The Week Before Your Marathon or Half Marathon

Final Preparations for Your Long Distance Walk

Racers at Starting LIne
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The week before your marathon or half marathon is a time of final preparation. Here is advice to get to the starting line in good form.

Training the Week Before the Marathon or Half Marathon

Your final long distance training walk should be done two weeks before your race. The weekend before your race should be at reduced mileage, known as tapering. This gives your muscles a chance to rebuild and restore rather than stressing them with increased mileage.

Your longest mileage day a week before a marathon should be 10 to 12 miles. For a half marathon, it should be 6 miles.

During the week before your marathon or half marathon, continue to get in shorter fitness walks or runs (if you are a runner or run/walker) of 30 to 60 minutes, each day or every other day. You want to stay limber, but you shouldn't do hard training or difficult hills and stairs.

Diet and Carboloading the Week of Your Marathon

The week before your race, eat a healthy balanced diet. Current thinking in sports training is that excessive carbo-loading is not needed. This is no time to change your diet dramatically. Don't overeat. Avoid foods that give you gas or loose stools, especially in the two days before your race. Avoid alcohol and high-caffeine energy drinks in the two days before your race, to help prevent dehydration.

Read the Race Instructions

Read the race instructions thoroughly.

  • Where do you pick up your race packet and what hours and days is it open? Do you need your registration number or verification and identification? Can somebody else pick up your packet or do you have to pick up your own?
  • How will you get to the starting line and home from the finish? What transportation concerns do they warn you about? Will you be shuttled to a distant starting point?
  • Is there a gear drop? Some races have been eliminating this in the name of safety concerns, and races that once offered it may not now. Be sure you know where is it in the starting area, and also where the gear pickup will be and how long the both will remain open.
  • What on-course support is offered and where are the locations for water, sports drink, and toilets?
  • Where can your family and friends view your race and cheer you on the course?
  • What are the time limits and logistics if you fall behind?
  • Are there any rule and restrictions such as no headphones, no strollers or pets, no walking poles?
  • If you are part of a team or charity marathon group, verify any meetings or social activities you will have before, during, or after the race.

Sleep Well

Clear your schedule the week before the race to give yourself the best chance of getting several nights of good sleep. Sleep is when the body rebuilds and restores muscles. Sleep is sports training. Eliminate any late-night plans and avoid early-morning ones as well.

Avoid caffeine after noon, alcohol, and spicy sleep-disturbing foods. If you are traveling, take along ear plugs and a sleep mask.

If you find yourself wide-eyed and worried all night before the race, that's not a race-killer.

Many people toss and turn the night before the race and make it through just fine.

Coordinate With Companions

If you are racing with a companion or group or sharing a ride to and from the race, finalize all plans and time schedules early in the week. Be sure you have all contact information for them, especially if you are traveling. If you are providing the ride, gas up the car and make sure it is in working order early in the week.

Check the Weather Forecast

What you wear on race day depends on the forecast. Plan for it being at the top of the predicted temperature. But be ready for it to be chilly while waiting for the starting gun.

If there is any chance of rain, be prepared with a rain poncho, trash bags or other lightweight rain gear.

  • Hot weather walking gear: You will be prone to overheat on a marathon even on a relatively cool day. You won't want to carry layers with you, so be prepared to discard a cover-up after the race begins. Cool off during the race by dowsing your hat in water at the water stops. You'll need to be diligent in using blister and chafing protection as these will be worse on hot days. Sun protection with a hat and sunscreen is essential for the hours you'll be on the course.
  • Cold weather walking gear: It's a challenge to get your layers right for a cold weather race. You will warm up, but you still need a wind-proof layer so you don't lose too much heat. Pack along some chemical hand warmer packets to use and wear gloves. A Buff is also a versatile item for cold days to use to keep your neck and ears warm.
  • Tips for walking races in the rain: Hours of rain make for an unpleasant marathon. Your best gear item can be a disposable rain poncho, especially one that has arms. You can also keep your shoes drier by using disposable hotel shower caps and duct tape.
  • Tips for racing in the dark: You'll need to prepare to have the right lights to use for the course and practice using them in advance.

Get Your Gear Ready

The first rule is nothing new on race day. That means that everything put on or in your body should have been tested in your long training days. If you are traveling to your race, you need to be extra cautious when packing. Make a packing list to make sure all of your race gear and clothing make it into your luggage. Even better, bring your race shoes and clothes with you in a carry-on so they don't have a chance of becoming lost luggage. It's distressing to discover your tried-and-true shoes or shirt was left behind or is traveling the world without you. But even for a hometown event, you don't want those items still in the laundry pile the night before the race.

