The training is done, you’ve nailed the taper and all that is left is race day. Fast Running asked a handful of marathon experts for their last minute advice.
This afternoon should be a time to relax and prepare mentally for the task awaiting you in the morning. It is often said all the hard work is done, but there are still ways to hamper your chances for tomorrow. We asked some of the best marathon minds around on how they manage race day and what advice they could share.
Below are tips from a 2:09 marathoner, this year’s Manchester marathon winner, England and GB internationals, top marathon coaches and a pastry expert from Sussex who ran 2:18 at Brighton already this year.
Don’t get over excited
We all hear it, everyone tells you not to start too quickly. Easier said than done in the excitement of a big city marathon, but maybe the voices of those more experienced ringing in your ears might help out.
England’s 2:38 marathoner Dani Nimmock told us that “Despite how good you will feel in the early miles stay controlled and take on carbs so you can finish strong then brace yourself for the worst so when fatigue hits you’re prepared to fight through it!”
With a 2:28 marathon Sonia Samuels is one of Great Britain’s best ever and has an excellent record of running well over the marathon distance. “After a taper week or two your legs will feel raring to go” suggests Samuels, “but stick to your race plan and pace, resisting the temptation to push too early. Be ready to push at 20 miles!”
Don’t get carried away downhill
The slightly downhill early miles of the London Marathon are mentioned by both 2:09 marathoner and former London winner Mike Gratton, as well as recent 2:18 man Paul Navesey. Other races have fast starts too and it might be tempting to “bank” some time for the second half but coach Gratton highlighted that “in London, even effort might mean a slightly faster first four miles as it is overall down hill, but then it is important to get into a groove at goal pace.”
Crawley AC’s Navesey says to “accept the easier miles earlier on and save the extra energy for the final push after 20 miles.” Several mention the importance of being strong later on in the race with Gratton saying “getting the pace right will have the psychological advantage of passing fast starters from 18 miles on.”
Coach of the AB Training group Allison Benton goes beyond the controlled start and suggests to “know your honest, true target pace” and then “stick closely to that pace for at least the first 18 miles, no matter how easy it feels.”
Winchester AC’s Louise Damen speaks from experience when she says ” as you have tapered, carbo-loaded and are full of race day adrenaline, it’s all too easy to run the first 10km or so too fast.” The 2:30 marathoner insists “don’t fall into the trap of trying to ‘bank’ time earlier on as you will burn through your glycogen stores at a quicker rate and this could make the final few miles pretty challenging”.
I can still hear the words of coach Tom Craggs ringing in my ears when my watch pinged a 5:20 mile at the start of the Valencia marathon. “Start easy, you’ll feel good but don’t get carried away”. That made the last few miles a lot harder work than they needed to be.
Adapt to the race in front of you
As discussed by myself in a recent article, you need to run the race you’re in. Don’t get too caught up worrying about last year’s times, that your club mate is ahead of you or where “Bob from the track” thinks you should be at mile seven. Focus internally on your own effort and do the best you can on the day.
Benton, coach to a host of strong marathoners like Navesey, England’s James Westlake and Kevin Rojas, reminds us to “adapt the target pace in advance based on the expected weather – be honest and ruthless about the impact of heat,” and don’t calculate your gaol pace on “‘what you think you can do because the crowds will inspire me'”.
RELATED: Run the race you’re in
“Focus on your own race. Dont worry about what the others around you are doing.” is sage advice from Great Britain’s Aly Dixon. “Theres always going to be other people going through good patches and bad patches so don’t run your race by them. Do what YOU need to do.” The 2:29 marathoner should know, having raced in championships across the globe and having just finished 16th at the tough Boston Marathon.
Fight and smile to the finish
There’s no hiding it, the final miles can be tough, but prepare yourself for them. If you race well, pace sensibly early on and fuel well then those final few miles can be a glorious series of overtaking manoeuvres to a personal best.
“The race really starts at 20 miles so keep your powder dry until that point and then push on” says 2:16 Lincoln Wellington man Aaron Scott. “Trust your training and don’t be held back by any pre-conceived time limits.”
Recent Manchester marathon winner Jenny Spink tells us “in the last 10km, when it’s feeling tough, imagine a training run route that you have done time and again and tell yourself that you can do this.”.
This is backed up by Professor Andy Lane of Birmingham University. The celebrated sports psychologist suggests “focus a mental loop on the runners feet ahead of you; imagine they are running your feet.” Not sure what Eluid Kipchoge should do about that though?
“For many runners it’s the relationship wth fatigue and anxiety. Both are normal feelings for a marathon as the goalie challenging,” continues the academic. “Accept that fatigue is not negative, but how it should feel.” Know that everyone is feeling that fatigue and you’re just going to cope with it better than those around you, you will excel when it gets tough.
Bristol & West’s Spink uses distraction techniques when it’s tough.
She adds: “This could be saying names of loved ones over and over in your head or focusing on trying to overtake someone just ahead or getting to the next landmark.”
If you break down the task at hand, just dealing with one mile, one kilometre, one lamppost at a time, then it makes it more manageable chunks for your mind to work with. Even one step at a time if need be.
Enjoy the day
Last, but not least, enjoy the day. This is what all the early mornings, hard miles and tired legs have been for. Make sure that when you are on that start line you look around and wish those around you the best. You are all united by one goal of doing your best over 26.2 miles. It’s fun, I promise.
If it gets tough later on, then smile. Science has even told us that smiling helps, but you don’t need science to put a big grin across your face. Embrace your inner Cheshire cat and smile to those cheering from the side lines. Feel the energy of the crowd and use it when you really need it. Control those emotions early on, but don’t be afraid to let them push you on to the final few miles.
“Dare to believe. You have done the hard work, believe that you can do it!” is Jenny Spinks’s final piece of excellent advice.
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