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Running Your First Marathon
Congratulations fellow runner. You have been hammering out the miles in training and are ready to tackle your first marathon…26.2 miles. Here is what you should consider for Marathon Day.
Your Marathon Day starts 24 hours before your expected finish time. Why finish time…because Marathon day is about achieving your fundamental goal of ‘completing’ a Marathon, not starting one.
Unless you are an elite or intermediate runner, most 1st time marathon participants probably will be completing their first Marathon in over 4 hours. Based on your training miles pace, figure out how long it will take you to complete your run…say in your case you believe you will finish in 4 hours 30 minutes (about a 10:15 per mile pace). Add that time to the race’s start time (8:00 AM for example) and your finish will occur just after noon at 12:30 PM.
Now let’s work back 24 hours from that time.
In the afternoon of the day before, whether you are working, traveling to the event city or just sitting home getting psyched or nervous (probably both), you need to:
1.) Conserve your energy
2.) Eat and drink properly
3.) Get your gear together
Here is how to address all of the above.
The Day Before Starting at 12:30 PM
Conserve Your Energy
Since it is impossible to cram for a race, do not even think about going to the gym or taking a short run. You are now as physically fit as you can be. You can go for a short slow walk and do some light stretching, but that’s about it. A physical day should be avoided. If your job is physical or strenuous, and you can not take the day off, try to pace yourself and optimize your break times.
To help you relax, a very easy massage or sort warm whirlpool soak might be helpful, but do not overdue it.
Try to stay off your feet as much a possible from this point. Remember, on race morning you will likely be on your feet from up to one (1) hour before the race and over four (4)
hours during the race.
Go to bed an hour earlier this night. Set your alarm to awaken in time to take a warm shower (optional), dress, eat, toilet, travel to the event, register (although most Marathons operate on a pre-registration basis) and get to your starting position. You should plan on getting to the Marathon site at least one (1) hour before the gun goes off
Eat and Drink Properly
There are many philosophies on pre-race day meals/liquids. Whatever you have been eating and drinking to get you to this day has probably worked well enough. Eat and drink your normal daily training diet with a focus on consuming a bit more carbohydrates and hydrating yourself.
You may have heard that a pasta dinner and perhaps a glass of beer is the way to go. No problem; however, keep in mind one thing…the day before and during the Marathon is not a time to experiment with anything new! Whether it is food, drink or equipment, this is not the time to surprise your body.
Get Your Gear Together
Research the weather conditions for race day. Determine the starting time and ending time temperatures. Understand the wind and precipitation conditions. Weather factors will influence proper dress. You don not want to get too warm or be cold throughout the race. Review your training runs, especially your 20 miler, to assess comfortable clothes.
Awakening at the crack of dawn on race day and realizing that your running shirts and shorts stink, stinks! Marathon Day is a business meeting with your mind and body. PPPPPP, Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Prepare your gear the night before.
At the conclusion of this hub, I will identify a list some Marathon Day Equipment that you should pack the night before. Then on race day all you have to do is dress into your race day shirt with number already pinned on (if pre-registered), shorts (with pockets), your back-up running shoes/socks and ‘disposable’ warm-up gear. You should also attach to your racing shoes the timing chip which came in the pre-registration packet. (These racing shoes and other necessary gear, snacks will be in your Marathon Day Equipment Pack).
You have three 3 chunks of responsibility on Race Day:
1.) Getting Up and Getting Going
2.) Arriving at the Event
3.) Running and Finishing the Marathon.
Getting Up and Getting Going
At the sound of your alarm, get out of bed immediately…no snooze setting today. My guess is that you will be lying in bed awake anyway. Getting up early for the Marathon is like getting up early for a flight. Somehow sound sleeping is not meant to be on these occasions.
Hit the bathroom and then get dressed…into your race day shorts (with pockets), shirt (number previously pinned on), socks, back-up race shoes and ‘disposable’ warm-ups (I will explain shortly). Put on your watch.
Then, for many folks, this is the hard part…eating breakfast…especially if it is 5:00 AM. Race day meals are as varied as people’s personalities. Focus again on carbs, maybe some cereal (with 2% or skim milk), or an egg, or a pancake and liquids. Many drink a cup of coffee to jump start their metabolism. Energy bars are also a good idea, so are bananas. Remember that you still have several of hours before the race starts, so you need to fuel your body for the next 6 to 8 hours. You may prefer to spread out breakfast over the drive to the event … whatever works for you. Just remember to comfortably fuel yourself and not stuff yourself.
Now go back to the toilet if necessary. Then grab your Marathon Equipment Pack, cell phone, ID, keys, some cash (parking, registration fee etc.) and get going.
At the Event
Park as close to the starting line as possible. Usually the Port-o-Potties are nearby and your vehicle will provide comfort (and a place to relax) until it’s line-up time.
Note: If you are staying in a hotel the night before the race, and walking/bus/cab/train to the starting line, your logistics are much different than driving on race day. Be sure you have scoped out your race day journey to the starting line, figured out your hotel check out process and found some level of shelter at the starting area in case of bad weather. You will also need to figure out where to stow your Marathon Equipment Pack
At some events there are bag check areas. Read your race information packet to determine if these are available for your event and determine if it is necessary for you to check any gear. You may see a bag check area if parking is remote from the starting line/finish line.
