The week before the marathon is probably the longest seven days in the whole preparation process. The nerves kick into overdrive and the tension starts to mount. In the midst of all the excitement it’s natural to question everything you’ve done and are about to do and it’s now you become prone to making bad decisions that could affect your race. I know because I’ve made plenty of them. Here are ten marathon mistakes I made and learned from the hard way, so you know what to avoid.
Buy lots of things from the marathon expo (and use them in the race)
You’re at the marathon expo, you’ve got your race number and excitement is at an all time high. You’re also surrounded by a treasure trove of new and wonderful running paraphernalia from strange new gels and bars, to belts, socks and shoes. You’re like Augustus Gloop in the Chocolate Factory and it’s all too easy to start questioning your kit and splashing the cash on brand new gear. Don’t.
Other than buying more of the same gels you’ve used in training, or an official jacket that you’ll only be able to wear if you actually finish the race, there’s really not much you can buy here that’s likely to help you in your upcoming race. Adding new things into the mix at this late stage is asking for trouble.
Get in one last long run
It’s all too easy to panic that your training might come up short, and so you decide to head out for that one last long run. Resist the temptation. Any big mileage you do now will still be in your legs come race day and that’s the last thing you want. Have confidence that no matter what happens at mile 21 your mind is strong enough to keep you going.
Eat their own bodyweight in pasta
A lot of people head for the nearest Italian the night before the big race. It’s a mistake. There’s nothing to gain from introducing a kilo of gluten-filled pasta 12 hours before you run, apart from a guaranteed spot in the portaloo queue. Start adding sensible amounts of extra carbs to meals in the week leading up to the race and opt for good sources like sweet potato. That last thing you want to wake up to on race day is a carb baby you’re going to have to carry around the 26.2. Particularly if you also need to give birth to said baby half way around.
Go walkabout the day before
If you’re doing a foreign city marathon, there’s a huge temptation to just do ‘a little bit of sightseeing’. After all you may never be back in Paris again right? Six hours later you’ve seen the Mona Lisa, you’ve queued to climb the Eiffel Tower and your legs are now smashed. If you care about hitting a time on race day, stay focused on why you came in the first place. Sight seeing can wait until after the race when a gentle walk will be great for flushing out your lactic acid and general recovery.
Fail to make a race plan
Whether you’re aiming for a sub-5 or a sub-3, having a race plan is smart. It can be as simple as writing your average pace on the back of your hand and trying to stick to that, or you can break the race into segments of first 6, middle 14, final 6.2 and take it slower, faster and then whatever’s left. Work out your plan and do a mental walk through of how it’s going to go. Then do everything you can to de disciplined and stick to it, particularly in those first six miles.
Stop doing any exercise
Two weeks before the big day you’ll start to hear people talking about tapering. This is the bit where you ease off. The hard yards in your training should be done and now it’s all about getting your body to the start line healthy, refreshed and raring to go. But that doesn’t mean stopping completely. If strength training has been part of your programme there’s no reason to stop these sessions, just don’t do any new drills or crazy weights. I always like to keep my legs ticking over with shorter, low tempo runs, not for training gains mind, I simply find it’s good for my mental state as a way to break up the tension that comes with the wait for race day.
Shake hands with people
You’ve just spent three or four months of your life making sacrifices that may or may not include: sleep, doughnuts, beer, wine, meeting friends, Sunday lie ins, time with the family. And then 5 days before the race you the lurgy strikes and leaves your PB hopes in tatters. If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard a runner tell me this story I’d almost have enough to buy a pair of those Nike sub-2 shoes.
This might sound like madness but plenty of professional athletes have told me they limit their exposure to colds and bugs by not shaking hands with people. I sometimes take this one step further and wear a full bio-hazard suit.
Listen too much to other runners
This is probably a strange thing to say while I’m busy making claims about what you shouldn’t do before race day but in the final weeks as you encounter more and more runners you’ll get a lot of advice. Everyone who has ever run a marathon will have their own unique approach to the 26.2. That doesn’t mean what worked for them will work for you. Or in fact, that it was actually that special pre-race breakfast that really helped them hit their PB.
Everyone who has ever run a marathon will have their own unique approach to the 26.2. That doesn’t mean what worked for them will work for you.
It’s like those moments before you go into an exam and everyone’s talking up what they revised but no one really knows what’s the next 4 hours is going to throw at them, it’s all too easy to panic and lose your focus. Stay calm, trust your kit, your training, your nutrition and everything will be ok.
Change their diet
Plenty of the advice you get as the big day closes in will be about what you eat, before and during the race. Nowhere will this bombardment be heavier than at the race Expo where you’ll be offered all kinds of new magic sweets, gels, drinks and tablets that promise to solve all your energy problems.
Hopefully by now you’ve already found a fuel source that works for you and so you can block this out altogether (unless you’re interested for a future race). If you’ve always had porridge for breakfast before you big runs, have porridge on the day, don’t switch to poached eggs and quinoa pancakes because someone else swears by them. The only exception to this is if your diet consists of 10 pints of wine a night. In which case definitely change it.
And finally… doubt themselves
This is so easily done. You take stock of everything you’ve done in training and how your body feels and for some reason you decide you’re not ready. This, that or the other isn’t perfect. You missed a long run, your not 100 per cent about your fuelling plan or your last run felt like too much of a struggle at your target race pace. Take all of these thoughts and delete them. Then repeat after me: ‘I am ready. I am ready. I am ready.’ Visualise what it’s going to be like crossing that finish line and hold that feeling. You have to go into a marathon believing you’re ready. The brain controls the body and if the brain says yes, the legs will too.