Last Minute Preparation for a Marathon, Half Marathon or Fun Run

Amelia Phillips

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You’ve done the training. You’re feeling fit. It’s time to think about your strategy for the big day. Factors such as the type of training, food, recovery, and race day strategies can be the difference between a PB and a PF (personal flop!) What can you do in the two weeks leading up to a race and on the day that will deliver your best running effort yet?

Taper your training:

Tapering training will enable your body to be fully recovered from all those long runs you’ve subjected it to. It gives you a chance to build up important stores such as your iron levels, zinc and white blood count. Do you need any more reasons to cut your training back? Most people jump at the opportunity!

Tapering is dependent on the distance of your race. For a marathon I would suggest halving your total distance/time run for the last two weeks. Doing shorter easy runs, mixed with a few sprints will help with speed, but really it’s just about maintaining what you’ve already got.

For a half marathon, the more prepared you are, the more time you have for tapering. Your last long run should be 8 days before, but if you only decided only three weeks before the race to do it, you may very well need that extra bit of time! You won’t make a huge difference to your fitness in the 8 days leading up to the race, but you run the risk of being tired/injured if you smash yourself so close to it.

For any distances less than a half marathon, give yourself four days off running before the race and you should fresh a daisy on the day.

Get stretching:

Admit it, you don’t stretch enough. What is it with most runners and stretching? It’s about as popular as a cold shower in winter (maybe because it can feel just as painful!). Hamstrings, calves (stretch with both a straight leg and bent), glutes, hip flexors, and lower back are the essentials. Click here for a video on some popular runners stretches. You may prefer to join a yoga or body balance class as this will stretch not only your running muscles but others you never even knew you had.

What to eat and drink before the race:

The ‘last supper’ is an important one. Actually what you eat that entire day could make a difference. Eat sensibly all day, rather than stuffing your face at night. Eat the same amount as you normally would, or slightly more, but don’t be a pig. What goes in must come out, and you don’t need that half way around the course! Don’t try a new meal or something you’ve never eaten. Spicy, rich foods are a no-no, so is salt and high salt meals.

You definitely want carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, cous cous etc) to make up about 80% of your evening meal. If you suspect you might be intolerant of wheat, best to stick with brown rice or potatoes the night before, rather than bread or pasta.

I would suggest adding some iron rich food and protein your evening meal as well. It could be spinach and white meat, but I prefer a small piece of red meat. The protein from the meat will also help in your recovery, but save the big, heavy protein meal for the days after the race.

Some people are camels and can run on a completely empty stomach (like me). I would suggest sticking with what you know on race day, but you may want to have a sugary drink prior if you haven’t eaten since dinner.

Those who need to eat before a run, make sure you leave three hours between your meal and the run and keep it light like a banana, porridge, or toast with jam.

Hydration before the race

Pre-hydration the day before, not just re-hydration after the race is a crucial factor. Each day you need 30ml of water for every kilo you weigh. Then between 500ml- 1litre (depending on body size and race intensity ) for every hour you exercise. If you feel you might be dehydrated, you may want to increase that amount the day before. They say that a normally hydrated person will often need to get up once during the night. ┬áSo it’s a good sign if you need to get up the night before your race.

If you are well hydrated before the race, you will need less drink stops, which can help with your race time. You also don’t want to be having big gulps while you run as it can lead to stomach cramps. Besides, they say that once you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated so best to tackle that the day before and just sip at your drink stations.

Try to get 7-8 hours each night in the week leading up to the race. Have an early night the night before and do what you can to reduce your jitters so you sleep well. If, however you have a restless night, don’t despair. One night out of seven won’t make that much difference, and I can assure you, I’ve done many a fast run on little sleep!

