Welcome to Part Two of your essential guide to the last week of training for an event that will push your to your limits physically and mentally: the marathon.
What Should I Eat the Night Before the Marathon?
Perhaps the meal that concerns most runners is the one the night before the marathon. Again, never use this meal as a chance to try a new recipe. It's also important to consume the pre-race meal early rather than late at night. I once made this mistake and felt like the previous night's bowl of pasta had not digested at the start of the race; I suffered all the way to mile 26! Eat at around 5pm on the evening prior to the marathon. Also be sure to visit the toilet before the race and empty your system.
How About Food on Race Day?
Essential to your success is your intake the three hours leading up to the start of the race. Have a good breakfast; something that will fuel you with some sustenance. Tea and wholemeal toast is good, as are bananas and cereal bars. But remember, no unfamiliar foods!
Also stock up with snacks for the journey, but nothing too heavy; fruit and nuts are a tested option. Drink around a litre of water in the two hours before you start the race. But avoid drinking much more than this. Although it is really important to be well hydrated for the run, you want to steer clear of being caught short and feeling uncomfortable.
How can I handle nerves?
For a first-time marathon runner, nerves will be inevitable. A thousand and one questions will be racing through your head in the lead up to the big day. What if I can't get there? How will I know where to line up? Have I done enough training? This is completely natural and in some ways the nerves can be used as a positive to drive you forward to achieve your running potential.
However, to ensure that your nerves don't get the better of you and turn into panic, it is best to do as much as you can to alleviate them. The best way of doing this is to prepare yourself to the best of your ability. Do you know people who have taken part in the same event in previous years? If so, mine them for information; find out as much as you can to eliminate the element of unwanted surprise. But beware of taking training tips form all and sundry; this can become confusing if you get lots of conflicting advice. Read as much about your event as you possibly can and use this to your advantage. You should have received a pack through the post with an itinerary for race day, and most well-organised events have comprehensive websites for your reference. Plan your day meticulously; know which train you are getting on to the start line, get there in plenty of time, and pack your bag the evening before with your running kit, registration information, snacks and whatever else you need.
Most importantly, train well. If you are nearing the day of the marathon and feel you haven't done as much training as you should have, the nerves will easily be doubled. Poor preparation will lead to an unenjoyable race day.
How much sleep should I get?
Restless nights are common when training for a marathon. People can run the gamut; dreams where they beat the world-class athletes to first place to nightmares where they snap their Achille's tendon in mile one. It might be that aching muscles keep you awake or that you are almost too tired from an exhausting day's training that sleep eludes you.
The only real cure to these problems is to get to bed early in an attempt to recover the lost hours of sleep. It's important that you accept the fact that your sleep pattern may change and avoid any heavy nights out on the town in that final few weeks before the day of the event.
Should I have a massage?
There is no better time to have a massage during your training than the week running up to race day. It will help enormously to relieve the nerves and tension that you'll inevitably be feeling. Get a deep tissue sports massage that really works the muscles hard rather than just soothing them. You will feel re-energised and raring to go afterwards.
What should I do if I feel ill?
If you feel desperately unwell in the final week prior to a marathon, you will have to face making a very difficult decision. It might be detrimental to your health to run; if this is the case, there is no point in putting yourself through torture. Most big events will allow you to defer your place to the following year (subject to repayment of any fee) so don't push yourself if you suspect you won't make it to the finish line.
Of course, each individual runner varies and the above points are merely guidelines. You know your body, stamina and fitness better than anyone so the ultimate decisions on how to prepare in the final days lies with you. Trust your instinct and you won't go far wrong. If you have a place booked or you are simply in the stages of considering whether you have what it takes to run a marathon, know this; there are sacrifices you will have to make but the rewards will be well worth the price. Good luck!
More articles that may be of interest:
The Final Week of Marathon Training: Part One
The first part of this guide
Have You Got What it Takes to Run a Marathon?
Your guide to the commitments you'll need to make when training for a marathon.
What to Eat and Drink on the Day of a Marathon
Helpful tips for getting nutrition and hydration right on race day
Making it to the Finish Line
A guide to keeping your stamina and focus during a marathon