After you have arrived, go register if not already pre-registered; take a walk around to loosen up, stretch, use the potty, eat an energy bar, sip a liquid and relax. If it is raining be sure to wear your plastic trash bag and cap. ( identified in the Marathon Day Equipment Pack at the conclusion of this hub). If it is chilly, be sure to wear your disposable warm-ups.
It is a good idea to check out the starting line set up. You may likely see pylons & signs indicating mileage pace times or overall expected finish times. Locate where you think you should start based on your finish time expectations. If your race number provides a Zone area where you should line up, go and find it.
After you have cased things out, go back to your car and initiate final dress preparation.
- To address possible chaffing, administer a skin lubricant to areas such as inner thighs, arm pits and breasts (especially for men). The nipples are subject to constant rubbing against the shirt and can chaff and bleed. Women’s sports bras usually prevent this condition...I am told. Men can also affix band-aids to their breasts. You may also want to apply a lip balm and sunscreen.
- Put on your actual racing socks and racing shoes (with timing chip affixed to the laces) and any other clothing you will require during the run (check the Marathon Day Equipment Pack). Double knot your racing shoes!
Then relax until the crowd begins to line-up.
Now here is a suggestion! It is likely you may have to use the toilet again. The potty lines will likely be very long the closer it gets to the race start. If you get in a potty line, you may not be able to make it to the starting line on time. So for you men, bring a pee jar. Conceal yourself in the car and do your duty. Ladies, if you have enough room in your car to contort over a pee pan, do so. You all will thank me for this advice. If a bowel movement is required, you can contort over a bucket with a plastic bag and seal it when complete. Bring t- paper and hand sanitizer. This latter suggestion should prompt you to hit the port-o-potty before the crowds! BTW, in this hub I am not referencing anything that I have not experienced nor have done!
Running the Marathon
You are now proceeding to the starting line. Based on the weather conditions you are still wearing your disposable warm-ups and or trash bag. This is a good time to do jog/stretch and warm up.
At the start, many will be talking to each other, join in. It will calm your nerves. You may be able to hear the public address announcements. Keep an eye on your watch to see the start time. About 5 minutes before the start, take off the disposable warm-ups and toss them to a friend (if one accompanies you to watch) or toss them to the side of the course. If you toss them aside, it is likely you will not see them again…that is why I recommend disposable warm-ups. On a cold day, you will be glad you wore them to the starting line.
As far as actual racing gear, remember to dress for the end of the race not the beginning. It is wise to wear extra t-shirts too. As your body heats up, these can be tossed away on the route. Do not toss away your race number. Most of these discarded clothes are often collected and given to charity.
BANG! You’re off. All the weeks of training have led to this moment. You will love it! The pace will start slowly due to the crowd. Eventually you will have worked your way to the official starting banner. You will probably see the race clock counting. Sometimes it takes several minutes or more to get to this point. The chip you are wearing on your shoe or a code inscribed on your number, affixed to the front of your shirt, is monitoring your actual race time. The mats at the starting line trigger the chips.
From this point forward you simply must keep running at your proper race, and nobody else’s. Please, please do not go out too fast! You must run within yourself and within the mile pace time in which you have trained.
To help you with your pace, you will likely see pace runners holding marathon finish time signs. (E.g. 3:45, 4:00, etc.) You may wish to run with them and then pace yourself accordingly.
As you run along keeping focused on your pace, enjoy the scenery. Keep an eye on your mile markers and your watch. As the aid stations appear, consider taking liquids consistent with your training runs. If energy bars and gel are provided, take them. You will likely see energy drinks and water at most mile markers. Try alternating them through out the run. Remember also to carry an energy bar or gel with you to supplement any course food. (Running shorts with pockets or a light fanny pack).
As you click off the miles you may be thinking about that expression of ‘hitting the wall’. It is a likely reality for most first time marathoners. Where and when it happens differs. For me it was mile 22-23. Since most people get to 20 miles in their last long training run, it figures that going beyond that distance would start to seriously fatigue us. Expect a ‘wall’ and mentally prepare yourself to deal with it. Walk a while, take a longer drink/energy food, jog-walk-run whatever it takes to push through to the finish. Focus on keeping your head up and erect, and breathe deeply. You will make it.
As you near the finish, the onlookers will help encourage you. You will hear the public address system. You will see the finish line in the distance and the clock. Keep pushing.
You will cross the finish line. As you do so, lift your head and smile. There will likely be a photographer taking your picture…to later sell you! And you will probably buy it!
Hope this commentary helps you. All the best!
Marathon Day Equipment Pack
Racing shoes with computer chip affixed. (Shoes should be broken in, not new)
Socks (previously worn, yes washed!)
Plastic trash bag (large lawn and leaf type)
Energy bars or gel
Bottle of water
Bottle of energy drink
Additional t-shirts (for extra warmth at start and dry clothes for end of race)
Additional warm-ups (in case you have disposed of the disposable ones)
Additional race shorts (with pocket)
Additional race shirt
Leg tights (in case weather is just too chilly for shorts)
Cap, head cover, head band
Gloves (light running type)
Jar with lid