THE DAY BEFORE YOUR MARATHON:
Training: If you run at all, jog for no more than 30 minutes. Many runners like to run the day before a marathon to get any kinks out. Just take it easy, no matter how good you feel.
Mental preparation: Visualize the finish. You have made it, and you’re exhausted but triumphant as you run the final few hundred yards feeling strong and steady. See yourself raising your hands as you cross the line to the cheers of thousands of spectators.
Diet: Try to make one of today’s meals a special event with family and friends who will relax with you and share your excitement. Contrary to popular belief, what you eat today will have little effect on your marathon as long as you stick to the usual — plenty of carbohydrates and beverages. Eat dinner early so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
Equipment: Lay out everything that you plan to wear or bring to the start: racing singlet and shorts, tights and a short-or long-sleeved shirt if appropriate, mittens or gloves, hat, headband, bandanna, sweats, rainsuit, whatever you will need. Pack a separate set of warm, dry clothes for the finish. Your equipment should include your bag, running number, extra shoelaces and safety pins, bus ticket to the start, car key, beverages, containers, food for before and after, money, petroleum jelly (to prevent chafing and protect exposed areas from wind and cold), sunscreen, music tapes, a headset, and a plastic garbage bag if it’s raining.
Sleep: Marathon-related anxiety dreams such as missing the start, losing your shoes, or running the wrong course are a common occurrence. So don’t worry if you don’t sleep well. If you’re generally well-rested, one night’s poor sleep won’t hurt you.
Diet: Wake up at least 2 hours before the start. Give yourself enough time to eat something light but high in carbohydrates. Drink water or a sports drink, stretch, and get to the starting line with time to spare.
Mental preparation: Mentally, you want to achieve a state of optimal arousal. That means that you want to be eager and excited but not crippled by nervousness. Think back to other races to recall this feeling. If you feel too keyed up, sit or lie down, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Visualize the race or simply think peaceful, happy thoughts. On the other hand, if you’re not “up” enough, walk or jog and talk to other runners, but don’t tire yourself.
Equipment: Keep warm and comfortable until the last possible minute before the race. Many runners wear old sweats to the start and discard them just before the gun. Otherwise, standing around in the cold can cramp your muscles. Make sure to apply petroleum jelly to areas likely to chafe, such as underarms, nipples, and inner thighs. Mark your bag so that you can find it easily at the finish. During the race, lose layers if you feel too warm, or you’ll lose precious fluids through perspiration. Keep extremities covered if it’s cold.
Warmup: It’s not necessary to warm up extensively prior to a marathon, but do try to do some walking and a few minutes of jogging to loosen your legs and raise your body temperature, otherwise you could be caught cold.
Racing: Running a successful marathon is an exercise in holding back. Ideally, the hard work shouldn’t begin until 20 miles. Then your training and willpower will get you to the finish. During the race, remain calm and focused. Note your splits, and take encouragement from a steady pace early on, even if others are passing you. Break the race into segments, and work through each part rather than attack the full 26.2 miles.
Other details: Don’t eat or drink anything on the course that you haven’t tried previously in training. If you do, you may suffer digestive woes. Take water early and often. If you feel cramps or stomach upset en route, walk until the problem lessens.
Finish: When you come through the finish line, keep walking around and take on some fluids right away. Pat yourself on the back — you made it. Find your friends or family, and go celebrate.
Originally appeared at: http://innovationforendurance.msn.com/articles/detail/running/252329031