Marathon Day Tips

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Marathon Day: Don't Overdress

It's worth taking some extra time to prepare your marathon day gear bag and pack some things to keep you comfortable during the pre-race wait and in the early miles on a cold morning.

-Extra shirt: If you have an old t-shirt or undershirt that you can part with, wear it over your race shirt at the start, and pitch it at a water stop once you warm up.

-Extra gloves: Bring an old pair of gloves or old socks to the start. Warm hands can help you feel warm all over, and help you resist the urge to overdress. For example, if the temperature at the start of the race is in the 40s, but you know it will be in the 60s when you finish, a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of throwaway gloves might be a better choice than a long-sleeved shirt.


List Your Marathon Gear Before You Pack

When you are traveling out of town for a marathon, a packing list is essential. You're psyched up and ready to run, it's hard to think it all through and remember everything without a list!

Make a list of all your gear, including shoes, socks, orthotics, warmup/cooldown clothes.

And don't forget "accessories: Sunblock, chapstick, pain relievers (if you like to carry Advil, or rub muscle gel such as Biofreeze on your legs before a marathon, put it on the list).

Marathons will have water stops, but if you are carrying your own water or sports drink, don't forget your water bottle belt pack, and bring along your power gel or fuel of choice. You can almost always buy something at a race expo, but it might not be what you are used to.

Check off the items on the list as you pack them, and you'll be able to relax and focus on having a great run.

What if I get hurt or sick during the marathon?

What If Something Goes Wrong?

A marathon is a long way to run, and anything can happen. Bad things do happen, even to good runners.

If you become ill or injured during a marathon, seek help at the next water stop. If the problem is minor, such as a side stitch or stomach cramp, walk for a few minutes, breathing deeply. If you have a muscle spasm or a muscle feels tight, pull over to the side of the road and stretch. Don't panic. Walk as much as you need to. There is no reason to worsen a potentially serious injury just to meet your goal time or to finish. If you can finish by alternating running and walking, that's fine. But if the injury or illness is extreme, you may have to seek care at a water stop or first aid station. You'll be frustrated, but remember that you can always train for another marathon and use what you have learned during the training process to avoid problems in your next race.

What should I do if I don't want to throw away extra clothes at the marathon?

Trash Bag: Don't Leave Home Without It

Believe it or not, a trash bag is the world's greatest disposable windbreaker. I keep one with my pre-marathon bag and bring it with me even when I know I won't need to wear it. I wore one for the entire Harrisburg Marathon on 2006 during windy and rainy conditions, and I was surprisingly comfortable wearing a moisture-wicking short-sleeved shirt and shorts underneath the bag, along with a pair of lightweight cotton-blend gloves.

Here's how to wear your bag in style: Punch a hole in the bottom of the bag and rip an opening large enough to put your head through. Then poke a hole in each side at about shoulder height for your arms, and you're set to go. Once you start to feel warm, after 1 mile, 5 miles, or at any point, simply grab the bag up near your neck and rip it down the front when you approach the next water stop, and toss it off to the side. As a courtesy to your fellow runners, make sure you toss the bag onto the side of the road so no one near you slips on it.

Do I need to warm up before the start of the marathon?

Warm Up, But Don't Wear Out

You don't need an excessive warm-up before running a marathon the way you might before a 5K or 10K race. Stick to your usual pre-run stretching routine, and if jogging around for 5 minutes or so helps calm your nerves, that's OK. But resist the urge to spend too much time warming up; you don't want to wear yourself out. If you are anxious, use the time to do more stretching instead. And especially in a large marathon, the start will be so crowded that you will be running slower than your ideal pace for the first mile or two, which serves as a warm-up. This can be blessing in disguise because it keeps you from running too fast at the start.

What should I pack for the marathon?

Your Marathon Day Kit

The night before the marathon, pack a small bag that you can check at the start and retrieve at the finish. Some marathons provide bags that you are required to use if you want to check them at the start. In that case, be sure to use that bag or you will not be allowed to check your gear. Make sure the bag has a tag with your race number on it. Many marathons provide a matching baggage tag that accompanies every runner's race number. You can detach this smaller tag and put it on the back that you'll check at the start.

What should you put in this bag? Eventually your warm-up/cool-down clothes will go in it. But also pack your alternative race clothing options, and a Ziploc bag with the following:

  • Band-aids in a few different sizes
  • Pain reliever of choice (Advil, Tylenol)
  • Sweatproof sunblock
  • Tissues
  • Moist towelettes/wet wipes
  • Extra pins for your race number
  • A small towel, especially if it is rainy, to mop off after the race
Don't forget your race number. Some marathons require you to pick up your race number (and timing chip, if chips are used). Make sure to pin your race number to your shirt and thread the chip through your shoelace.

