Before the race:
1. Do eat more protein.
You need protein to repair muscles after training to make you stronger for your next run. After each training run chug down a pint of milk or a protein shake. You can also get protein from food like chicken, fish etc, but a shake is a lot easier when you’re knackered. I always have a protein shake waiting for me in my bag at the end and it can make a big difference in my recover after the race.
2. Don’t lose weight in order to go faster.
Some people are tempted to shed a few extra pounds in the last couple of weeks in order to have less weight to carry around the course. Don’t! Any extra speed gained by being lighter would be negligible, however, you’ll risk significantly dehydrating yourself and reducing your strength, energy and glycogen stores, making the whole thing much harder and slower.
3. Run like a clock.
If possible, run at the same time of day as the start of your marathon. This way, your body’s rhythms–including the all-important bathroom routine–will be in sync with marathon needs come race day. The more times you can do this, the better, but shoot for at least the last three days before the race.
4. Set two goals.
“Review your training and set one goal for a good race day, and another as a backup plan in case it’s hot or windy or you’re just not feeling great,” Rodgers recommends. “So many things can go wrong in a marathon that you need that secondary goal to stay motivated if things aren’t perfect, which they seldom are.”
Your primary goal is the one you’ve been working toward during your buildup, whether it’s a personal best, qualifying for Boston, or breaking five hours. Your secondary goal should keep you motivated at the 22-mile mark on a bad day: finishing in the top 50 percent, slowing only 10 minutes over the second half, or just reaching the darn finish line.
5. See success.
On several nights before going to bed, or first thing in the morning, visualize yourself crossing the finish line as the clock shows a new personal best. Before the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials, where Wells placed seventh, she replayed positive mental images before falling asleep at night. “I knew the course we would be running, and I’d see myself out on it running well,” she says. “There’s a hill in the 25th mile, and I’d say to myself, ’Okay, get up that hill, and then run strong to the finish.’”
During the race:
6. Talk to yourself.
At around mile 23, says Arthur, “my head grasps the fact that I am actually going to finish. Yes, I’m really tired, but I tell myself, ’I will finish somehow, some way.’ I say this to myself over and over and it helps me recognize that the pain is just temporary.” And, as we all know, pride is forever.
7. Think laps, not miles.
“Instead of obsessing about each of the 26 miles, I look at each three-mile segment as a lap,” says Dowling. “That makes it more manageable mentally. To concentrate on every mile would be like paying attention to the odometer throughout a five-hour drive.”
“To take my mind off the big task ahead, I sing songs in my head,” says Jean Arthur, a 3:21 marathoner and former president of the Montgomery County Road Runners Club in Maryland. “I pick a song and try to sing it from start to finish. Usually I don’t know all the words, so I sing it and I try to figure out what the artist is saying.”
Arthur also becomes an on-the-run mathematician. “I calculate exactly what percentage of the race I have done,” she says. “That’s good for me in two ways: First, it occupies my mind, and second, I love the point at which I can tell myself I’ve done more than 50 percent, because at that point, I figure I can’t quit.”
9. Don’t drink too much water.
On the day you absolutely need to keep hydrated, but if you’re constantly drinking water you’ll only need the loo which, because you have to stop and lose momentum, you’re likely to get jelly legs afterwards and obviously having to stop means you’ll be delayed getting to the finish line.
10. Do enjoy the race!
All the hard work is done. All that running in the cold and dark is behind you. You’ve put in the miles, now you just have to have a blast.