You may be surprised to see your training plan decreasing in mileage these last couple weeks. Studies have shown a taper to be potentially beneficial for athletes from amateur to professional levels. Yet while you are enjoying this extra free time and rest for your legs, it’s not uncommon for panic to strike. “Won’t I be out of practice when it comes to race day??” The most anxious of runners might even add a couple miles on for their peace of mind. Rest assured that you have prepared your body enough in the previous weeks, and that the taper will help (or at least not hurt) you. Too much mileage can also lead to common overuse injuries, which is the last thing you want when you have come this far.
Fuel I: Carbohydrate (“carb”) loading
Carb loading doesn’t necessarily mean eating more pasta than you’ve ever seen before, especially if pasta isn’t a typical part of your diet. Just remember to eat sufficiently the night before the race, with a good portion coming from carbohydrates. Don’t experiment with new foods or stuff yourself until you feel sick. Stick with something you have eaten prior to a good long run during your training, and don’t overthink it.
Everyone has heard of the dreaded “wall”. Whether it manifests physiologically, mentally, or (most likely) a combination, it is nearly inevitable. What you can do is try to set yourself up to hit the wall as late as possible in the race. Coming from somebody who hit the wall hard at mile 20 in 2015, learned from my mistakes, and hit the “regular” wall around mile 23 in 2016, I can attest that pacing yourself is crucial.
The beginning of the Chicago Marathon takes you through skyscrapers and cheering crowds. Adrenaline will likely numb your body to pain or fatigue, making it easy to get swept away. Running under your goal race pace for a mile or two is not catastrophic by any means. However, if you can keep your pace reasonably in check from the start, you will be thankful 2-3 hours later.
Fuel II: Race day maintenance
Maintaining sufficient carbohydrates and fluid-electrolyte levels in your body during the race is like fueling a car–necessary in order for it to run! According to the Journal of Sports Sciences, carbohydrate intake during a long race should be at least 30-60 grams per hour, potentially up to 90 grams per hour depending on the intensity and duration. For reference, a running gel or chew typically provides 20-30 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 ounces of gatorade has 14 grams. Don’t be afraid to stop and walk through the fuel stations. A few seconds on your overall time is worth sparing in order to make sure you replenish your body.
**Extra tip: watch for gels with caffeine and know how your body responds to this. The fuel stations will have multiple flavors of energy gels, including caffeine options. A bit of caffeine can provide a beneficial energy boost, but only if your digestive and cardiovascular systems can process caffeine in the high-stressed situation of running.
Recovery: Know your body
It is important to know the difference between soreness and pain. Muscle soreness is most often bilateral/symmetrical, widespread, and felt along an entire muscle when it is stretched or flexed. “Bad” pain is often sharper, more pin-point, can be unilateral, and might not relieve with rest. Lastly, muscle soreness typically lasts only a couple days. If several days pass and your pain is the same or worse, consider seeking a professional opinion (such as an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist, who can help you to manage an injury and/or prevent further injury).
Use these tips to be a smart runner on race day, whether you are a veteran runner or this is your first marathon. Most importantly, have fun!