All your hard work is about to pay off! Soon, you’ll be running your first marathon. If you’re nervous, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Major events like this are exciting, but can also be intimidating. The large crowds, traffic congestion, and long list of rules and directions can often feel overwhelming – certainly not how you want to feel before you start a race! The best way to keep your cool and combat all that chaos? By learning from those who’ve done major marathons before; who have stood in your first big race day shoes so to speak.
Enter our very own Angela Carron, Gazelle Sports’ Community Outreach Coordinator in Northville, who has a mere 114 marathons under her belt! If it can happen, she’s experienced it, which makes her a great resource for anyone about to toe a marathon starting line for the first time. Here, she has shared a few stories with invaluable lessons to help you make the most of your big race day.
Marathon Running: Angela’s Race Day Recollections and Awesome Advice
I remember my first big race: the Detroit Marathon. I wanted to make sure I was there nice and early with plenty of time to use the restroom and warm up before the gun went off at 7 am. I left my house at 4:30 am, doing the math in my head with padded time: 30 minutes to get there (call it an hour). That would have me arriving around 5:30 am and giving me 30 minutes to find a bathroom, wait in line and go (call it another hour). Then, I could leave my car and make my way to the start line by 6:30 am at the latest. Sounds like a fair estimate, right?
I’m 25 minutes into that 30 minute drive and I come to a complete halt on the freeway. I think to myself, “I’m okay, I made time for this.” 5 minutes goes by and I have moved about 10 feet; 10 minutes…ten more feet; 20 minutes…I haven’t moved a mile; 30 minutes and my exit is still 3 miles away. I start to panic and take the nearest exit with several others, only to be met by multiple closed streets that would reroute me away from the start line. Ahhh! What do I do?????? I’ll tell you what I should have done: TRUST THE PROCESS!
There’s no truer adage in life than, “You live and you learn.” That year I ended up not having time to use the bathroom and running straight from my car to the start line, hearing the gun go off as I approached. I’ve since done that same marathon 10 more times and learned that trusting the process is the answer.
Pro-Tip #1: Read the pre-race emails and follow the directions for travel and parking in the Athlete’s Guide. Allow plenty of time for traffic and if you get in a jam, wait it out. The race officials and parking volunteers are working on getting everyone where they need to be…don’t panic, trust the process!
Remember, you can’t control what’s going on around you, but you can control how you deal with it. My last Boston Marathon this past spring comes to mind. I arrived at Boston Commons 5 minutes ahead of my scheduled bus loading time only to find swarms of people backed up into the city streets. The buses couldn’t have come fast enough. The crowd was growing. There were hundreds of people ahead of me in line who weren’t scheduled to depart for another hour or two. The volunteers were university students who were being yelled at to not allow people on the bus if it wasn’t their scheduled time, and they all looked so scared. You could tell this was NOT what they signed up for and I felt horrible for them. Though I wasn’t able to physically get on a bus until 90 minutes later, I was comforted by the fact that regardless of when I got to Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton, my race didn’t “start” until I crossed the starting line.
Pro-Tip #2: Allow plenty of time to get to the start on race day, but ALWAYS respect the predetermined schedules and corral assignments. Most importantly, DON’T STRESS!
How can I share these anxiety ridden stories with you then tell you not to stress? Haha! Live and learn…I lived it and you can learn from it! Sure, “Don’t stress” is easier said than done, but if you follow tip 1 and tip 2, you’ll be well on your way! I assure you my positive experiences far outweigh the negative ones, and that’s because I learned early on to stay calm and carry on by, you guessed it, trusting the process!
I’ve run the NYC Marathon twice and had two amazing experiences. Their organization and structure from athlete shuttling to bag drop retrieval is the most impressive collaboration of any marathon I have ever run. I’ve completed the Boston Marathon 7 times and the bus I rode on to the start has only gotten lost once, haha! Life happens, people make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world.
Pro-Tip #3: To help manage stress levels, remember, the most important night of sleep is two nights before race day. That’s because chances are your nerves will keep you from sleeping well the night before. On the bright side, you likely won’t have to worry about setting your alarm super early for race morning preparation since you’ll already be awake!
Finally, DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN! I always encourage runners to run the major marathons for the experience, the scenery, and the amazing atmosphere. Save the true “racing” marathons for the hundreds of other local events with certifiable courses that aren’t as crowded. If you allow extra time and keep a calm and positive attitude you will set yourself up for success – a fun day full of running and memories to last a lifetime!
How Do You Prepare for Marathon Race Day?
Good question! Here are some helpful checklists and tips to get race day ready like a pro (or should we say like an Angela?😉).
Fueling Your Body for the Big Race
What goes into your body impacts what you can get out of it on race day, so be sure to follow these hydration and nutrition tips to perform and feel your best:
- Test different nutrition and hydration options out while training to find what works best for you well before the week of your race.
- Increase carb intake slowly in the days prior, and balance with fruit, starchy veggies, and lean protein.
- Drink 8-10 cups of water daily.
- On race day, about 4 hours before the start, eat a meal mainly of carbs, a small amount of protein, and limited fat and fiber; drink 16 oz. of water 2-3 hours prior, and another 8 oz. 15-30 minutes before go time. Be sure..we repeat, be sure to stick with pre-tested, familiar options! Do NOT eat or drink anything new.
- Carry enough water to drink about 6 oz. every 20 minutes, or 8-16 oz. every hour throughout your run.
- Eat around 30-60g of carbs every 45-60 minutes. Bananas and energy bars/gels are good choices.
- Small bites and sips are best.
- Replenish your body with electrolyte drinks and foods containing a good carb and protein ratio, like a protein shake or fruit smoothie and a good old fashioned PB&J.
Getting Used to Gear at Race Pace
Just as with food, race week is not the time to try any new gear. It’s important that well beforehand you test drive your wardrobe, especially shoes, on a few runs at race pace to ensure everything feels great come race day. Otherwise, you could be dealing with issues ranging from fatigue to blisters to injuries, and believe us…you don’t want to find out at mile 17 that things are rubbing you the wrong way!
Making it Through Your Last Long Runs
Training for a marathon is a long haul and those last long runs can sometimes be tough to get through. Consider signing up for a local race – perfect for trying out your gear at race pace! Or, join a running group – it’s a great way to hold yourself accountable as well as to meet new friends, get inspired, and gather helpful advice from major marathon veterans like Angela.
Packing Everything You Need to Rock Your Race
In addition to all of Angela’s advice, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the course, and always check weather conditions so you can pack appropriately. Use this checklist to make sure you’re race day ready:
- Wicking socks, shorts/pants, and shirt
- Ladies: a good run bra; Men: bandages or anti-chafing balm
- Energy gels
- Race number & pins
- Weather related items like hats, sunglasses, wind or rain jacket
*You may want to consider throw-away clothes you can discard
- Change of clothes and shoes for post-race relaxation and recovery!
Need help locating a run group near you or getting all the gear you need to make your major marathon a major success? You’ll find it all at Gazelle Sports, plus a whole lot of encouragement too. Good luck and have fun, you major marathoner you!