5 (Atypical) Pieces of Marathon Advice

Going into my fourth 26.2 this Sunday at the New Jersey Marathon, I’ve decided to write up some of my advice that I haven’t heard/read over and over elsewhere. I’m no expert, but I know a lot of other people racing on 4/30 and 5/1 too, so maybe this can be helpful to other people who are also suffering taper crazies and marathon anxieties 🙂

Advice the First: Always bring an extra gel.
No matter what your favorite marathon fuel happens to be, no matter what, on race day, BRING AN EXTRA. You may think from your training runs that you know exactly how many gels you’ll need to go 26.2. But let me tell you a story.

When I ran the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon, I figured I’d need four gels. But I’d packed five in my overnight bag so I figured, “What the heck? I’ll bring the last one. Don’t want it to get lonely!” And this turned out to be a very fortunate decision when at mile 21 I ripped the top off my fourth gel and… nothing. It wasn’t open. The tear-off was just a little bit misaligned. So I angrily threw the traitorous gel aside and pulled out my fifth and EXTRA gel… and miracle of miracles!! Gel emerged! Sweet, delicious, life-giving gel!

Lesson: Always bring an extra gel. It may give you an extra boost or it may save you from a major crash when your final gel of the day betrays you!

Advice the Second: Lube. Everywhere.
Body Glide. Vaseline. Deodorant. I don’t care what you use. Spread it everywhere. I’ve finished three marathons chafe-free and let me tell you how. Vaseline in my arm pits. On my thighs. Slathered on my feet. Under my sports bra. EVERYWHERE. I’ve learned in the past that even if I don’t chafe during training, that extra 4-6 miles on race day can often produce unique and painful hot-spots later. Play it safe: lube everything.

On a related note to spreading stuff all over your body: sunscreen is good too. Highly recommend.

Advice the Third: Make a mantra and stick with it.
I have some mantras that I will think on repeat when the going gets tough. Some remind me to stay tall and (relatively) light on my feet. One of these is “Butterflies,” which I stole from Bill Rogers after reading his memoir. Also just repeating the word “strong” in my head helps.

Some are inspirational or encouraging. “You can do it.” “Why not me?” “Feeling good.”

And lately, a line from Hamilton pops into my head during the hard parts of a workout: “Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction; you knock me down, I get the fuck back up again!” Since this marathon is largely redemption for me after struggling to run-walk and finish Philly last fall (after my legs started cramping intermittently starting at mile 15/16), this line gets me super pumped.

But honestly, in the final miles of a marathon, nothing beats (for me), simply muttering, “Fuck fuck fuck” to myself. Swearing is a special kind of catharsis that relieves the pain of 26.2 — even if only momentarily.

Advice the Fourth: Visualization is key.
Something that helps me a lot in the last miles of a long run or at the end of a hard race is visualization. I visualize coming across the finish line strong. I visualize the food I’m going to eat and the sweet, sweet blue G2 Gatorade I’m going to drink. I will also (and this may sound a bit crazy) visualize friends or family running with me, cheering for me just ahead, or waiting for me at the finish line. Thinking about people who are near and dear to me gives me a little extra push when I’d rather just give up, lay on the ground, and take a nap.

Advice the Fifth: Gear check/bag check is your friend.
I was texting with a running buddy the other day, and he told me that he has never once checked a bag for a race. I was shocked. And so here I am to tell you that gear check is your friend! Especially for a long race like a marathon, and double-especially if you’re going to be hanging around for a while (without access to your car/home) waiting for others to finish, before going to lunch, etc.

For a marathon, here’s what typically goes in my gear check bag:

  • A change of shoes (or at least fresh socks): By the end of a marathon your feet are GROSS and in desperate need of a change of scenery. I can’t wear flip-flops post-race without major foot cramps, so I usually go for my well-worn pair of Toms.
  • A jacket and possibly sweatpants: Depends on the weather, but I guarantee that once your sweat starts to dry and if you’re going to lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant, you’ll want something to keep you warm.
  • A change of clothes: Always a good idea to bring a change of clothes if you won’t be getting home or to your hotel for a while. Fresh clothes means less time sitting around in stinky, sweaty clothes feeling disgusting.
  • Baby wipes: Wanna go above and beyond in feeling fresh? BABY WIPES. Wipe that grime off your face, out of your pits, off your feet, etc. It feels so, so good.
  • Gatorade and a protein bar: Races give you bottled water and maybe a cup of Gatorade, but that is never enough for me. I almost always bring a giant bottle of G2 (or two smaller 20 oz bottles) to guzzle post-race as well as my own snack because I never ever feel like eating a banana, a giant pretzel, or a bag of chips after a race, but I can certainly stomach a chocolatey protein bar.
  • Money, ID, keys, phone: If you can’t fit these things in your shorts, you gotta have ‘em in your gear check bag for reunions, beer tents, and post-race food. I keep my keys on a lanyard, so I toss that in my gear check bag rather than have a key jingling in my pocket for several hours. Usually if my phone is going in gear check, I put it in a case and then wrap it up in my jacket just in case the bag gets stepped on. I’m never really worried about theft, just breakage, though I do try to keep the valuables out of sight.

Hopefully these are some tips that you haven’t read on every single running website and advice column. Do you have any good “lesson learned” stories? What other tips and tricks do you have for race day?

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12 thoughts on “5 (Atypical) Pieces of Marathon Advice

  1. Great advice, although I would argue not terribly atypical 🙂

    My #1 – hydrate like a boss in the DAYS BEFORE the race. 2-3 days before race day I start chugging water and nuun like it’s my job. And then, very little the morning of. Not only because duuuhhh hydration, but if you’re adequately hydrated before the race then you don’t need to drink as much race morning (and have to pee 1353 times) and you don’t have to stop nearly as often at aid stations to chug water (unless it’s like 80 degrees out).

    Arrrrgg I cannot do the baby wipe/wet wipes thing. The weird residue/stickiness that the substance in those leaves on my skin feels grosser than the sweat to me. I have better luck with just wiping down with a wet paper towel.

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    • Hydration is soooo important. I’m on a water-drinking schedule this week because I’m awful about it usually. Good point that enough hydration during the week means fewer pee breaks the morning of the race. More motivation for me to keep chugging before the weekend!

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  2. This is the best thing ever. I was cracking up the whole time – PREACH, sister! I absolutely agree with EVERY SINGLE THING IN HERE. Although my reason for an extra GU was because last year, in Boston, I had already taken one every five miles but I hit 22 and started to feel my energy dip. I had an extra GU, and I said whatever. Take it. Maybe it was just mental but it worked, and now I use one after mile 20 the second I start feeling crappy. Magic. Also the lube thing. SING IT.

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    • I figure one extra gel is good for a last boost of energy or an emergency. I usually bring some dried fruit to munch between gels to keep my energy up so there’s no mid-gel crash. But that last gel is always so magical, you’re right!

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