As Gary O’Hanlon prepares to defend his National Marathon title at Sunday’s SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon he outlines his top 10 tips in the lead up to race day.
The number one piece of advice is to get as much sleep as possible in the week leading up to the marathon. Good quality sleep is essential, particularly two nights before race day. Nerves may impact on your sleep the night before the race so banking lots of sleep in the days preceding that will ensure you toe the line feeling rested and ready to take on the 26.2 miles.
Stick to what you know
Don’t change your diet dramatically in the final days before race day. Eating as cleanly and simply as possible with foods that are easy to digest (no heavy red meats or rich sauces etc) will ensure your body is wellfuelled and prepared. Breakfast should be the same as your long training runs and eaten early enough to digest properly the morning of the marathon. Basically “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”!
Take fluids regularly throughout the day during race week. My advice would be stop drinking temporarily around 7 pm the night before race day so that your sleep is not broken making numerous trips to the bathroom.
Keep your fuel strategy similar to your long training runs. If you have never used gels in training, marathon day is not the time to start. Use what has worked for you in the past. Any changes should be tried out in advance during training runs. Fuel plan should be flexible to deal with very hot days where additional water would be required. Familiarise yourself with the energy station points during the marathon, or have a supporter en route that can give you a drink/gel at an appropriate time
Try not to listen to marathon small talk in the lead up to race day. Focus on your own goal and race strategy. Trust the hours and miles of training you have logged in the months leading up to marathon day. Avoid comparing yourself to others or their time goals. Too many marathon goals have been derailed by the athlete running someone else’s race.
Stay off your feet
Stay off your feet as much as possible the day before the race, spending hours walking around is like doing a long run the day before a marathon.
Shower or change clothes as soon as possible after every run in the week leading up race day – reducing the risk of picking up head colds or chills before the big day
Set aside some time to plan all things related to marathon day. Plan your journey to the marathon, number collection, race kit and race plan. Leaving nothing to chance will ensure you are confident going into your race and can focus solely on running your best race on Sunday. Any changes to your race kit should be trialled during previous training runs to ensure they are comfortable for race day. The perfect marathon needs everything to go right on the day. Any curve ball, such as unfavourable weather or waking up with a stomach upset can sabotage the best planned races. Be prepared to deal with the unexpected. On the start line, keep warm and dry. Sunday is forecast to be a cold morning so wrap up in gloves and an extra running top that could be removed before the race starts.
Set out your pace strategy
Whether you are looking to run your first marathon or set a personal best, have a goal with some flexibility. I often encourage athletes to have “A” and “B” goal times in mind. If your race is not going to plan on the day, having that secondary goal can help. Personally I aim for even pace throughout the marathon. Banking time early on can be a risk. Control your pace for the first 3-4 miles of the race. It can be tempting to get caught up in the adrenaline rush of 20,000 runners eager to get their marathon underway. Being cautious early on can pay dividends later in the race. And possibly avoid hitting that “wall” sooner. If you are feeling strong after half way, start working your pace down at that point and aim for a negative split
You have prepared and trained for your race, have confidence in your ability and determination to achieve your goal. The 26.2 miles on Sunday is a culmination of many hours of dedication and miles. Remind yourself that you are prepared to “dig in” during the tough miles. Remember that sense of achievement and pride is waiting at the finish line.
Gary O’Hanlon is an Irish distance runner from Co Louth and Irish National Marathon Champion. He is also current Irish 50k champion and record holder. He runs his own running clubs, more information is available here