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Race day success planner

21st April
by Martin Yelling

Race morning.

Everything always takes longer than you think so allow extra time. Get up 30 minutes earlier than you think you should. Have breakfast but don’t go crazy. 2-3hrs before the race and include carbohydrate, nothing new, and adequate fluids to start the race appropriately hydrated.  There is no need to over drink. Remember all you kit!  Race number, timing chip, socks, shorts, vest and running shoes as priority. Take warm disposable kit for the start.  Don’t overdress.  Dress for halfway and further. You’ll regret lobbing your new Gortex jacket if you’re way too hot at mile 8.

The Start

Think of the first part of your race as the start area.  It’s vital to know your way around.  Know where your baggage truck is and where your start area and starting pen is. Once on the start line you will spend quite some time standing very closely to fellow runners in your starting pen. You are likely to feel very nervous at this time. Take a few minutes to calm yourself and reflect on all your positive moments in training and racing.  It’s natural to feel nervous on the start line.  You’ll be toeing it with 1000’s of other runners all as apprehensive as you. Stand confidently on the start line and reflect on how far you’ve come in your marathon journey.

The first few miles.

Once the gun actually goes and the race starts it may be at least 15mins or more before some of you cross over the start line if you’re stood in one of the rear start pens.  If you’re one of the front pens be ready to control your pace. Once the race is underway and you start moving forwards use this time to stay calm and relaxed and don’t worry. Your timing chip will not be activated until you cross the start line.

Start your own watch when you cross the start line and not when the gun goes.  That way you’ll be able to keep a track of your actual run time throughout the race.  This is vital to control your pace as the race unfolds. Be patient. Perhaps the most common mistake made by novice (and even experienced marathon runners) is that they start too fast.  Your first few miles should feel easy.

Your pace at the start of the race directly impacts upon your pace at the finish of the race. Give yourself the best chance to run the second strongly by starting off at your planned pace.  It should feel controlled and easy.  Runners around you might be moving faster than you but stick to your pace plan. In the first mile you will likely be running very close to other runners and may find it hard to get into your running stride.  Just relax and don’t waste energy weaving through people.

 Settle in.

Know your mile 1 and mile 3 splits and have a personal pace checkpoint at both of these points.  Allow you pace, breathing and stride pattern to settle down.  Just tick the first few miles of the race off in a consistent, metronomic style.  Use as little energy as you can as the race unfolds.  Feel yourself get into your running.  Once you’ve got the first few miles under your belt you’ll ease into things, the nerves will pass and you’ll find yourself flowing and ready to tackle the distance.

 Energy and fluids

You’ll have made your energy and fluids decisions and worked out your strategy before the race.  Will you use what is available on course or take your own gels or similar?  Either way, there’s no need to stop at the first water / drinks station on course and neck everything available! If you’re adequately hydrated pre-race it doesn’t matter if you skip the frenzy of the first stationFocus on your own strategy and drink to thirst, take energy on board in the first half of the race to keep you strong in the second.

When you do reach an aid station you don’t need to rush for the first person that offers you a drink.  Take your time and stay relaxed.  In bigger races there are many helpers passing you a drink and an aid station may stretch for 50 – 100 metres. Often the people towards the middle and back of the aid stations have more space and grabbing a drink is easier.  Be patient once you have your drink.  Carry it with you and sip it for a while.

 Reach halfway cruising

Before race day review the route and course and know how it’s going to unfold.  Break it up into landmarks, features on route, mile markers, points of interest, or where family of friends will be stood cheering.  Once you go through mile 8 celebrate the fact that you’ll have covered the first 3rd of the race.  This is a great milestone and one to be proud of.  This first 3rd of the marathon is so important.  It can really set you up for the all important middle and final thirds of the race.  At this point you should still be feeling comfortable and in control. One of your key marker points and stepping-stones for your finish is the halfway point.  Hit cruise control for the middle third of the race.  Your goal is to reach half way (13.1miles) feeling as fresh as you can and really ready to tackle the second half.Your marathon really begins here.

Off pace, don’t panic.

It’s really important to be disciplined and controlled but it doesn’t always go to plan. What happens if you feel good but are minutes down on your target time at halfway? Don’t try and play catch up and smash out the next couple of miles to pull yourself quickly back on track.  The best marathons are run with even splits and pacing throughout the entire race so take your time to claw back those valuable seconds mile by mile as the second half progress. This is also a good time to pay extra attention to relaxing as you progress from miles 13 to 16. Focus on you and how you’re feeling.  Tune in to your body. Take time to relax, run smoothly and enjoy the moment and what you are achieving.  Remind yourself how far you’ve come on your journey.  Think about how you started your marathon campaign and enjoy the fact that this is it.  You are doing it. Compose yourself and get yourself ready for the final third of the race – without doubt the toughest part.

The final push.

Marathons are won or lost in the final miles and so you need to be physically and mentally braced for the battle with yourself that lies ahead.  Although your effort level will be higher, your fatigue greater and the pain more intense you’ve got to keep moving and keep striving to hold your even pace. This is the part of the marathon that physically and psychologically can be very tough.  The roads seem long, the surface hard and the finish still some way off.  You really have to dig deep.

No room for negatives.

Everyone experiences tough moments in a marathon.  It’s how you respond and react to them that make or break your day. From mile 19 onwards there’s no room for negative thoughts.   The choices you make when it hurts to focus and keep moving will help you believe you can achieve anything.  Think beyond your limits and expectations and never stop moving forwards. When you’re feeling rough and questioning if you can do it remind yourself of you far you’ve come.  Boost your confidence to achieve by thinking back to some of your best training runs and remember how well they went.  Lock into that feeling of success and keep running.

At points in the race everything is going to hurt and you are going to want to stop.  At times like these draw on your reason for running. What’s the personal reason that you going to complete the marathon?  What drives you?  What got you out training on cold winter nights? Whatever your reason, never give up until you reach the finish line! Try dedicating each mile in the final 5 to someone who has helped you on your marathon journey.  As you cover the mile run it with them in mind.  Never, ever, ever give up.

The Wall?

Runners struggle in the later stages of the marathon typically because they’ve got something wrong.  They either haven’t trained adequately or appropriately for the demands of the event, have started off way too fast and failed to distribute their effort economically and effectively throughout the entire race, have failed to be sufficiently fuelled and hydrated before and during the marathon and run out of energy, or a combination of these.  The best way to avoid the wall is to prepare for it not to be there.  If on the day however you do find yourself significantly struggling in the later stages you’ll need to slow down. (You’ll probably have no choice). Drop your pace, allow yourself to find a new rhythm and get things under control.  This might mean walking.  Get some fluids and fuel (energy gels, sports drinks, anything you can get your hands on!) on board and continue putting one front in front of the other until you reach the finish line.

Celebrate in style.

Before you know it the finish line will be in sight.  Compose yourself.  This is it.  Run tall.  Run strong.  Smile. Lift your spirits for the final push across the line.  Raise you arms and celebrate your personal marathon success.

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  • cheryl
    on April 25, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I don’t “do” races anymore that take me 15 min to get across the start line….glad I ran my marathons back in the days where there were fewer people and most were done by 4 hours and not 6.

  • Tom Purves
    on April 21, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    That’s helped calm my nerves, some nice tips. Thanks

  • royston
    on April 21, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    I shall be taking these comments with me on sunday,. Run Tall Run Proud, Nice article.