Running 13.1 or 26.2 miles is no easy achievement. You’ve put in a few months of serious training and are confident you can deliver on the big day. You’re looking forward to the event, but a few things need to be completed before the performance to ensure your success.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Think of a Hollywood movie set. The star has gone to drama school, learned the lines, rehearsed the sequences. The scene is set for brilliance. BUT, what if the producers forget to hire the makeup artist or doesn’t arrange the catering or can’t find the costumes?
The movie star won’t have the necessary preparation or resources needed to perform optimally. They won’t live up to their true potential, showcasing a mere shadow of what they are truly capable of. What could have been?
Ready, Set, Go! (after you do these 7 things)
It’s almost time for the big day. You’re excited and ready to go. Buzzing as you are, Hold your horses for a second. Not doing a few simple things before the race can be the difference between an Oscar-winning performance or a catastrophe.
Think of the actor; they trained hard, learnt the lines, rehearsed relentlessly, and were capable of great things. However, on the big day, a few forgotten checks reduced the quality of their performance.
Luckily, that’s not going to happen to you. You’re going to follow the tips below and prepare yourself properly. You’ve put in the hard work; it’s only fair you have your moment to shine to the best of your ability.
1) Plan travel to the race
One of the best things about half marathons is the abundance of choice. It’s likely you’ll get to travel and see new places (another great reason to be a runner).
Brighton, Southampton, Manchester, London, Canterbury, Dorset, Leeds all offer unique half marathon experiences which can tempt runners to take on the adventure of going to a new place.
However, any seasoned traveller will tell you to plan the route to make the journey smooth and easy sailing. When you go abroad you wouldn’t book an airport taxi transfer on the night of the flight, or just hope there’ll be a taxi service on the other end to get you to your hotel. That’d be crazy. Not only would you probably not get to your location, you’d be stressed beyond belief.
Plan, in advance, travel to the race.
Will you get a lift from a friend or family member, book a taxi, hop on a train, take a bus or book a flight?
Has the city the half marathon is in getting a specific transport system? Could it cause an issue or be an advantage to you? (one way driving systems can be stressful in peak times, trams are handy for quick and convenient travel)
Don’t drive yourself: If you can, don’t drive yourself to and from the half marathon. Your legs will be like jelly, you’ll be physically exhausted, and – rightfully so – very hungry. Not a good recipe for effective driving. Ask someone you know to drive.
Make a day of it: Why not plan a fun activity after the race? Depending on where you are, you could walk on Brighton Pier, visit Canterbury Cathedral, have a nice lunch in London’s West End.
You’ve just run 13 miles, reward yourself!
2) Read the race pack
You’d think this is common sense. Here’s something worth remembering about common sense. It’s not very common.
Read the race pack. It’ll take 10 minutes tops and it’ll make your life so much easier come race day. I promise.
The organisers of the event spend months meticulously planning every fine detail, so the race goes ahead smoothly, and you enjoy yourself. They carefully condense the vital information you need to know like location, timings, parking arrangements, your number, what shops and facilities are nearby and so on.
You pay them to do this. Having this vital information will greatly enhance your half marathon experience. Read the race pack.
3) Know the course route
Understand a bit about the course route. You’ll feel at ease, more confident and likely to perform better. Every half marathon is different, with a unique set of challenges. You’re going into the so be as knowledgeable as possible.
Think of something challenging. A job interviews. Knowing nothing about the company or the role you’re applying for is the equivalent of blagging a best man speech without writing or practising it.
You’re not going to be knowledgeable, won’t be prepared and you won’t feel confident.
Sure, some people can blag their way through such situations but if you’re like most people, you’d be out of your depth. In the unknown.
Take a bit of time and research the course route. Look at pictures, read forums, study the race pack, watch videos, talk to people who have completed the course before.
Is the course in a town, city, woodland or along the beach? Is it flat or hilly? Are there any bridges or slopes? Are there key landmarks to look out for?
For example, Southampton’s half marathon is in is in a busy port city on England’s south coast. There are loads of hills, the leg busting Itchen Bridge and features notable landmarks St Mary Football Stadium and the QE2 Anchor.
Building a bit of knowledge so you’re not going in blind and unaware will do wonders for your nerves, confidence and most importantly your performance.
4) Get energy bars and gels
When you’re going the distance, it can get tough. You’ll be pushed, challenged and your fuel reserves reduced to the brink. You’ll be sweating buckets, have aching legs, breathing heavily.
They don’t call them marathons for no reason. What can save you when you’re only halfway in, almost at breaking point? Energy bars and gels.
Energy bars and gels will be your light in the darkness. A stepping stone from chaos into order. Your lighthouse in a raging storm. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but in all seriousness energy bars and gels will help your untold amounts during the race.
