me. Alcohol is dehydrating and can be upsetting to my stomach. And no one wants to run with a headache.
- Try to stay off your feet. Of course I already recommended walking around at the expo, but I also recommend taking some time to put your feet up. Literally. This will help to keep your feet from swelling and blood from pooling in your legs.
The Morning Of
- Use the restroom as much as you can. Lines at port-o-johns may be long, but they typically move quickly. I think it's worth the risk to wait, as opposed to having to stop on the course.
- Eat your typical breakfast, even if you don't feel hungry. What did you eat before your long runs during training? That's what you should eat on race day. Nerves may make you feel less hungry, but your body will need that energy.
- Don't wear anything new. (In case you didn't notice, "Nothing New" is pretty much the theme of race day.) You might find some great deals on running gear at the expo or get a nice shirt at packet pick-up, but race day is not when you should be trying them out for the first time. Ideally, you'll be wearing the same clothes you did your long training runs in, as long as they were comfortable. I wore a new sports bra during a race and was extremely unhappy to discover it chafed in some VERY uncomfortable places...
- Trust your training. If you start doubting yourself, try remembering that you've probably put in hundreds of miles training for this race. And this is just a few more. You already did the hard work, race day is the celebration.
- Soak in the moment, especially if this is your first! One of my favorite memories from my first marathon happened right before I crossed the start line. I turned to the woman next to me and said, "We're about to run a marathon!!" She gave me the biggest grin and said "I know!" then squeezed my arm. It was just what I needed.
- Take water and/or sports drink at every stop, even if you don't feel thirsty. You need the fluids. Take them when you can because they're not always available. (Unless you're carrying your own.)
- Walk through the water stops. It only adds seconds to your time, and it's so much easier to take in water without choking. However, Lincoln hands out cups with lids and straws, which is really nice for drinking on the run!
- If you feel hot, dump water on your head or soak your hat, if you're wearing one. Lean your head back so you don't wash sweat or sunscreen into your eyes.
- Don't forget to take your fuel. Hopefully you've been training with fuel so you know when and what your body wants and can handle. If you're used to taking a gel every 5 miles, take a gel every 5 miles. As I've mentioned, race day is not the time try new things.
- Smile for the camera. If you see a professional photographer on the course, smile and wave or give a thumbs up. They will be more likely to try to get you a good shot. Even if you don't plan on purchasing the photos, it's nice to have some great ones in the bunch to choose from. And always smile when crossing the finish line - there will definitely be cameras there!
- Take in the energy. Lincoln is a great race because of the crowds. There are people cheering you on the whole way, and it's such an energy boost! I especially like to give high-fives to the little kids holding out their hands. I also love to see people recognize the runner they're there to cheer for. You might not always have someone waiting along the course for you, but when you do it's the best feeling in the world! (My whole family came out to support me during the Omaha Marathon, which was so, so incredible for me!)
- Stretch and walk. I usually forget this one because it's so easy to get wrapped up in the excitement. The race in Lincoln is great because it finishes on the football field at Memorial Stadium. Runners are then allowed to hang out on the field, so there is plenty of space to stretch out while still being able to cheer on the racers coming in. Which brings me to my next point...
- Cheer on other runners. I think it's really fun to watch people cross the finish line. You'll see faces full of determination, joy, pain, pride, and disbelief. You'll see proud family members snapping photos and loved one getting big, sweaty hugs. It's such an exciting and emotional experience!
- Hydrate & fuel. Find water. Find food. They'll most likely be within arms reach of the finish line. And then go out for your favorite meal to celebrate.
- Take photos! You might not always be able to get pictures while running, but you can definitely get some after. I love looking back at the photos of my brother and me after our first marathon, with my family after they came out to cheer me on, and with Kate, my all-time cheerleader. I love seeing how happy and proud racing makes me!
- Bask in post-race glory. Smile, give hugs, be proud of yourself. Enjoy your accomplishment!
- Record all of your thoughts as soon as you can. I learn a lot from looking back through my running logs, and race recaps are no exception. I like to write down what parts were tough and how I got through them, what I did or did not like about the race course and organization, what the weather was like, what went wrong, etc.
- Register for your next race!