The Marathon: Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned (Part 1: Race Week)

7 Oct

Fall is upon us and many people are running their first marathon, second, fiftieth marathon.  Now that I have two marathons under my belt, I thought there was no better time than now to share what I did leading up to the races and also some valuable lessons learned. I am not an expert, or a professional, and I am not authorized to act as such. I just hope someone can benefit from reading about what I did, what I learned, and what I would do differently.

I very quickly realized this was going to be a long post, so I’m breaking it down into more digestible segments.


Race week running (and other workouts): I only ran three times during race week, making sure to keep the runs slow and short.  Of course slow and short are all relative to your ability – the longest I ran was 6 miles, the fastest was 9:37 average pace. I know, I know, tapering is hard, and you’re going to want to get out and just run. Just. be. careful. 

I also made sure to take two full days off before race day – off of everything, running, yoga, etc.  I wanted my entire body to be fresh and ready.

As for other workouts, I didn’t do much during race week. Actually, in all honesty, I didn’t do much other than run during marathon training.  It was hard to find time to do anything else. I did manage to squeeze in the occasional strength session, or the occasional yoga workout, but that was usually when my legs just couldn’t handle a run.  However – I will preach this to everyone until they want to duct tape my mouth shut – STRETCH. Especially the days leading up to your race.  The last thing you want is tight muscles.

Hydration: A lot of people talk about extra hydration before a race – but I drink enough water to supply a camel for his entire lifetime so I don’t pay extra attention to it in the days leading up to a race.  If you’re not good at hydrating in general – get better at it! It will only help you, not only when running, but in everything.

I’m a plain old water gal, unless it’s post workout, then I drink Gatorade or Powerade (whatever is on sale at the grocery store that week).  I used to drink Gatorade G2 and Powerade Zero – due to the lower calorie count, but there’s also a lower carb count, so I switched back to original.  I drink Nuun sometimes too, but honestly, I think it tastes like Alka Seltzer, especially if it gets warm.

When I run my long runs, I fill two of my fuel belt bottles with Gatorade/Powerade and two with water.  I tried switching between the two during both marathons as well, and it seemed to have done the trick, I was not dehydrated after either race. Just don’t follow up fuel with sports drink – it’s a stomach ache waiting to happen. I actually don’t know this one from experience – I learned from a friend before I made the mistake.

Fueling: Eat healthy, whole foods.  Make sure to eat all of your fruits and veggies, as well as a good percentage of protein, and of course carbs – the fruits and veggies aid in hydration, as well as keeping your immune system healthy.  Last thing you want is to be sick before a big race!

Now I (obviously) don’t eat healthy all the time – but I do make sure that I don’t slack on the healthy eating during race week, it’s imperative to be as healthy as possible.

Sleep: Make sure you’re well rested, all week.  Let your body heal from the beating you’ve given it for the past 16 or so weeks. For me that means at least 7 hours a night – but I did try to squeeze in a few more hours during race week where I could.


Begin carb loading. If you’ve been reading for a while, then you know very well that I am a firm believer in the “what you do two days before a race is more important than what you do the day before” theory. I’ve proven it. That’s another story for another time though. 

I know I go on and on about Carb Friday. I mean as if Friday weren’t great enough, I now have a good reason to carb up pretty much every week.

I am all about the whole grains, except when it comes to pasta.  I’ve tried whole wheat pasta, I’ve tried multi-grain pasta, I just don’t like it.  I stick strictly to good ol’ fashioned white pasta. 

Now this doesn’t mean, obviously, that I think you should sit down and eat pasta at every meal on Carb Friday. I try, often, to come up with lots of different ideas on what I can consume.  Sometimes it just takes some research.

Did you know there are approximately 30 grams of carbs in a medium banana? I wrote a post about Carb Thursday, which was two days prior to my last marathon. Lots of fun things were consumed that day, and it was very carbarific. 

Get the best sleep you can possibly get two night’s before.  I don’t know about you, but I get pre-race jitters pretty bad (even for 5k sometimes) and sleep very lightly the night before. So make sure to get plenty of rest on Thursday or Friday (depending on what day your race is on). 

And of course, watch your alcohol consumption.  You all know I love beer and wine.  I am very careful before a race – not only because alcohol dehydrates, but it also affects your quality of sleep.  Of course there was that one time in Charlottesville…oh the stories – I think I should have been blogging long before I actually started. 

That is all for this installment of “The Marathon: Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned”.  I hope what I’ve written here is useful and/or amusing.  

Everything I’ve written is based on my own personal experience – and before my next marathon I will do all of these items exactly the same. This segment doesn’t contain any lessons learned, because I feel (for me) that I did everything right.

That statement I crossed out up there is a lie.  There is extreme value in what I’m about to say:  Make sure you cut your toenails. Seriously. My feet are a disaster because I constantly forget to cut my nails, and I pay for it dearly at the end of long races and/or hard runs.

Stay tuned for “The Marathon: Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned (Part 2: 24 Hours Until the Start Gun). 

Does anyone have anything they’d like to add? I’d love to hear what others do in the days leading up to a big race. 


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