The Marathon Pre-Race Checklist

The final preparations for a marathon will help insure a successful race. Failure to get ready in one of these areas can turn a great experience into one much less exhilarating. Here are the basics to focus on in the two weeks leading up to your marathon:

  • Taper
  • Carbo-loading
  • Running Outfit
  • Hydration
  • Pre-race Calories

Taper

The most important pre-race task is to taper before the race.  Taper means reducing your running in the days leading up to the race.  Optimally, you'll begin to taper about 2 weeks out from your marathon.  For the week that is 8-14 days from the marathon, you'll want to cut your mileage down to 50-70% of what you completed the week before.  For the seven days leading up to the race, you'll want to run very little.  The three days before the race, don't run at all.  This 72-hour period is also your optimal carbo-loading time.

Carbo-Loading

Carbo-loading means shifting a larger percentage of your calories to carbohydrates to enable greater energy storage efficiency in your muscles and liver.  Carbs are stored in the body in the form of glycogen, and that glycogen can come from a wide variety of sugars and starches.  One option is simple carbs like sugar, candy, and soda.  This will give you the carbs but not much else.  A better option are carbs with nutrients: like whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit. One of the best runners in the world consistently eats 90% of his calories in fruit! 

Spinach pasta for marathon carbo-loading

You don't need to overdo it on the carbo-loading.  If you're stuffing your face full of pasta at every meal and are feeling ill and bloated, you've overdone it.  The most important thing is to eat well and feel well afterwards.

Running Outfit

Other pre-race preparations include picking out your running outfit.  Comfortable, broken-in shoes are very important to prevent blisters and reduce injury chances.  Wicking socks will help keep your feet drier, as wet feet become softer and easier to blister. You'll want to wear temperature appropriate clothing, and a throw-away layer like a sweatshirt may be necessary for colder starts.  Your clothing should also not chafe you, and if you have chafe spots, use a product like Body Glide over those areas. 

If you are going to be out in the sun for a significant amount of time and are prone to burning, make sure to wear waterproof sunscreen.  You'll only want to cover the areas of your body that will get UV radiation, as sunscreen limits your skin's ability to sweat and cool itself.

Hydration

Adequate hydration is important before the race, but DON'T OVERDO IT!  You DON'T need to drink glass after glass of water.  You can't super saturate your body, and the only thing you'll do is flush important electrolytes out. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to serious problems like hyponatremiaThe simple rule is to drink if you're thirsty. And obviously, don't drink copious amounts of alcohol before an event as that will dehydrate you and affect your performance negatively in other ways.

Pre-Race Calories

Nearly all marathons are run in the early morning hours.  Your liver glycogen reserves will be slightly depleted after hours of sleeping.  It's a good idea to top them off. About an hour before the race, try to get down 200-300 calories.  Choose something simple that won't upset your stomach.  Many runners eat toast or a bagel or a piece of fruit like a banana.  If you can eat more than this, go ahead.  But make sure to give yourself an hour of digestion before needing to run.

Those are the basics to focus on, and when you've completed them, you're ready to race!  Good Luck!