Our friend Nancy Lin of North Brooklyn Runners is a veteran Boston marathoner with a speed demon PR of 3:19:18. She compiled a list of what she's learned NOT to do before a marathon, so those of you running New York City Marathon (or another upcoming fall marathon) don't have to learn the hard way:
Racing marathons never seem to get any easier. I’ve just completed my eighth marathon, the Chicago Marathon (I technically completed 7 marathons, but I think the trail ultra I did should count as one), and I still marvel at the fact that I didn’t keel over midway through the race. With the TCS NYC Marathon in two weeks, many of you are winding down your training. For some, this is your zillion-th marathon. For others, this is your very first. In this post, I’d like to share 7 things you should NEVER do before a marathon. Follow these tips to make your marathon experience as pleasant as possible.
1) Don’t overdo carbo loading
For some reason, runners always equate carbo-loading with stuffing their face full of pasta during the two days leading up to the race. While logically this makes sense, I strongly advise you against doing that. You want to give your body time to digest and big carb meals leading up to the race will leave you feeling full and uncomfortable on the morning of the race. In reality, what you really should do is start carbo-loading 5-6 days out. But instead of simply eating more of everything (you will get chubby in a non-ideal way), you should really just increase the proportion of carbohydrates to fats and protein. Good nutrition is key for marathon runners.
2) Do NOT run in shoes you bought the day before the race
This is really a “duh”, but I’m constantly surprised by the number of runners, experienced and inexperienced, who think this is a good idea. Unless your shoes are mad old (400+ miles), you are better off wearing your old shoes. Blisters are the number one concern of running 26+ miles in brand new shoes. For Boston in 2012, I not only ran in shoes not quite broken in (<30 miles), but they were also a different brand from my usual (another tip, do NOT switch brands for the race). I had blisters on all my toes; some had triple overlapping blisters! Ideally, you should wear shoes with 30-50 miles on them on the day of the race.
3) Don't skip the all-important "dress rehearsal" runs
The wakeup call on marathon race day is usually earlier than most runners’ usual wake up time. Like everyone on race day, I’m so wired up on a rollercoaster of emotions - excited, nervous, dreads - that I have trouble differentiating between a real bodily need and one that’s just nerves. Over the years, I’ve developed a number of routines to help me deal with this morning rollercoaster of confusion. The one habit most helpful is to do two dress rehearsals. On each of the two days before the race, I make an effort to get up within an hour or so of my race wake call up call and follow a routine that mimics race day. This is a great strategy for figuring out race logistics such as how many times you have to go to the bathroom before race time. I often find in the 15 minutes before the race start that I have an intense desire to visit the port-a-potty; it is usually out of nerves and not a real need to go.
4) Don't try to look cute at the start line - layer up!
Do some shopping in a thrift store before race day and find some crappy sweats, i.e., "throwaway clothes". Go for the full-on bag lady/homeless person look, trust me, it's super chic at 5am! November is one of those months in which race day weather can be warm or very chilly, especially when waiting in Staten Island for hours and hours before the start of the NYC Marathon. I typically like to race in a singlet and spandex running shorts…not exactly the ideal type of clothes to stay warm in during the one to four hours wait before the race. Those crappy sweats will save you a lot of pre-race misery.
Also, remember to bring a large trash bag. On the off chance of rain on race day, you at least have a DIY trash bag poncho to wear until the rain lets up. The day I ran the Boston Marathon in 2014, it was 40F degrees. I had a dri-fit long sleeve on. The rain started drizzling right when my wave began. I was immediately drenched. In any normal race, rain isn’t a big concern. However, in a 3+ hour race like a marathon, you risk getting hypothermia. My body stopped generating any noticeable heat half way through the marathon. It was not a good time.
5) Don't stop running the week before. Shake shake shake, shake your legs
The last week of taper consists of mostly very short runs and extra rest days. My legs are usually pretty tight the day after rest days. If you’re like me, I suggest you get in a 2-3 mile easy run the day before the marathon to loosen up and get blood flowing through the legs. On race day, I like to get in a ½ mile to 1 mile warm up jog 30 mins before the race to warm up and prepare the body for the first mile of the marathon. I find that doing a small jog before the race helps control race excitement and prevent you from sprinting out the first mile of the race. I also do some gentle stretches after the jog to round out the warm up and work out any tightness I may have. This help my post-race recovery too.
6) Don't eat random gels and food on the course
There will be new and mysterious flavors of gels on the race course. Do not eat them unless you have tried that exact gel before. It's much safer to stick with the brand and flavors you ate while training. This also goes for coffee, tea, sports drinks, etc, don't eat or drink anything (especially things with caffeine) that you have never eaten before or while running. Otherwise you could be visiting every porta potty for the rest of the race. OnlyAtoms founder Beth Weinstein, a 19-time marathon and 10-time ultramarathoner, told me she *still* sometimes makes this big mistake of eating "whatever they have for gels at the aid stations" (usually after running out of her own gels) during some trail and ultra races. The other year she had to make a bad emergency stop after eating "whatever gel" around mile 20-something during The North Face Endurance Challenge New York, where she had to go a nasty #2 in between cars in the Bear Mountain parking lot. Do not make this embarrassing, painful, gross and race-time-wasting mistake.
7) Don't skip the lube (Bodyglide)
I don’t think I need to say much about this - no one likes or appreciates skin-raw chafing or blisters. Do yourself a favor and save yourself some pain with the following tips/product suggestions.
- Wear only moisture-wicking clothes. This means NO cotton items. Once cotton clothing gets wets, they stay wet!
- Buy Bodyglide to prevent chafing in key spots such as inner thighs and under seam lines of various clothing parts. Guys can also buy some bandages to put over nipples to prevent chafing there.
- One of the benefits of racing in shoes you’ve trained in and that have been broken in is that you know exactly where on your foot blisters form after x miles. Buy blister cushions such as the Compeed brand line and place over those spots to prevent blisters from forming during the race. Putting glide or oil on your feet helps too.
I wish everyone good luck at NYC Marathon and at any other fall season marathons. I can’t wait to hear about everyone’s race day experience ☺
You can follow Nancy and her marathon adventures on Instagram @starlit2009. Are you running NYC Marathon for the first time? Got any questions for us? Ping us on Facebook or Twitter!