What do I need to do after the marathon?

Post-Race Protocol

After the marathon, congratulate yourself! You made it to the finish line and that is an accomplishment, regardless of your finishing time. Your first acts should include drinking some water or other liquid, turning in your timing chip (if chips are being used) and retrieving your bag. And wrap up in the lightweight “space blankets” that most marathon volunteers will give you at the finish along with your finisher's medal. You'll be surprised how quickly you can develop a chill, even on a warm day. If the marathon is using timing chips, race volunteers are almost always available at the finish to help you remove the chip from your shoe. Make sure to turn in your chip or your time won't be recorded!

If you are ill or injured, look for the medical tent. If you are not ill or injured, get the free post-race massage if it is available, and if you can make the time. Even smaller marathons often have volunteers from local massage schools or physical therapy practices who have set up a tent to tend to marathoners. Ideally, retrieve your bag first, so you can put on something dry while standing in line. You will usually get about 7-10 minutes of easy massage on your legs, back, and shoulders (you stay dressed for this). Even a few minutes of massage helps promote circulation and restores your tired muscles, and you will feel less stiff the next day. If you're traveling home from the marathon by plane, the massage is an especially good idea because nothing promotes stiff legs like sitting in an airplane seat.


Packing for Marathon Day: Think Ahead About Your Head

When laying out or packing your marathon day gear, think about your head, hands, and feet before and after the run, as well as during. On a warm or moderately cool day, you might still want your favorite training sweatband if you wear one under a cap during training. But after the race you might feel chilly, so consider packing a hat or earband to help you feel more cosy, especially if you have a long ride to home or hotel, whereever that post-race shower is.


Marathon Day Gear: The Essentials and More

When packing your bag for marathon day, think not only about the race, but before and after. Of course, the most important items for race day are your running shoes, socks, race clothes timing chip (if there is one), and race number.

But a bit more thought can make your pre- and post-marathon time more pleasant.

Some items to bring along include warmup top and pants, if it is chilly, and a dry shirt if it is on the warm side, a dry pair of socks, in case of rain (which can double as throwaway gloves if it is chilly), and a warm hat/earband to put on after the race. I also recommend bringing a second pair of shoes, either old running shoes or other casual shoes. You'll be checking that bag anyway, and your feet will be happy to slip into something else after the marathon.

What if it is cold at the start of the marathon?

Bring Throwaway Layers

A marathon is a long race, and it is often as much as 20 degrees colder at the start than it will be at the finish several hours later. To keep comfortable on a chilly morning, bring a throwaway t-shirt to wear as an extra layer for the first mile or two, or for however long it takes you to feel comfortable. You can use one of those old cotton t-shirts that you don't wear for running; you will discard it before it gets clammy. If you can't part with any t-shirts from previous races, an old undershirt or an old windbreaker will do, as will a trash bag (see tip on trash bags for details).


The Marathon Start: Watch Yourself

At the start of a really big marathon, you'll be tightly packed with lots of other excited ru.nners. I've seen trip and fall at the start, and that's no way to start a 26.2-mile run.

Some last-minute tips for a safe start:

-Before you get to the start, make sure your shoelaces are double-knotted. You might not have room to bend over and do it once you get into the starting corral area.

-Watch your footing. Especially on a cold day, runners will be discarding extra clothes at the start. Ideally they will throw them off to the side, but that doesn't always work. Be careful that you don't slip on someone else's discarded trash bag.

-Be patient. There's no need for pushing and shoving at the start of a big marathon. That's what those timing chips are for. If you spend several minutes shuffling your way to the start before you start running, don't worry, it won't affect your time, and it's a good way to loosen up.

-Have fun!

What if I can't sleep the night before the marathon?

No Sleep? No Worries

Many marathoners, even the experienced ones, don't sleep well the night before the marathon. You may be nervous, excited, or both. But don't worry. Get a good night's sleep for a night or two before that last night, and you'll be just as well off than if you slept soundly the night before (not that there's anything wrong with that). On marathon day you'll have adrenaline to make up for lost sleep. And you will probably sleep soundly for the next few nights after the marathon.


Prep Your Feet For Marathon Day

In addition to making sure you have your favorite shoes and socks for marathon day, take time to prepare your feet as well.

A few days before your marathon, examine your feet for any callouses and file them down a bit (you can buy foot files at most drug stores). You will reduce the friction between your foot and your sock.

Also, be sure to put bandaids on any painful blisters on the morning of the marathon. You might have some new ones to go with them by the end.

