How to Smartly Execute the Final Preparations for Your Marathon

Photo: Nils Nilsen

Final race preparations are about to begin for fall marathoners. Months of hard work and long miles will soon pay off with the experience of a lifetime, but you’re not quite there yet. A couple more big runs, some shorter, speedier workouts and the important tapering period—that’s right, less running and mandatory rest—are still on the agenda in the final month or so of training.

As welcoming as shorter runs and taking it easy might sound during the meat of marathon training, the sudden decrease in activity can make you a little crazy. It’s normal. And it happens to everyone, from first-time marathoners to seasoned veterans.

Take the opportunity to reflect upon your journey, find confidence in the training you’ve accomplished and recall why you decided to train for a marathon. Whether it’s to run a fast time and qualify for the Boston Marathon, race in honor or memory of a friend or loved one, raise money for a charity or just for the personal challenge, remembering what inspired you to lace up your shoes in the first place and knowing you are prepared will help ease any anxieties or doubts.

Aside from the final weeks of training, you should make sure to solidify your nutritional and hydration plans, understand your race-day pacing strategy, and make sure all of your travel, lodging and other pre-race details are in order. That can be nerve-wracking, but you can ease pre-race doldrums and anxieties knowing you aren’t alone.

For the third year in a row, Competitor and Saucony are collaborating on 26Strong, a program pairing 13 experienced marathon mentors (coaches) with 13 first-time marathon runners (cadets) who are training for the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11. We’re sharing some insights from 26Strong coaches to their cadet runners to help inspire and guide you on the way to your own marathon goals.

What should I pack for the race?

– Kendall Shultes, St. Louis

Coach Morganne Hockett: For fall races, I like to pair shorts with a long-sleeve shirt or capris with a short-sleeve shirt. Bring a couple of wear-tested options to make final adjustments depending upon the weather. Otherwise, pack what you’ve worn on long training runs—a sports bra, socks, shoes, glasses, hat, anti-chafe cream, headband and maybe sleeves. If you plan to carry your own nutritional products during the race, bring it with you to reduce the stress of looking for a specific gel or chew in an unfamiliar city. Also, pack your shoes and race kit in your carry-on bag. That way, if your luggage doesn’t make it, you won’t need to wear new gear (a big no-no!) on race day.

What’s a good marathon pacing strategy?

-Lauren Fisher, Richmond, Va.

Coach Katherine Hopper: Start the race conservatively. Your legs will be fresh and well rested from the taper. Add in race-day excitement, and you might be tempted to start faster than your goal marathon pace. You should consciously try to run your first couple miles approximately 15 seconds slower than your goal pace. Don’t try to “bank” time by running fast in the first 20 miles of the race. It usually backfires, resulting in slower mile splits later in the race. Run with a bit of caution, save your energy and pick up the pace after mile 20 if you are feeling strong.

How do I remain mentally focused for an entire marathon?

– Marina Hill, Londonberry, N.H.

Coach Angela Bekkala: Mental focus is an essential part of marathon training, just like getting in your weekly miles and workouts. Take some time daily imagining yourself on the course, envisioning the challenges you might encounter (good and bad) and thinking how amazing it will feel to cross the finish line in your goal time. Learning to focus on the task in front of you will leave less room for negative thoughts to enter your mind.

When should I start fueling, and how often should I drink during the marathon?

– Brittany Champagne, Buffalo, N.Y.

Coach Laura Anderson: You should have a fueling and hydrating strategy based on your personal needs (including your sweat rate) and the weather on race day. It’s important to practice during your long runs, ingesting identical gels, chews or drinks you’ll have during the race. Then, the simple advice I find to be most true for marathon fueling and hydrating is do it early and often, and don’t run through any aid station without taking a few sips of water or an electrolyte drink. The same goes for fueling, you need to be taking in water and calories early and consistently to prevent dehydration and “bonking” later in the race. The goal is to take in the nutrients before you need them, as most calories take at least 15 minutes to kick in.

What tips can you offer for making it through the last 6 to 8 miles? I have a feeling they will be the hardest.

– Kellen McAvoy, San Diego

Coach Katie Hart Morse: Have a few mantras in mind. Remember why you are running, and never forget why you started. Embrace the pain and feed on spectator energy. Especially in Chicago, there is nothing quite like crowds cheering you on for the last few miles! Don’t think about having another 6 to 8 miles to go. Just think about tackling each mile individually. Focus on each step, and think about getting to the next aid station. Break down the distance into whatever chunks you can handle and keep moving toward the finish and your goal!

RELATED: Behind the Scenes of the Latest Saucony 26Strong Photo Shoot

For more training tips and stories about each runner’s progress toward the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11, go to 26Strong.com.

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