How to be race-day ready!

With the Virgin London Marathon coming up in a couple of days it reminded me of my first-marathon nerves when I ran London back in 2012. This prompted me to write today’s post on how to be race-ready, both physically and mentally.

Virgin London Marathon, 2012

Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS for getting this far (big pat on the back!). You’ve put in a lot of training and all those early morning LSD runs are going to be rewarded when you cross that finish line as a champion! Congratulations, too, if you’ve chosen to raise money for a charity. The London Marathon is one of the biggest fundraising events in the world and running for a charity is a huge incentive for many to run the grueling 26.2 miles.

Now, it’s easy to get caught up in all the nervous emotion in the lead-up to race day, and this is where there is a tendency to lose focus on being prepared for the day itself. You wouldn’t want to take your eyes off the prize at this late stage, especially if you’ve been on track with every other aspect of your training so far.

So I’m here to help by providing this blog post to you as a checklist for race day. Hopefully you have been carb-loading for the past week and hydrating yourself efficiently. Remember, you don’t need to carb-load to excess! We should only increase our carbohydrate intake from around 40/50% a day to 70% in the week running up to race day. And this doesn’t mean stuffing your face with potatoes, bread and pasta. Don’t forget about complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and lots of vegetables count as carbohydrates, too.

It is vital that you keep hydrated. I would be drinking 2 litres of water a day at this point and I would ensure I spread that out over the course of each day. The worst thing would be to make up for lost fluids and try and down a litre of water before bedtime! You’ll be on the toilet all night in that case. Not fun.

You will have probably visited, or about to visit, the Marathon Expo to pick up your race number and other bits of final kit. Do try and get your name printed on your race top — there is a bit of a wait to get this done, but it is so worthwhile to hear everyone shouting your name along the course. You’ll be handed the big drawstring plastic bag at the expo, of which here are the essential items I would be packing into it for race day:

1. Race number bib and running chip

I know it’s obvious, but people do forget it! This is why as soon as I get home I fill out the emergency information on the back of the bib (in permanent pen), and then I attach the bib to my race top that I’ll be wearing. I also attach the time chip to my trainer laces and then there’s no chance I will forget either!

2. Safety pins

Even if you’re already attached your bib to your race top it’s always worth having a few spare for other runners that have forgotten. London Marathon staff do tend to have some spare on site but the last thing you want to be doing in the morning is running around the starting area looking for a bloomin’ safety pin!!

3. Vaseline and plasters

Ahhh, chaffing. We’ve all been victims of it. I find the best way to avoid it is to smear it all over chaff-prone areas — i.e. for the girls; I would put it underneath the tighter areas of your sports bra, for example the straps and underarm area. I would also put it on your waist/hip band of your shorts/leggings or whatever you’re wearing on your bottom half. I also use Band-Aid Friction Block stick, which I discovered at Boots, and use this in between and around my toes to avoid blisters. Other people tend to use other products like Bodyglide, which looks like a deodorant stick, making application a little easier.

Plasters are handy for post-race emergency aid to all those painful blisters. But in all honesty I would try and leave them alone at least until you get home when you can treat them properly.

4. A running belt or running water bottle

Some people prefer to run without anything attached to their bodies, and this is simply a matter of personal preference. For me, I cannot survive without having my own gels, liquids and other munchies to accompany me on my run. For marathons I use something similar to the one below, which is a Nathan Trail Mix 0.6L belt. The pocket fits about 4 gels and other sweets/snacks. I also prefer to have my own water and other energy drink, just in case I need it before I reach the next water station. Otherwise I’ll pack a running water bottle like the ones pictured, which you can get from your nearest running shop. These I’m happy to throw away during the race.

Warning: if you run with one of those gel belts, make sure you’ve run with them beforehand. I bought one at the expo and hadn’t trialed it before the race, only to run as far as 10 metres and experience a simultaneous ‘drop’ to the ground of all my expensive Torq gels. Don’t let this happen to you.

