If you’re running a marathon, you’ve probably spent 12 to 16 weeks (or even longer) training to get to the starting line. But traveling to the marathon city and arriving at you hotel isn’t the final piece of your preparation. “You can really blow your race the last two or three days before a marathon,” says Andrew Kastor, the head coach of the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and husband and advisor of two-time U.S. Olympian Deena Kastor. Here are a few of Andrew Kastor’s quick tips on how to get to the starting line of your marathon healthy, hydrated and well-rested.
Rest. “I tell my athletes that if they don’t have bedsores by the time you get to the starting line, you didn’t rest enough,” Kastor jokes. “After you pick up your race bib at the expo, lay low and get off your feet. Conserve your glycogen and keep hydrating, but just take it easy.” Just don’t spend your free time shopping or sightseeing. “Stay off your feet,” he says. “If you can, budget two or three days afterward for those things.”
Hydrate often. Sip on a bottle of water or a tiny bit of sports drink or electrolyte supplement. “You want to bring your electrolyte levels up and top them off for the next two days,” he says. “Carry a bottle around with you and nurse it from time to time.”
Eat smart. Eat the foods you’ve been eating during training on the night before the race. “Don’t eat anything new,” he says. “Your meals should be carb-focused, but it’s more about replicating what you’ve been doing in your training program.”
Don’t try anything new. If you’re going to the expo, don’t buy anything new that you’ve never used before and expect to use it in the race. “For example, if you’ve never worn compression socks, don’t wear them in the race,” he says. “It will be an irritant to your legs if you try to wear them on race day. No new gels or drinks, no new gear or clothes. Stick to what has worked so far.”
Jog easy. Do a light run on each of the days before the marathon. “Run 2 or 3 easy miles on Friday or Saturday morning before the race, preferably on soft surfaces,” he says. “You can get excited for the race and see the finish line and prepare mentally for it, but take it easy out there. Pay attention and be in the moment so you don’t make mistakes like falling off a curb or stepping in a pothole. When you’re out there running, remember to breathe deeply and relax and enjoy it.”
Know the course. Study the course map and match it up with your race strategy. “Familiarize yourself with the course, but don’t get too stressed about it,” Kastor says. “Break it into bite-size parts. For example, think of it as four 10K segments and take each of those segments one at a time.”
Stick to your plan. Stay on your goal pace as best possible, but realize that there will probably be a difference between your goal race pace and how you actually feel on race morning. “It might be that you run 20 seconds slower early on, but stick to your plan and don’t panic,” he says. “But back off if it feels like you’re running too fast. If it feels like you’re going too fast, you probably are.”
Run on cruise control. Do a mental check during the early miles and midway through the race. “You should feel relatively comfortable up until mile 18,” he says. “You should be able to get to that point comfortably, then you have to go to work and see how tough you are. At that point, it’s all about what you have left.”
Mind your recovery. Make sure you eat and drink well in the hours after your race. “The easiest thing you can do to start your recovery is drink a lot of water or electrolyte drinks and eat a really good sensible meal,” he says. If you’ve been cutting out certain type so foods, it’s OK to splurge and treat yourself to those if you want, just be sure to take in a good amount of protein. “You do a lot of muscle damage during the race, especially with the downhills,” he says. “Your quads and calves will be really sore. Try to put your feet up and let the lactic acid drain out of your legs and help the free radicals get out of your system.” If you don’t have another race planned within the month after your marathon, you can get away with not doing much about recovery and spend a day or two walking around the city going to museums and shopping, he concedes, but whatever you can do to start the recovery process will help.