First Marathon Series Part 7: Race Day

It’s finally here!

It’s race day! Much like with the taper, now is a time to be rewarded, but is often a time for anxiety. You had a training plan and it got you to the starting line of the race. Now, having a plan for the race will get you through the finish line. Let’s talk about the top areas I see with athletes.

First, the question of following a pace group, or not?

I am always on the fence about this. It’s a situation where a pacer is usually volunteering their time and doing this to help you succeed. You always want to be grateful for that help. However, I have seen so many times where a pacer tries to “put time in the bank” over the first half and fade into the goal time. Or, since it’s sometimes it’s not a pace that the pacer is used to, they have a tough time being consistent with pacing. Given those concerns, a pace group can be an invaluable resource to you.

The key is, to not just blindly follow the group for the first half.

Use your pacing skills that you have acquired through training. Use your GPS and give yourself a buffer of 5-10 seconds either way, per mile. If the group is gone in the first few miles, don’t worry. Trust yourself and follow the plan. They will be back- rather, they’ll be fading and you’ll be maintaining or surging. If you are in between pace groups, start with the slower group and see if you can work up to the faster group over the second half of the race (or really the last 10k). Having this motivation will help keep you in the fight, keep your brain thinking, and keep motivation higher.

Another question I get is if they should warm up, or not?

Ultimately, you don’t want to start any race “cold,” but you also have to be conservative with your fuel sources. After all, you are running 26.2 miles already. In Hansons First Marathon: Stepping up to 26.2 the Hansons way, I go into specific ideas based on time goals, but the following is the basic idea: The faster you are, the more thought you will want to put into the warm up. In general, I would say that you’d want to at least some sort of dynamic warm up. Things like leg swings, bodyweight squats, lunges, and arm swings. Those really looking to compete, I recommend more- up to 10 minutes of jogging, dynamic warm up, and strides. However, practicality will really dictate what you can do. Those waiting around in a corral won’t have the luxury of jogging around for 10 minutes. However, doing bodyweight squats may be an option. In really big races, you might have to use your walk up to the start line as your warmup.

Third, having a fueling plan is crucial.

At this point, you should be really familiar with what you are going to do for fuel. Whether you rely on things like gels, chews, or self supplied fluids versus what the race is going to provide should already be decided. You should have already been practicing with whatever it is you are going to be using. Chances are, the first timer will rely on what the race will provide. When I first started running marathons, races tended to have one gel station and that was late in the race. Now, more and more races are realizing that this is a futile practice and are providing more stations earlier on. This is a great thing!

Waiting until mile 18-20 to take fuel is like trying to use a garden hose to put out a house fire.

Too little too late. Practice with your calorie sources during training and use throughout the race at regular intervals. The moral of the story- start early, stay regular. Plus, I think this gives you something to put some focus on later in the race as everything begins to get tougher.

Lastly, let’s talk about strategy itself.

Originally, I was going to talk about this and then the idea of expecting the race to get tough. However, these go hand in hand, especially as we talk about the second half of the race. I always like the idea of starting big and then working small in a marathon. Otherwise, we tend to scare the heck out of ourselves. So, what do I mean by that? I’ll use myself as an example. Like you, I look at a pace sometimes and wonder how the heck I am going to maintain that the entire way? The idea is simply frightening. So, what I do is back it up to a distance where I know I can run that pace for. We always did the infamous “simulator” workout that would end up being about 16 miles at goal marathon pace, so that would be where I started. I knew I could get to 16 miles. Then I would analyze how I felt on that day. So, maybe I would feel like I could have went another 2-3 miles that day. That would put me at about 19 miles. Then, I would think about how much the taper would add on to that, so I’d say another few miles. That’d put me at about 23-24 miles. Then it was going to come down to how well I executed the race plan, nutrition, and grit.

This leads me to the last part- it is going to get tough.

Expect it to get tough. Accept that it is going to get really hard!

Those last few miles might take a lot of mental fortitude (to quote my college track coach). If you know it is going to happen, but you also know that everyone else is going through the same thing, then it makes it a lot easier to deal with. At that point it’s less about the training you’ve done, but how well you can accept the discomfort and maintain. That’s the point where you might only be thinking about getting to the next stoplight or the next block. Pick a landmark or a group of runners and focus on getting to it. It may be a time where it feels like you have a long ways to go, so focus on how far you’ve run, not how far you still have to do.

Whew, so I don’t want to end this on a downer, but I think it’s super important to put that on the table. One of the reasons you decided to run a marathon was because it was going to be an incredible challenge. Crossing that finish line will provide you with such a sense of accomplishment! You’ll now be a marathoner and that is such an incredible accomplishment! I can’t wait to hear when you join the club! I wish you the best with your training.