Prepare Your Race Clothing

Early in the week before your race, inspect and launder your entire race outfit. This will ensure they are ready. Then pack them or lay them out for race day.

  • Socks: Are your socks holding up? You don't want to wear socks with holes or worn areas that will become holes during the race. If you need a new pair of the same design, now is the time to rush to the store to get them.
  • Shorts, Running Skirt, Pants, or Tights: Which pants or shorts will be best for the weather on race day? Go with the highest prediction for heat and choose based on that. Your legs will be hot by the final miles. If it's going to rain, wet legs are better than wet pants, so shorts are a good choice.
  • Underwear: Choose what worked best on your long training days.
  • Shirt: Choose a top that will work best for the highest temperature prediction as staying cool is a priority and you will heat up during the race. Make sure there are no loose seams and launder your shirts early in the week. It's usually a bad idea to wear the race shirt they give you at packet pickup as you haven't worn it in training and don't know how it will perform. But if you do, launder it first to get rid of any irritants.
  • Sports bra: Launder your favorite sports bra and check for any loose seams.
  • Hat: Choose your hat based on the weather prediction and what worked best during your long training days. You may want to wash it to remove sweat from the brim.
  • Sweatbands: If you wear a sweat wristband or headband, launder them.
  • Costumes: If you plan to wear a costume or some sparkly and fun race gear, be sure it is also race-ready and you have worn it on a long workout.
  • Warm-Up Gear: If you plan to wear a trash bag or disposable shirt as a warm-up, make sure you have it packed and ready. If you plan to use the gear drop for your warm-ups, know what the procedure is from the race instructions and the location of the gear drop and pick-up.

Prepare Your Racing Shoes

Your race shoes are of top importance. It's too late to make changes unless they are literally falling apart. If you are traveling, bring them in your carry-on luggage to make sure they make it to the race with you.

To get them race-ready, remove the insoles and make sure any grit is shaken out of the shoes. You might want to rinse and dry the insoles. If you use any soap, be sure it is all removed in the rinse.

Check the laces to make sure they aren't frayed and about to break. Replace them if they are.

Prepare Your Other Race Gear

Lay out and inspect everything else you will be bringing along on race day. Now is the time to replace or recharge batteries. If you are traveling, make a packing list to make sure everything comes along with you.

  • Pack: If you are going to wear a pack during the race, check the buckles and straps. Make sure everything you plan to take along fits in it securely.
  • Water bottle or hydration pack: Rinse and clean your bottle or the water bladder and let them dry. Be sure to put the bladder back into your pack a couple of days before the race.
  • Sports watch/GPS/Pedometer/Heart Rate Monitor: Make sure it is charged or the battery is fresh. Practice using any race timing and other features you want during the race.
  • Sunglasses: Are they clean, with the temples tightened? Set them out or put them in your pack the night before, as you are likely leaving for a race start before dawn.
  • Cell phone/music player and headphones: Are they fully charged and do you have your recharger with you if traveling? Have you loaded your race mix of music?
  • Snacks and Sports Drink: If you plan to carry your own energy snacks and sports drink (or powder to add to water on the route), set them out beforehand and make sure they get into your pack.
  • Foot Prep, Chafing Prep, and Blister Kit: Make sure you have what you need to lubricate or tape up your feet the morning of the race, and your take-along blister treatments are packaged and make it into your pack.
  • Medications: Set out any race-morning medications you use and fill up any take-along pill box with pain medication, anti-diarrhea pills, etc.
  • Sunscreen and Lip Balm: If traveling, pack along your favorite and tested brand. At home, set these out so you remember to use them race morning.
  • Safety Pins, Race Bib Number, and Timing Chip: If traveling, pack along four safety pins for your race bib number. Pin these to your race shirt so you don't forget to bring them or where they are. If your race uses a shoe timing chip, attach it to your shoe the night before the race so you don't forget it on race day.
  • Hair Control: Pack or set out any hair bands, bobby pins, scrunchies, or other hair control devices so you aren't searching for them on race morning. This isn't the time to try out a new race hairstyle.

Roll With the Surprises

With all of the best-laid plans, something will go wrong. Having everything prepared the night before the race lets you roll with the surprises on race morning.

Headphones break, cell phones fall out of your pack, your racing partner forgets his timing chip and bib, you get race morning diarrhea, and you may be stuck in a 30-minute traffic jam getting to the starting point. These small disasters will rarely derail your marathon and they will make for good stories later.

Now you'll be ready for race day prep for the marathon.

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