They deliver a great dose of carbs and sugars to keep your fuel tank going. As a rule, have one every 45 minutes you’re running for though it’s worth experimenting a bit when training to know what works for you.
They come in all flavours under the sun from blueberry, coffee, orange, blackcurrant, chocolate to mint. Get some bars or gels (whatever you prefer) and put them next to your running gear the night before so you don’t forget them. Reaching for one in desperation after a taxing steep hill, only to find empty pockets is not recommended.
Get some energy bars or gels and don’t forget them!
5) Sleep so you’re well rested.
Get plenty of shut-eye so your body is restored and ready to take on the challenge.
Marathons are usually early in the morning, so will require you go to hit the sack at a decent hour the night before.
Watching coronation street on catch up, message the squad on group chat, doing a crossword puzzle, watching funny videos on YouTube till late the night before, isn’t going to be in your best interest.
Sure, you can botch a lack of sleep with some coffee but the effects will soon wear off. Come mile 10 when you’re feeling confused, with your eyes half closed, exhaustion already setting in, you’ll realise you made a mistake. You won’t enjoy yourself, perform at your best and you’ll be regretting the late night. Months of training down the drain. Don’t let that be you.
There is no universal rule for how many hours you need; everyone is different. The key phrase here is ‘well rested’. Who knows you better than anyone? You of course. Whether you need 6, 7, 8 or 9 hours, get the rest you need to perform at your best.
Put your phone on silent and place it in a different room before going to sleep. Set your alarm. Turn the lights out. Slide into the covers. Close your eyes. Wake up. Enjoy the marathon. Easy as 1,2,3.
Be kind to yourself; give your body the sleep it needs You won’t regret it.
6) Eat right. Carbohydrate-rich food a couple of days before, have a proper breakfast.
Get the carbohydrates going before, and on the morning, of race day. Fats and proteins will take the limelight afterwards.
Three days before the race, carbo load your muscles and liver with plenty of glycogen (body fuel) before the big day. Think of your body like a plane about to go from London to New York. The plane will need time to fill up its tank with high-grade fuel, so it gets to its location in a desirable fashion. Effective, reliable and safe.
Eat healthy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, whole grains including pasta, brown rice and quinoa, and legumes like lentils, kidney beans and peas. Always go for the most natural options.
The more natural and unprocessed the carbs are, the healthier and more energetic you’re going to feel.
3 hours before the race, eat a decent sized carb-based breakfast. Whole grain toast or a bagel with peanut butter, oats with chopped up bananas, Greek yoghurt with berries are all good options.
Don’t skip breakfast under any circumstances
Lots of people skip breakfast in their day to day lives because they don’t feel hungry, haven’t got the time or want to save them self for a big lunch. Skipping breakfast is not recommended, as it means you’ll be running on fumes.
If you tend to skip breakfast, make sure you DON’T skip it on race day. Running 13.1 or 26.2 miles on an empty stomach is not only uncomfortable, you won’t perform at your best and will probably suffer negative health effects like headaches and confusion.
Don’t make up for a skipped breakfast by eating a lot when you arrive at the event; keep it light.
People who skip breakfast often don’t feel hungry right after waking up, but the chances are, they soon will after a couple hours of being awake getting themselves ready and travelling to race village.
Their hungry stomach won’t take the huge distance about to be covered and will demand a generous amount of food to satisfy it. If the stomach’s demands are given to, the runner will be overly full, risk indigestion and worse; feeling uneasy and vomiting during the race. Disgusting, but it happens.
Though a decent carb breakfast three hours before is recommended, have a small easily digestible snack if you’ve skipped breakfast and start feeling peckish.
Keep it light. A banana or energy bar will do.
7) Go to the toilet
Mother nature has a habit of calling at the most awkward of times. At the cinema, on a long car journey, during a meeting, in the front row of a gig. She can be demanding. How do we control her?
Before anything important, where our attention and effort are required for a long period of time, we go to the toilet immediately before starting
Disrupting a steady, well-established rhythm half-way into the run for a toilet break, is not an award-winning strategy. It can damage chances of achieving a personal best, make you feel stressed as you quickly throw yourself in and out of the portaloo, and will then take you a lot of time getting back into a steady flow.
In the hype and excitement of pre-race buzz, it’s easy to forget to go to the toilet. You could be stretching, doing a warm-up, chatting to other racers, checking out exhibitor stalls and finding the start line. There’s a lot to do; a toilet break can be neglected.
Make a conscious, mental note to go before. Even if you don’t particularly need to. If you’re forgetful, write it on your hand. Set an alarm on your phone. Stretch and warm up near the toilets to remind you.
Go to the toilet before the race starts.
What mistakes to AVOID altogether?
There are many mistakes you can make, particularly before a long race. Find out what they are here and don’t fall into these common errors!