Whether you are racing a half or full marathon it is critical that you have a plan for race day. As you gear up for your big day there are several important topics that will help you prepare for race day. You’ll need to think about fueling and resting the week/weeks prior to your race. What all will you take with you to the race on the big day? What will you eat and drink before, during and after your race. What time will you wake up for your race? Where will your friends and family need to be to cheer you on and then meet you after the finish? What will you think about during your race to help you reach your goals?
Phase 1: Find your rhythm From the gun I like to get myself mentally focused on the miles ahead. I stay relaxed and settle into a good rhythm. My goal here is to take a bit of a mental inventory. Are my shoulders & face relaxed? Eyes up? Are my arms loose and driving straight, or am I crossing my torso wasting precious energy? Note that everything I am mentioning here is above the waist. You’ve put in months of work. Trust that your legs will respond. If you can focus on everything from the waist up, the legs are sure to follow.
Phase 2: Cruise For a half marathon this is typically miles three through 8 for me, in a marathon it is ideally miles four through 18 or 20. Making any unnecessary pushes in this phase is sure to set you up for disappointment. In half marathons I am very good at this. However, in my marathon in June I got impatient and pushed too hard around miles 15 through 17. This is a common mistake for many. You feel good after the half-way point and think, “why not, let’s go for it!?” Don’t do this. Hold in your cruise mode until you have less than a third or fourth of your race left. Stay relaxed. Remember that whether you’re running a half or full, you still have a lot of miles to go. Sing a song to yourself. Count backwards. Enjoy the scenery around you. Whatever it takes to keep yourself relaxed and not pushing the needle any further than necessary. At this point, the key is to avoid burning up too much fuel. Go too fast and the fuel will run out too quickly. Slow down and you’ll be forcing your body to continue providing fuel for a longer period of time.
Phase 3: Push to the finish With about a quarter of the race to go I like to get myself geared up for the finish. I certainly don’t start kicking into the finish with several miles to go, but I am taking another mental inventory. Ask yourself some of the same questions as earlier… Are my shoulders & face relaxed? Eyes up? Are my arms loose and driving straight, or am I crossing my torso wasting precious energy? At this point I will also take my legs into consideration. My level of fatigue determines if I feel capable of pushing for two, three, five or however many miles. This is typically a conclusion that is easy to come to. If you’re feeling strong, begin a gradual acceleration to the finish. Feeling a little worse for wear, simply maintain. Listen to your body and be smart. A push too soon will leave you struggling to the finish. Pushing the needle just a bit though can lead you to the best race of your life. One you see the finish and the clock ahead of you, it’s full speed ahead. At this point, find every ounce of energy you have left and finish strong. Whether that is a speedy walk or a fast as lightning sprint to the finish you won’t want to disappoint the thousands of spectators who have come to see YOU finish!