Race day strategy

Everyone has their own little systems that work, but here are some tips for race day that you might want to consider;

  • Don’t change anything! No new shoes, outfits, food, drinks, gadgets, that have not been tried and tested in training. Not even your underpants!
  • Get there early – however don’t freeze your butts off: There can be a lot of standing around, so bring an old jumper you don’t mind throwing away, or have your pit crew nearby to toss it to right before the gun. By getting there early, you can relax, enjoy the atmosphere, use the bathroom, and most importantly have a proper warm up and stretch.
  • Go to the bathroom before the race: But remember the queues can last up to 45 mins in some of the bigger races.
  • Know your race plan: Position yourself in the correct start place so you aren’t elbowing the slow pokes to get past, or getting trampled by the keen beans. Have your watch or heart rate monitor set up to all the correct laps and settings so you can pace yourself. Some races have pacers wearing shirts with their estimated pace time. They can be a really good helping hand but pull away if the pace is different to your norm.
  • Enjoy the race! You have trained hard for this, and you are quite possibly the fittest you have ever been. Be in the moment throughout your race, and blow away any negative self talk. Yes you will be hurting, but remain positive in your attitude and watch how much more fun you will have. If you can’t enjoy the race, I promise you will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment afterwards.

Good luck and keep me posted on your results!

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16 responses to “Last Minute Preparation for a Marathon, Half Marathon or Fun Run”

  1. Peter J says:

    I am competing in a half marathon in a couple of weeks. I have been doing 11km and 14km jogs, but I am worried that they are not long enough, and with 2 weeks left i am not sure if i should be tapering or trying to increase my distances?

  2. Hi Peter J,
    I would suggest running around 20km before the big day. It gives you piece of mind that you can actually last the distance. However if it’s two weeks out, you’re getting a little close. Squeeze one in no closer than 10 days before, otherwise you’ve missed the boat. You’ll be better off doing a few harder 10kms and a 20min sprint session. I’m sure you are a lot fitter than you give yourself credit for!

  3. Hi,
    On the day, how much warm up should I do?

  4. Alex says:

    I’m training in a marathon scheme now, for something different, but I like the idea of running as a way of reaching goals.
    This have almost brought me to success – almost, because when I came in a difficult situation I couldn’t keep myself hydrated all the time. This led to nothing good.
    Thanks for the article – bookmarked it to use in training!

  5. Hi Alex,
    Thanks for your comment, yes hydration is quite possibly the single most important aspect of marathon training and racing. You live and learn don;t you!!!

  6. Hi Katarina,
    So sorry I didn’t reply to your comment before the Sydney marathon, no doubt that was the race you were preparing for. However, for next time you should do a five minute slow jog to warm up, followed by a good ten minute stretch. The most important muscles to stretch are; Calves (with a bent and a straight knee), hamstrings, hips, glutes, lower back, quads and hip flexors. I cannot stress enough the importance of stretching before a race, and you can’t stretch properly without that five minute warmup. After that, get into your position and keep jogging on the spot to keep warm.

  7. SpinDiva says:

    I only hope some day to run this far. I would be happy running 10 Ks for ever. For now, I am happy to get a couple of miles in when I can.

  8. Amelia says:

    Well Spin Diva,

    After all you are a ‘spin diva’ not a ‘run diva’…. But stranger things have happened…. Surprise me with a 1hr outdoor run!


  9. Tom says:

    I’m supposed to run my first half marathon in 2 days. About a week ago, I started having some IT band issues. Should I go ahead with the half marathon and then rest my legs for a while to let the IT band issue get resolved? I don’t want to do permanent damage but would like to finish what I’ve trained for.

  10. Hi Tom,
    Yes I think you should run the race. Give the IT band a serious stretch the night before, the morning of and straight after the race. I would also give it a good massage the night before. If you can bear sitting on the ground with a foam roller and sandwiching the roller between your leg and the floor and rolling it over the IT band, that will loosen it up
    IT issues are often caused by instability in the hip area and internal rotation of the femur. Don;t worry they are common in the earlier stages of a runners training. The fitter/stronger you get, the better it should be.
    Book a massage for 2 days after the race, but get ready to scream – ouch!
    Best of luck!!! Let me know how you go…

  11. Bronwen says:

    When preparaing to run a half a marathon, how many days prior should you have total rest from exercise? And what level of intensity/type of exercise that week prior to the marathon?

  12. Great job on Sunday and in Boston. Not sure i agree too much with your 1L of water per hour in an event. Marathon running is pretty intense (as you know) and having run a fair few myself (and a few ultras), I err on the side of caution and while I will drink a little at each station, I doubt I drink 3 litres in a marathon- even if it is hot (for a three hour time), I also don’t think that anyone going 4 hours should drink 4 liters or more. They are liable to get water intoxication and end up feeling unwell.

    Just my ramblings mind. Good luck for 3 hours in Melbourne!

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