While it’s crucial to stay warm and dry on the start line, once you get moving you won’t want to be wearing too much clothing. Having a rain jacket and a long-sleeved top tied around your waist for over 20 miles definitely won’t help your race time! Instead, wear layers that you can peel off and throw away as you get warmer during the race. And if you are concerned about the cost of buying new clothes, you could buy some cheaper garments from a second hand store.
Try to stay present in your running. If you drift off into a reverie, or get too caught up in the carnival atmosphere, you may forget to hydrate properly and may not notice your pace quickening (or less likely, slowing down) until you suddenly reach the halfway point in a time that’s way off target. Staying focused means you can do something about it if you do make a mistake, whereas getting so carried away that you don’t even notice you’ve made a mistake is hard to rectify.
When you set off, don’t think about the marathon being over long. Break the distance down into manageable ‘chunks’ instead and focus on ‘biting off’ each one as it comes. Once you reach the end of a chunk, congratulate yourself, take a drink, and a stretch if you need to, and then focus on the next chunk. This makes the distance feel a lot more achievable.
As you get tired, you may find that you are spending most of the time looking at your feet rather than up at the road ahead. This not only throws your spine out of alignment – putting you at risk of back pain and neck or shoulder tension – but it can also make your spirits flag, as you aren’t making eye contact with the crowd or other runners. Keeping your head up gives you a much more confident stance and sends a positive message to your subconscious mind.
Although you may be sharing the course with thousands of other runners, you can still use the course to your advantage. In many of the major marathons there will be a line on the ground that measures the exact race distance. Follow the course line wherever possible to ensure you are taking the most direct route to the finish line!
But if it’s a very hot day, stick to the shadier parts of the course, rather than following the line, come what may. It’s more of a serious problem to overheat than it is to run an extra quarter of a mile. If it’s very windy out there, tuck in close behind a group of runners, so that they act as a windshield for you!
No matter how independent you are, it really helps to have some supporters out there on the course. Whether it’s a charity that you are running for, or for yourself, or for friends, family, or work colleagues – try to get as many spectators out there as possible on the day. Be very specific about where you want them to be. Remember to tell them not just at what point on the course (for example right by the marker at the half way point), but also at which side of the road. Also, tell them as accurately as possible at what time you expect to get to that point on the course.
And the advice about putting your name on the front of your t-shirt might be old hat, but it still holds true – it really does make a difference, so do it! Hearing your name called, even by someone you hardly know, is hugely heartening when your spirits are beginning to flag and your legs feel heavy.
Unless you habitually have to stop during training runs to go to the toilet, resist the urge to stop and relieve yourself, at least for a while. It’s most likely nerves – so the chances are, if you ignore it, it will go away. Clearly if the urge to answer the call of nature doesn’t fade, it would be sensible to take the couple of minutes necessary to relieve yourself so you can then concentrate on running well.
If you take nothing else from this article, remember this: learn to body scan. All you need to do is cast your mind’s eye from head to toe, looking for any signs of unnecessary tension or tightness, any muscles that could do with a stretch, and any joints that could do with loosening up. I often find it’s my jaw that is set solid, with a frown across my forehead. Try a smile – it’s impossible to be tense and smile at the same time. I suggest doing a body scan of your running technique every ten to 15 minutes, to ensure you are as relaxed as possible and not wasting energy.
You know the rule about never doing anything on race day that you’ve not tried in training? Of course you do. That’s why you wouldn’t dream of setting off in a brand spanking new pair of trainers, or sports bra (you wouldn’t, would you?). But the rule also applies to food and drink. If you’ve never eaten jelly babies, mini Mars bars, orange segments or bananas on the run – or consumed energy gels – then politely decline them from well-meaning spectators, as you just don’t know how your body might react.
This applies particularly to the first mile when the road is littered with discarded items such as plastic bottles and clothing – and to drinks stations, where people move erratically. It’s quite a challenge to run in such close proximity to other people, so you always need to keep your wits about you. Try to stick your hand out, like an indicator, if you intend to move sideways – and always check before you pull out in front of someone or stop.
Give yourself a bit of a pep talk as you go along. Tell yourself how well you’re doing. Tell yourself how strong you are. You may want to have a mantra, which you can repeat to yourself with ease as you are running. Just tell yourself you are running well, even if you are not!
Even if you are hell-bent on breaking three, four or five hours in this race, don’t keep your mind focused entirely on the finish line throughout. Instead, try to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. You’ve put so much into preparing for this big day, the least you should do is try to savor it a little!