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Katherine Hopper: Moving Beyond Race-Day Blunders

-I stopped to call for a ride home around mile 19 of my first marathon.

-I ended up in the finish-line medical tent twice.

-I left my bib at home on race day.

The list goes on. I’ve made plenty of marathon race day blunders. Logging hundreds of miles didn’t prepare me for the mental battle that I experienced during my first marathon. The more marathons I run (six so far, including the Boston Marathon in 2013 and 2014), the more lessons I learn, and I don’t expect to stop growing from my mistakes anytime soon.

Here’s a guide to help you avoid some of the mistakes that I’ve made:

Create Multiple Goals

You never know what’s going to happen on race day. You can have a perfect training season, only to find yourself struggling right from the starting line. A twinge in your leg may have crept up during taper time, there may be a monsoon watch in effect, or you may get a GI bug on race day. As you near your race, set up multiple goals for yourself to account for race day uncertainties.

During my first marathon, I failed to do this and set one single time goal, to run a 3:35 and qualify for Boston. At mile 19 when I realized I wasn’t going to meet my goal, I mentally checked out and borrowed a friend’s cell phone to call for a ride home. Thankfully I came to my senses and finished the race, but it could have been a much better experience if I’d had at least a couple backup goals planned.

An example of setting multiple goals would be to: 1) finish the race 2) finish the race without walking 3) finish the race in under 4 hours and 30 minutes and 4) reach your dream goal of qualifying for Boston.

Pace Yourself

As soon as I crossed the starting line of my first marathon, the roar of the crowds and the freshness of my legs from tapering made me feel invincible. I was running alongside a pace team, cruising 20 seconds per mile faster than my goal marathon pace. Instead of listening to my better judgment and slowing down, I ended up burning out by mile 19.

For at least the first five miles of your race, stay at a pace slower than your goal marathon pace. Pick up your speed later if you’re feeling good, but don’t try to “bank” speed during the first portion of the race.

Set Your Stuff Out

Start preparing your marathon outfit, accessories, and nutrition well in advance of the race. I learned this lesson the hard way when I forgot my bib at home, the morning of a race. Fortunately it was a local race so I was able to swoop back by my house to get my bib in the nick of time. I like to set everything out at least two nights in advance of the big day. If I’m traveling to a destination race, I start planning and gathering a week in advance.