Training for a marathon takes intense preparation, dedication, and skill. It is imperative not to allow race-time decisions to counteract the hard work and planning of the last several months to a year. Following a few basic guidelines can minimize any excess damage to the body and make the race experience more pleasant for the runner.
The week prior to the race:
- The last long run should take place 3 weeks prior to the marathon. It takes that long for the training-induced muscle damage to resolve. Trying to add in 1 more long run might be a recipe for disaster. There will be minimal gain, if anything, and may cause the athlete to suffer from "dead legs" during the event.
- The mileage 2 weeks before the race should be reduced by 25 percent to 50 percent versus the previous week. You should further cut this mileage in half the week before the race.
- This is when doubts start to arise. "Did I train enough?" You cannot make up training in the last 2 weeks. You will not de-condition while you are tapering off. If you put in the training, you are ready.
- Extra sleep prior to a race is critical. Your body will really appreciate it. Even if nervousness stops you from getting sleep the night before the race, extra sleep obtained during the preceding week will make up for this.
- Make sure you are well-hydrated prior to the start of the race. Drink a lot of water during the week preceding the race.
- Eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates prior to the race. This will help maximize your glycogen (energy) stores. Don't experiment with new foods this week. Carbohydrate loading (carb loading) can be complicated. Try it some other time, perhaps before other long runs. Individuals who have diabetes should never carb load and should seek counseling with a dietician for appropriate dietary guidelines.
- Make sure you have tried out the electrolyte drink that will be used during the race.
- Review the map of the course. Visualize yourself cruising along the course, enjoying the trip.
- Strength training should be tapered off for the last 4 months of training. For the last 6-8 weeks prior to an event, strength training should consist only of calisthenics, ball exercises, Pilates, or other strength training methods with minimal external resistance.
- There should be no strength training the week of an event.
The day prior to the race
- Lay out the clothing that you will wear. Do not wear a new outfit for the race — 26.2 miles is a long way to run if something is chafing you. A clothing tag can become a painful adversary very quickly.
- Don't wear new shoes in the marathon. Wear a pair that you have worn during a few long runs (as long as they did not create any problems).
- Be prepared for anything. Fill a gym bag with the essentials: a dry shirt, an extra pair of socks, tissue (you never know when the portable toilet supply will run out), extra shoelaces, gloves, hat, Vaseline® (or other lubricant), extra safety pins, blister care products, and whatever else you choose not to live without. You can throw your sweats into the bag prior to starting the race. Most races have a baggage check area.
- Make sure you have picked up your race number. Don't spend hours on your feet at the race expo. If possible, pick up your number early.
- Don't eat too late at night and make sure you are well-hydrated.
- Plan when you will leave, how you will get to the race, and where you will park. You don't want to get lost prior to the race.
- If you did not tolerate the electrolyte drink that will be used during the race when you were training, plan on another source of calories, such as gel packets or gummy bears.
- Carry a water bottle or CamelBak® filled with your favorite replacement drink. Friends along the course might be able to restock your supply.
- Be sure to have tried your fluid and gel supplements prior to the event day. Even small variations in sugar concentration can cause stomach upset during an event.
- Review the map of the course: know the locations of water stops, aid stations, and portable toilets.
- Check the pollution levels at the course. If there will be higher levels of pollutants, it is best to plan ahead. Minimize exposure to pollutants on the way to the race, and warm up somewhere that is either extremely well ventilated (such as the waterfront), or indoors. Areas with tall buildings and heavy traffic can be the worst places to warm up. Pollution will negatively impact performance, and may worsen allergies or asthma.
- Get up early. Plan on arriving at the start at least an hour before the race. You do not want to feel pressured for time before the race.
- Take in some calories. Whatever worked prior to your long training runs is a good idea. Make sure that you are drinking water, too.
- While getting dressed, lubricate any areas in which chafing has been a problem. If blisters or hot spots have been a problem, treat the site prophylactically (using Second Skin®, moleskin, or whatever worked during training).
- Don't forget to pin on your number. Tie your Champion Chip® to your shoe, if the chip is being used for the race.
- No matter what the temperature is when you get up, chances are that it will increase during the race. In addition, you will generate a lot of heat while running. At the start of the race, you might wear old clothing that you can discard once you are warmed up. Old socks work well on the hands. Garbage bags do a fine job of providing protection in inclement weather. When you discard things, do not throw them in the path of another runner.
- Arrive at the start expecting to find a line at the portable toilets. Since you have time to spare, there will be no need to panic.
- Don't worry about a warm-up run. Walking from the car will loosen you up a little. You might want to do some easy stretching (if you are used to this).
- Just before heading to the starting line, take off your sweats and check your gym bag. Now head to the start and situate yourself in an appropriate spot in the pack. Don't worry about starting too slowly. It will give you a chance to warm up your muscles and save you from the agony of starting out too fast.
- Make sure you have secured whatever food and/or drink that you are bringing with you.
- You have worked hard to get here. Enjoy the adventure ahead.
During the race
- Drink at every water station. Do not wait until you are thirsty — that is too late.
- Start slowly; a fast start usually spells disaster. You can start running faster later in the race.
- Finish with a smile on your face. Someone might be taking your picture.
After the race
- No matter what the results are, be proud of yourself.
- Drink. Even though you drank during the race, you will still be a little dehydrated.
- Replenish carbohydrates. There is a 2-hour window following a hard effort during which absorption of carbohydrates may be enhanced. If you can't eat them, then drink them. A little protein mixed in improves recovery. Do not choose anything extremely high in sugar or fat, it will cause stomach upset.
- Keep moving. Do lower intensity cardiovascular movements, such as walking, for 60 minutes after the race. This will diminish a lot of the post-race stiffness. Stretch gently.
- Put ice on anything that is sore. Apply ice for 15 minutes several times over the course of the day.
- Don't plan on running during the week after the race. Walking, swimming, or cycling at an easy pace will work well.
- You may find that a massage is helpful for post-race stiffness.
- When you resume running, start easy — 30 minutes three to four times per week — and increase gradually from there. Most experts will tell you to avoid speed work for a month after a marathon.
- Start planning for your next marathon. Review your training; determine what worked well and what presented a problem. Adjust your training schedule accordingly. Experience is the best teacher.
- Do not restart your strength training program for 2 weeks following the event.
- Allow your body to recover. An extreme athletic event like a marathon is incredibly stressful on the body. The body needs the rest; otherwise, problems such as injuries, fatigue, decreases in performance, and immune suppression can result.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 9/30/2011...#8930