And don't forget to trim your toenails. A long or uneven nail is more likely to become bruised, resulting in the infamous "black toenail" that will be with you for months after a marathon before it falls off.

Be as good to your feet as you can, and they will be good to you for 26.2 miles!

What should I eat before the marathon?

Eat In Advance

Most marathons start in the morning, and you don't have time to digest a big breakfast, but eating something before the race helps jump-start your muscles and calm a nervous stomach. Your best bet is to eat what you usually eat before your long runs. Try a banana with some honey and a cup of tea (also with a bit of honey). If the race is later than 10 a.m. and you ate early and feel hungry, snack on an energy bar an hour or so before the start. Drink some water, but resist the urge to over-hydrate. Even on a hot day, your body can only process so much, and you don't want to make excessive pit stops during the marathon.

What additional clothes should I bring to the marathon?

Bring Extra Warmup/Cooldown Clothes For Weather Changes

Wear warm-up clothes before the start of the marathon, and pack them in a bag that you can check or leave in your car so you can put on something warm and dry after the race. Depending on the marathon, you may or may not be in a place where you can change your clothes, but swapping a sweaty shirt for a dry one on a hot day or putting a fleece top over your race shirt on a cold day will make you more comfortable on the way home.

Even though you have chosen your likely clothing for the marathon, bring other options in case of a sudden weather change. If you think that you will wear a long-sleeved shirt, bring a short-sleeved shirt, too, and vice versa. You can pack anything you don’t wear in a bag to check at the start or leave in your car. If you have space in your bag, bring an extra pair of shoes and socks. Your feet will thank you if you can slip them into something different after several hours of running in the same pair of shoes. Although the moisture-wicking socks should keep your feet dry, it feels great to put on a different pair of socks to travel home. Also, if you have developed a blister or a black toenail or some other foot problem, putting on different shoes and socks to travel home will provide some relief until you can take care of the problem.

Is it hard to travel out of town for a marathon?

Travel Smart: Allow Extra Time

When traveling to a marathon, whether you have a short drive or a long trip to the airport to catch a flight, leave more time than you think you'll need. You will have enough on your mind without the stress of being late. Before you close your suitcase, review your race clothes, with a few choices of shirts and shorts for different weather conditions, and your warm-up/cool-down clothes. Double-check to make sure that you have your favorite accessories, such as a sweatband, hat, watch, and packets of gel. If your race is local, set out your likely race clothes, alternative clothes, and warm-up/cool-down clothes so you don't have to think about what to put on when you wake up on race day.


Get Good Marathon Day Gear

You may think a lot about your marathon running shoes, but don't undestimate the importance of the rest of your gear in keeping you comfortable. After all, even the fastest marathoners are out there in the elements for a couple of hours, and most of us are out there for longer than that.

Whether you wear long sleeves or short, tights, shorts, or capris, make sure you have running clothes made of moisture-wicking fabric. All the running gear by major manufacturers meets this criterion, so choose whatever styles and colors appeal from Nike, Brooks, Asics, UnderArmour, Champion, you get the idea.

Just remember that this is not the time to wear your sentimental favorite tshirt from the first local 5K you ran a few years ago. Wear that shirt with pride as casual wear, but for the marathon, go moisture-wicking.


Post-Marathon Running

After you've completed a marathon, try to think about your running in terms of a reverse taper. I recommend taking 2-3 days off during the last week leading up to the marathon, so do the same thing the week after.

I recommend a short jog the day after a marathon, just to get the stiffness out, and then take 2 days in a row off from running, but walk as much as possible. Then, if you are an experienced marathoner, start doing whatever feels good, but even the seasoned marathoners probably won't be ready for a long run right away the week after a marathon. Beginners, if you were bitten by the marathon bug, start looking for your next race, but give yourself a few months to recover before building up your mileage again.


Race Day Throwaways

A marathon is a long way to run, and if you have a cold and/or rainy race day, it helps to have an extra layer for the first mile or two until you warm up.

Even in ideal weather, you can get chilly waiting around before the start if you are planning to race in a singlet and shorts.

Everyone has an old t-shirt or two that they aren't sentimental about. Bring one of those old t-shirts, wear it on top of your race shirt for a mile or two, and then drop it at a convenient water stop. Many major marathons collect runners' throwaway clothes and give them to charities.

If it is cold and/or rainy, my favorite throwaway clothing is a large garbage bag. Punch holes for your head and arms, and you have a great disposable windbreaker.

But here's the catch; just make sure you have your race number pinned to a shirt that you are committed to wearing, even if it is temporarily covered by another shirt or a garbage bag. You don't want to worry about pinning or unpinning your number during the race.

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