One of the Golden Rules of marathoning is also one of the simplest: Don’t try to do anything on race day which you haven’t done in training.
The marathon is not the time for experimentation with new shoes, strategy, clothes or nutritional supplements. Doing so, might work out but chances are that experimenting with something new during a marathon or half marathon will more likely lead to disaster.
Which is one of the primary reasons you do long runs—to experiment. Your many long runs during the build up to the marathon are the perfect dress rehearsals to try something new. If it works, you can practice it on subsequent long runs and use it during the marathon. If it doesn’t, no worries. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
If you’re planning to run an upcoming marathon or half such as Austin, Decker, 3M, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Philly, New York or any other, now is the time to utilize one or more long runs before the big day to test any changes you might want to implement.
Basically what you should experiment with during long runs can be broken into three key areas: equipment, nutrition and marathon pace (or race strategy). Your marathon success will depend on all three areas so if you’re faced with questions about what to do during an upcoming marathon, get your answers now during your final long runs.
1. Shoes. You need to determine which shoe works best for you. Will you wear training shoes, racers or lightweight performance shoes in the big race? Regardless of which shoe you wear, you should make absolutely certain the shoe feels completely comfortable and works well on your long runs. Of special importance, is that race day shoe has plenty of cushioning and support left for the marathon. If there’s any doubt about its cushioning or support, buy a new pair of the exact same model at least two weeks before the marathon or half. It’s much better to wear a “fresh” shoe for the marathon than one with compromised cushioning.
2. Socks. Determine which type of socks—thin, thick, double layers, CoolMax—works best for you and is the most comfortable. Make sure your running socks work well with the shoes you have selected to run the marathon and that you don’t experience blisters on long runs.
3. Skin lubrication. If you have chafed on prior long runs, try using a lubricant such as Body Glide to smooth over problem areas. If the lubricant works well on long runs, determine how much you will need to use during the marathon. (Some runners chafe so badly they carry a small amount of Body Glide during the race.) Also, long run with a lip balm.
4. Clothing. Depending on the weather, experiment on long runs with the various clothing combinations you might wear (long sleeve, hat, gloves, tights, vests, singlets, sportsbra, sunglasses, shorts, etc.) to determine what to wear and how much. Any article of clothing should be worn several times before you wear it in a marathon. Absolutely never wear anything in the marathon that you buy at the marathon expo the day before. Never.
1. Pre-race carbohydrates. Before several long runs, you should carbo-load the night before just like you’ll do before the marathon. The pre-long run meal is the time to try different carbohydrate-rich dishes and see which tastes the best—and works the best the next day. Also, it gives you a chance to determine how much you need to eat, when you should eat and how much to drink. By the time the marathon comes along, you’ll know exactly what to eat (and what not to), how much and when to eat before the race.
2. Pre-race nutrition. It’s a good idea to eat some carbohydrate-rich foods a few hours before the marathon. Such easily digestible foods as a banana, bagel or cereal are all good the morning of the marathon, but experiment with them before long runs to determine exactly what, how much and when to eat.
3. Caffeine. Many runners have a cup of coffee or tea before they run and wonder whether they should the morning of the marathon. If you don’t have any issues tolerating a cup before the long runs, you should be fine for the marathon. But limit yourself to just one cup of coffee or tea.
4. Bowel movement. You will need to have a bowel movement before running the marathon—or long run. Experiment with how much time you need to be awake before going to the bathroom and whether caffeine or anything else will speed the process. This is critically important to get the timing down right.
5. Hydration. The necessity to drink during a marathon or long run is a given. But you should also make absolutely certain you are properly hydrated before you even start. Before long runs, experiment with how much water or sports drink you should drink before starting the run so you are completely hydrated, but not so much that you have to urinate every mile. During your long runs, you’ll also need to hydrate and after doing a few longer runs you’ll be able to determine approximately how much you need to drink and when to drink to stay fully hydrated. You’ll also be able to decide on long runs whether water or sports drinks (or a combination of the two) works best.
6. Energy gel supplements. Experimenting on long runs with energy gels is key. (Much more so in the marathon than a half.) If you use them on long runs, find them palatable and feel they help provide energy, plan to use the gels during the race. If you don’t use them on long runs, don’t even think about using them during the marathon because they could leave you with a very upset stomach. I used to use coenzyme q10. for more details here but the was one of the only things the did not upset my stomach. But on long runs, try different flavors from the various brands to find the ones that taste and work the best. Also determine how often you need to take on gels, how to carry them and the timing of taking them.
Marathon Pace (Strategy)
There are many different pacing strategies for the marathon from even pace running to negative split (running the second half faster than the first) but whatever you decide to attempt on marathon morning, it should be practiced several times during long runs.
But clearly the key is to use your long runs to determine what is the best race pace you can sustain for many, many miles without becoming exhausted. Whatever pace you determine that you can sustain on long runs, will be the pace you will try to run for the marathon or half marathon.
It is key to do at least a few long runs of various distances at marathon goal pace. If you find that pace is too difficult to sustain on a long, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you will run substantially faster on marathon morning. You won’t.
Practice your marathon strategy as many times as possible before the marathon. If you do it properly, it will pay off on marathon morning.