By Elaine To
After hours of toil, pain, and sweat, I am proud to say that this Sunday I finished my first full marathon. I’ll celebrate later; let’s first talk about how you can achieve the same.
So you’ve done it. For months, you ran during your incubation periods and woken up at unimaginably early hours on the weekends just for your long run. It’s now race day and time for you to cross the finish line. When months of training coalesce into that single glorious moment, you don’t want anything to stop you from achieving your goal. How can you ensure that you run the best race ever? It’s not much of a surprise, but the pre-race preparation doesn’t just begin the day before! Here are some tips for preparing:
1) Hydrate well in the week leading up to the race. It’s not just something to do a couple days before! Make sure you’re getting 8 glasses of water a day.
2) Your training should have tapered in the 2-3 weeks prior to the race. Any runs should still provide you an adequate workout, but be comfortable. Now is not the time to push your limits!
3) Get a good night’s sleep on the two nights prior. You’re likely to be nervous and unable to sleep well the night before, so build up a buffer with the previous night.
4) On the day immediately before, pick up your race packet and make sure you have 4 safety pins for the bib. Double check your running gear, because if you’re missing anything, the expo that accompanies the packet pick up is the place to buy it.
5) The day before the race is also the time to carbo-load. You want your glycogen stores to be as full as possible, so eat a lot of pizza and pasta. Avoid anything you don’t regularly eat or that has a chance of causing stomach problems.
6) Pin your bib onto your shirt and pack your gear check bag the night before. This isn’t something you want to worry about on the morning of. Good things to put into the gear check bag are warm clothes and granola bars.
7) EAT BREAKFAST. It should be mainly carbohydrate based.
During the race:
1) You can come to the start line wearing extra clothes so that you stay warm until you start. Most races donate clothes that are left behind to charity. If you don’t have anything you’re willing to toss, buy something from a thrift store.
2) Don’t be stressed or nervous! You should be running at a pace that allows you to talk to those around you so don’t be afraid to chat it up with your fellow runners. This will prevent you from trying to run too fast, especially in the beginning. Near the end, your fellow runners are also a great source of encouragement.
3) Do not drink at every water stop unless drinking water every 1.5 miles was normal during your training. If you overhydrate you may deplete your electrolytes, and even if you’re drinking the sports drink, you may get too full. Have faith in your training and follow that. To alleviate the fear of needing water but being far away from the next water stop, I would suggest carrying a bottle that you can refill at each stop. Also make sure you eat during the race, whether its energy gels or provided snacks. Again, be careful to follow what was normal for your training—do not overeat.
4) Make it a goal to high five or thank every single volunteer that you see. They are donating their time so you can run and they are behind you all the way! The morale boost you will get is absolutely crucial for the second half. On this note, you can try to wear something that makes you stand out so you can tell when cheers are directed towards you. Some wear flamboyant clothing such as tutus or hats, many have sentiments on their shirts. In the past my shirts have said “Hopkins,” and supporters have used that. The Virginia Beach bibs actually had our names printed in bold font; it’s an amazing experience to hear “Go Elaine! You’re rocking it!” from complete strangers.
5) If this is your first full marathon, it’s almost guaranteed you will be in pain during the second half. Don’t be afraid to walk and take stretch breaks. Finishing a couple minutes later is better than injuring yourself. On hilly courses, the uphill is particularly painful but reprieve comes during the downhill stretches. Flat courses use the same muscles constantly, so in some ways they are more difficult. I found that even the brief moments spent in a porta-potty revitalized me and helped me come out much stronger and faster.
6) Hopefully your family and friends have signed up for runner tracking so that every time you cross a checkpoint they get a notification. Think about this! Think about all the people who are behind you, wishing for your success, and who will congratulate you in the end! Don’t lose hope!
Crossing the finish line & afterwards:
1) Hold your hands up high, smile, and make sure you get that nice photo finish!
2) Hobble towards the gear check and food lines. Grab your medal(!) on the way. Most races give out mylar sheets so you can stay warm until you get your gear. It’s a good idea to wrap yours securely around yourself before you try to pick up the water and snacks provided.
3) Walk, walk, walk. The more you walk and stretch now, the less pain you’ll have later.
4) Eat a hearty meal that includes both carbs and protein as soon as possible. Rebuild and refuel.
And that’s it! Pat yourself on the back, happily receive the congratulations from your friends and family, take a nap, and then go back to lab. With one big race completed, it’s time to bring that other race to completion: your doctoral thesis!