Training for a marathon means working hard for a few months, and then having just one day to put it all together. During training you have a LOT of control; you can choose your routes, the terrain you run on, you can even choose to avoid undesirable weather. Race day is a different story. The best way to prepare is to train specifically for the marathon you will be running, not just any 26.2 miles.
When laying out training, planning routes, and detailing logistics for workouts, early on in the training cycle, I like to nail down the key race specific-elements that I can prepare for.
Note the day of the week, and the time of day that a race takes place. For those travelling to different time zones for a race, note what time of day in YOUR time zone that will feel like to you.
Tip: Schedule a few ‘dress rehearsal’ long runs leading up to the race. Plan on running at the race start time (including time change), this allows you to nail down your race morning routine ahead of time.
There are courses that are pancake flat, some are notoriously hilly, some feature large descents and many have rolling terrain. Each of these could require different training; your training for Chicago and Boston would have different approaches. Chicago features flat profile, whereas Boston’s downhill start and rolling Newton Hills later on challenge your body in different ways.
Tip: Try and plan some training routes that mimic the race course. If you know that the second half will be hillier, incorporate hills at the end of your longer runs to prepare for climbing on tired legs. If you know that the race features long flat sections, find some similar routes to practice running in the same “gear” for extended periods of time.
A course might be a large loop, multiple loops, out-and-back or a point-to-point route. It can be a mental game if you know you are running the same route a few times, or will have to run back towards other runners on an out-and-back route.
Tip: Find some training routes that mimic the type of racecourse. If you are training for a double loop marathon, run your 20-miler on a 10-mile loop. For point-to-point training, have a friend or family member drop you off X miles from home and make your way back.
Surfaces such as crushed gravel, bike paths, technical trails, concrete and pavement each take different tolls on the body. The bulk of the training you do should reflect the your race surface.
Tip: Running on softer surfaces occasionally can help reduce the stress on the joints, and also provide a mental break from your usual routes.
Note where water stops will be along the course, as well as which aid stations have fuel. It can also come in handy to know where portable bathrooms will be along the route.
Tip: Treat the race like a road trip; you know that you will need fuel every X amount of miles. If you know this ahead of time, you can plan where/when you will fuel along the way so that you don’t run out. Try taking your gels and fuel on training runs at the same time you will in the race, factoring in water stops.
Training and incorporating race specific elements throughout the months leading up to your big event help build confidence and ease stress on race day. The way I see it, if you know what you’re getting into and prepare as smart as you can for key factors, you’ll be more in control on race day.