This is it!
All the getting fitter is done and the race is just a few days away. Here are some tips on what to do in the run-up (ha ha) to the big day.
Or more accurately running less. As I mentioned last week, avoid hard sessions in the days before the race. It will feel weird and you'll almost certainly get inexplicable aches and pains and go a bit mad but if you can hang on for a few more days, you're home and dry.
By now you've probably heard of carbloading or carbo-loading. The basic premise is to eat lots of carbohydrates in the days before your marathon so you don't run out of fuel (stored in the body as glycogen) during the race and 'hit the wall'. As you might expect though, we are all different and not everyone hits the wall.
This article by Matt Fitzgerald explains the science behind it but the bottom line is it won't hurt to do it. What I would say is don't eat too much in your last meal before race day, or eat it too late. Being carbed-up is one thing; bloated and uncomfortable is another entirely.
Unless you're really lucky, you'll have to travel some distance to your race. Whether it's an hour or days away you should know your route to the start, what you need to do and when (do you need to be there the day before to collect your race number?), and have a back-up plan allowing extra time in case something goes wrong. En route to my first ultra marathon, the train I was delayed which meant I would have missed my connecting train if that hadn't also been late. As it was, I had to run a mile to the start just to get there in time - and extra miles were the last thing I wanted!
Also - and this might sound obvious - check when the race starts. Just because 'most' races begin at 9am doesn't mean this one will.
By now you should have what kit you're going to wear on race day sorted. It's an old adage but unless you're 100% sure it will work, don't try anything new on race day. Depending on the climate or weather, you may need different options so make sure you have them ready too. Get it all ready days in advance. It may seem unnecessary but it won't if you end up forgetting something. Race number? Sunglasses? Plasters? Energy gels?
The night the race you'll probably be nervous, excited and full of adrenaline so the likelihood is you won't get a great night's sleep. The trick therefore is to target the night before the night before (Friday if your race is on a Sunday) and get an early night then. Even if you don't get a good night's sleep the night before the race, it most likely won't affect your race day that much anyway.
Most marathons start in the morning, which means getting up early. Depending on your digestive tract, this may or may not play havoc with the timing of your morning visit to the porcelain palace. You can potentially bring the whole thing forward by eating earlier than usual the night before but this needs trying out in advance. You can also limit the number of visits by not over drinking before you start running, Hydration should take place the day before, not on the morning of the race.
However you plan your poo (and wee) strategy, find out where the toilets are near the start (and en route if you think you'll need them) and allow plenty of time. There won't be enough and there will be a queue so be prepared for that. You might even want to take toilet paper in case they've run out by the time you get there. Or you get caught short on the way round.
Have a race plan. Have two, or even three. Because 26.2 miles is a long way and if something doesn't go quite right, it's easy to get disheartened and lose sight of your goal, whether that's simply finishing the race, or doing so in the best time that you can. If it's your first marathon, finishing may be the only goal. But if you allow yourself a plan to stop or walk for a while, that's absolutely fine, as long you remember your ultimate goal. Every step will get you closer.
The start, the middle and the finish
If it's cold, take a bin liner to 'wear' at the start. Even if you warm up (and you should), you could be standing around for a while waiting to get going.
Don't set off faster than your target marathon pace. It will be hard because you'll be full of energy and adrenaline but you can only do harm by setting off too fast. Take it easy and relax into your rhythm.
Get water when you need it but be careful around the water stations. People have a tendency to stop without warning, change direction suddenly and throw down cups and bottles directly into your path. Slow down if necessary. A couple of seconds lost is better than a twisted ankle.
If there's one certainty in marathon running it is that, at some point, it will get tough. It will probably hurt and you will start to question if it's worth the pain and the effort. Remember all the training you've done and why you're running the race, whether it's to raise money for charity or to prove something to yourself. And then keep going. You will forget the pain. You won't forget your time or the medal.
The finish line is one of the best sights you'll see but try to enjoy all of the race, not just the end. Enjoy the support of the crowds as much as you can and if you've got enough breath, thank the race marshals and volunteers, they'll appreciate it.
Once you've stopped, get some calories in you as soon as possible. My favourite is a Fudge Brownie Frijj milkshake (other brands are available) but anything is better than nothing. If you can manage it, do some stretching. It will be the last thing you want to do but you'll feel worse later on if you don't.
Then celebrate. You've just run a marathon!