5. Nutrition

Whichever gels, sweets, drinks you’ve trialed in your training, take those and ONLY those with you on race day. Do NOT be tempted to try anything on race day that you haven’t tried during your training. You do not want gelly-belly! (Ok, I made that up). It’s true though, and I have seen many a runner throw-up during the race because they could not stomach the gels that were handed to them at the water stations. If you’re running the Virgin London Marathon you will already know that Lucozade is the main sponsor for nutrition, so if you’re used to Lucozade from your training then you’ve just saved yourself a lot of hassle carrying your own supply during the race!

For pre-race nutrition I will bring along some SOS Rehydrate sachets with me, just to top up my hydration levels before the start. I’ll usually sip this on my commute to the starting area. I eat my breakfast 2 hours before the race, so whilst I’m waiting in the start area I usually have a banana, cereal bar, or other high G.I food half an hour before the race starts.

Then for post-run I have a spare 500ml water bottle ready in my bag to fill up with my For Goodness Shakes protein recovery drink (usually the 3:1 carb to protein ratio). The carbohydrate replaces glycogen stores. The inclusion of both fast (whey) and slow (casein) protein with 6g essential amino acids supports muscle repair. And it’s super tasty and just what I need when I’m exhausted at the end. Make sure you take it within half an hour of finishing the race, as this is the optimum time when your body needs help with recovery.

If you take some other form of snacks, whether it be jelly babies, nutrigrain bars (my favourite!) or jelly beans, make sure you’ve unpacked them and put them in the pocket of your belt all ready. I have to cut up my nutrigrain bar into small pieces and I usually put them in some cling film so they don’t stick to everything else!

6. Wet wipes and tissues

Wet wipes are an absolute staple to have in any race day bag! They’re often handed out by spectators during the race, and are so happily received by the runners, especially when your hands are all sticky from all those gels and sports drinks (not a nice feeling!). I also have them at the ready when I’ve finished the race to get rid of all my horrible, dry sweat marks on my face and body! And tissues you’ll need when all the toilet roll is gone from the portaloos…

7. iPod/iPhone and your headphones/earphones

Again, this is down to personal preference. Some people swear by listening to music, others think you have a competitive advantage and that it isn’t safe to run a race with such a distraction. I always have my music with me and actually find it very therapeutic, particularly along the sections of the race where crowds are scarce and it can get a bit lonely. But please remember to charge your phone!!

8. GPS watch

Again, if you have one and choose to run with it, remember to charge it!

9. A towel and change of clothes

There isn’t really the opportunity to change anywhere when you finish, so get your friends and family to form a human changing room around you whilst you discreetly get changed into some nice, dry clothes. This includes a spare pair of clean socks and trainers, but if you can I would recommend bringing along flip flops as your feet will be so sweaty and swollen they’ll need to be out in the open air for a while!

I also recommend packing compression socks/tights and putting those on immediately, as they will aid your recovery (especially when your quads/calves/hamstrings are screaming at you at the end!).

10. An old hoodie or jumper for the start

I have accumulated a large collection of these over the years, just because they are so handy whilst you’re waiting (sometimes in the freezing cold) in the starting line. Once the race starts you just chuck the jumper over the side and then later on staff collect them all to donate to charities. Everybody wins!

11. A cap, sunglasses and sun cream!

I always run with a cap as it acts as a nice shield whatever the weather. You never know what the weather will be like on the day, even if you check at the last minute, and London especially loves to surprise us with its weather, so I now always apply sun cream just in case. The year I ran London I didn’t put any on and had lovely knee sock tan marks for 3 months afterwards!

12. A smile and a positive attitude!

Needless to say, this counts for a lot on the day. It is pointless worrying about how little training you’ve done, or whether that niggling injury is going to come back to haunt you at mile 13. You have made it to race day and the most important thing you can do is listen to your body. Don’t rush at the start and sprint the first couple of miles — if your body is saying slow down then SLOW DOWN. Take in the atmosphere; listen to the crowds cheering your name, look at the beautiful sights. London as my first marathon was one of the best days of my life, but only when I stopped looking at my watch, relaxed my body and actually enjoyed being in the moment.

Hopefully I’ve provided a handy reminder list for all of you runners, and eased off some of those nerves. A good night’s sleep will help as well of course, and make sure you set two alarms just in case!

Good luck and happy running!

A happy and positive attitude at mile 19, Canary Wharf
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