Tundra Trailblazer Ali: What I Wish I Had Known Before My 1st Marathon (Tips & Tricks – Race Prep)

I’m crossing my fingers that the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon will be my 40th marathon/ultra-marathon just before I turn 40 (My CRAZY Goal: 40 by 40)! I set this goal in my early 30s and shelved it for many years.  Fast forward I am sitting at number 39 with a few weeks to go (my 40th birthday is May 31st).

Check the weather for race morning.  The weather forecast can play a factor in subsequent decisions like clothing and hydration plans. Yes, things can change throughout the week, but with technology these days the forecast is pretty accurate 7 or so days out. Being prepared can be a game changer the day of your race.  If it is going to be cold you want to be layered, but if it is going to be hot you don’t want to have layers on that you cannot take off.  Rain is also something to take into consideration.  Once you are wet there is no going back. A garbage bag works as a makeshift poncho if need be. Cut holes for arms and your head.  When and if the rain stops pull it off and toss it in a trash bin at an aid station.  If it is going to be hot it is important to stay hydrated throughout the event and also pre-hydrating in the days leading up to the race.  You cannot control Mother Nature, but having a plan in mind before you encounter weather related challenges can make a huge difference in the outcome of your race.

Know the aid station set up. No two races will have the same aid station set up.  Each event will be unique in what they offer and where they are set up.  Some races stagger their station’s equal distance, others will offer more stops towards the end of the race than they did in the beginning.  Knowing what you will find at each is just as important as knowing where the stations are on the race course.  Very early on in my training cycle 11 years ago I found out that Gatorade and I are not friends.  This wonderful liquid serves many runners and they are happy with how it helps them, but for me, it is a gut bomb.  If that is the liquid option at a race I know that I have to carry my own electrolyte mixture…if I don’t I am looking at numerous visits to the port-a-johns or worse, vomiting on the course.  Neither option a good one!  Speaking of port-a-johns, not every race will have them at each aid station.  Looking that info up will also help to plan out one’s race.  Things don’t always go as planned and having that info can bring peace of mind when you are miles into the event and have to start problem-solving so that you finish.  Lastly, know what type of fuel will be offered at the race and where it will be.  Most marathons will offer some sort of gel 2-3 times along the course.  If it is not what you have trained with leading up to the event you may want to consider carrying the product you trained for with you.  One of the golden rules of racing is to not try anything new the day before, the morning of, or in a race. Experimentation is best left for training runs!

Take a look at the course map/elevation.  Hopefully, you did this before signing up for your event.  It is important to know what you have gotten yourself into and also build in the challenges to your training plan.  Refreshing your memory before the race can help to mentally prepare you for each twist and turn along the course.  If the back half of your race is full of hills you need to be physically prepared for that, save a little in reserve to power through this area.  If you will be running along a river, open water, field, etc that could leave you exposed to wind. As my cross country coach used to say “get small in the wind” drop your head and pull your arms in to reduce drag.  Later in the race, every effort to conserve energy is helpful. Many races these days have online resources to research the course or at the expo a virtual tour. Check them out, knowledge is power and can help to calm pre-race nerves.  I also use online race recaps from runners who have participated in the event before.  Their insight can be helpful.  Bib Rave is a great resource that I have used often to gather information about races that I am planning on running. The reviews are written by runners for runners.

Get lots of sleep/rest.  In the days leading up to the race bank as much sleep as possible.  As your race draws near nerves will set in and restful nights may be few and far between.  Take care of yourself. Eat and rest when you can.  Many races have expos with tons of goodies and booths to partake in. Enjoy, but don’t spend all day on your feet.  Take breaks if possible.  After months of working hard to get to race week, it is important to pamper oneself a bit.  Going into a race rested, hydrated, and fueled will help to set the stage for an awesome experience.

Be prepared.  The day before big races you will find social media outlets flooded with “flat runners”, pictures of gear perfectly organized and ready to go for race morning.  These may seem silly to many, but the concept behind them is spot on.  The morning of my 1st 1/2 marathon I was so nervous and ran around my apartment like a chicken with my head cut off.  I could not find my favorite socks, my shoelaces were all knotted up, my shorts were still in the dryer.  It was mass chaos, not exactly how I pictured my 1st race to start out.  Set yourself up for a more zen like race morning and gather your gear the night before.  Picture or not, it is helpful to know where everything is at the night before in case you need to improvise and use something different. I make sure to mix up my hydration mixture, layout my clothing, untie my shoes, pin on my bib, and stuff my fuel into my pockets.  Another thing that I do is to pack my gear check bag.  After the race I like to get out of my stinking racing outfit and put on something dry. You would be surprised how great a warm fuzzy sweatshirt and flip flops feel after a race.  Don’t forget to a fix your race number to your bag! You can sleep easier knowing that all those details have been handled before you close your eyes and drift off to sleep before race morning. Waking up and being able to calmly get dressed and head out the door has helped to keep my head in the game and prepared for the challenge at hand instead of being frazzled when I arrive to the start line.

There is a common phrase used among long-distance runners…racing is 20% physical and 80% mental.  There will be low times when you want to quit when the race seems impossible…EVERY runner feels that way, but those that keep going push through that low and you will come out on the other side of that low period.  Being prepared is helpful to combat some of the lows.  Work the problem at hand, enjoy the moments that feel good, and embrace the hardships…this is what you signed up for, an experience. Trust me when I say that each marathon is unique and a once in a lifetime event – whether it is your 1st or 100th.  Running changes you when you cross the finish line! It is the best feeling EVER.

#BeHappy #BeKind #BeActive

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