While training for a marathon (or half marathon) most people tend to focus on the mileage and pay no attention to other details that a runner needs to be aware of on race day. Well, with 6 weeks to go until the Chicago Marathon many of you have or will be peaking on your long run, the infamous 20 miler. These runs take time and push you physically as well as mentally, but they also give you the opportunity to prepare for something else, or in reality, all of the "other things" that you will have to do on race day. Such as: 1. What will your meal be the night before? 2. What will your pre race meal be? 3. What do you plan to wear during the race? 4. What will your hydration strategy be? 5. Do you plan to use gel, Gu, beans, or something else during the race? These all may seem a little silly or not something that you would need to worry about now, but they all have the ability to effect how you perform on race day. The biggest piece of advice that I can give you, and I am sure you have heard it before, don’t try anything new on race day that you have not done in training. I know I‘ve learned the hard way a time or two, and now is a great time in your training to focus on it. Personally, I am a pasta guy the night before a race. You may have read that "carb loading" is a bit of a myth, and I am not about to tell you differently, but I am a creature of habit and I know what works for me. The morning of the race, I typically eat a bagel, a Clif Bar or two, maybe a banana or raisins, and a Gatorade. I also tend to be a guy that needs the fuel, so I may eat a little more than average, so I also know I need the time to eat and digest before the race begins. The reason that this is important is that last thing you want to experience the morning of the race is stomach issues before the race or cramps during the race. If you have a normal routine, great, stick to it, but as the mileage increases you maybe temped to try something new. If you are going to do that now is the time, not on race day.
Hydration is just as important during training as on race day. Everything I have always read says to drink early and often. A couple of things to consider at this point: 1. Do you prefer water or a sports drink? 2. What kind of sports drink will the race supply? 3. Where will the water/aid stations be on the course? I went though a phase where I would only drink water, and then on race day I drank Gatorade and ended up with an upset stomach, so I learned my lesson there. I would recommend determining what kind of sport drink the race is going to serve and drink that during training. I would also recommend the sports drink over water as it will replace the nutrients that you body will use over the course of the marathon. Knowing the intervals of the water stations along the course will allow you to practice drinking at those intervals during training as to not be surprised on race day.
Your on going energy (fuel) needs is also something that needs to be considered. Have you been training with gels or beans, do they work, can your stomach handle it, will you bring your own to the race? I had been training with Chocolate and Vanilla GU for the Green Bay Marathon, and I also knew that the water stations were every mile and a half, so during training I would drink every mile and a half and take a GU every hour. Then on race day, I brought my own GU with me (not wanting to experiment with other flavors) and took one every fourth water stop.
As goofy as it sounds, you also need to prepare for what you are going to wear on race day, wear the same clothes on a training run. The last thing you want to do is bust out a new shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, etc. and then find out by mile 5 that something rubs the wrong way and you have 21 miles to deal with the chafing, or a blister. Speaking of chafing and blisters, this is also a good time to determine if you are going to use Body Glide (or similar) and where you need to put it. With chafing and blisters, it is better safe than sorry! What works for me may not work for you, as each of our bodies are different and react differently to different things. I have learned what does and doesn’t work for me and my body. I would encourage you to use this time in the training to practice for race day so you have an idea how your body will react. You are going to be nervous, and a comfort level with something that you can control will give you fewer things to worry about. This practice/experimentation is designed to allow you to know what works for you to maximize your race experience and allow all the hard work that you have put in to drive the results and not something that could have been prevented.
A common theme in the next several weeks is going to be about having a plan on race day, as my dad used to say, "failing to plan is planning to fail", so consider these ideas as you go into your long (or shorter) training runs over the next couple weeks.