BY DAVE FOLEY
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Foley, whose marathon personal best is 2:25, competed for the ADIDAS racing team in the 1980s and has been coaching marathoners for over 35 years.
Ideas for the last week and race day that will help ALL runners …
Tapering over the last week
Run your last 20-miler seven to ten days before the race. If you have been running comfortably at a per-mile pace that’s 45 seconds slower than your goal pace for the race, do your last run 60 or 75 seconds per mile off your race pace. After that, just run easy, slow recovery 3 to 4 milers. About mid-week throw in three, two-minute fast surges to keep your sprint muscles fresh. Do no running at all on the last two days before the race.
This break from running is for recovery. Now is not the time to paint the living room, play basketball or transplant your raspberry bushes … be lazy. You will need all your strength on race day.
Eat a light, balanced diet and avoid fattening junk food. No one needs to add a couple of pounds just before the race. The night before the race, eat dinner before seven so full digestion and bathroom needs will be done by race time. This last meal for me is invariably Italian, featuring copious amounts of pasta, washed down with glasses of water. Go easy on the alcohol.
What to wear on race day
After a restless night, my two alarm clocks go off three hours before the race. If you didn’t sleep much, that won’t be a problem if you have been getting good sleep during the previous week. I eat a simple breakfast – no eggs or meat. My favorite is a peanut butter, jelly and honey sandwich washed down with 16-20 ounces of water over the next hour. A bowl of cereal or pancakes are other good breakfast options. I try not to eat in the last three hours before the race.
My race outfit features nothing new; everything has been worn before so I know I won’t’ get chafing or blisters. If I will be sweating during my warm up, I will wear a t-shirt and then change to a singlet.
At the race start, I wear enough clothes so I won’t get cold. If I can’t find a place or person to give my sweats to, I wear an old t-shirt or sweatshirt which can be thrown away just before the gun fires. This is a common practice at mega-marathons like Boston or New York. If there is any chance of rain, either take a dollar raincoat to the start or wear a trash bag with the armholes torn out. The plastic bag will also help you stay warmer on cold mornings.
Preparing a race plan
It helps if you are familiar with the course. Study the map and note where the hills are located. If possible drive the course. If time is limited, check out the last several miles of the route so you will know exactly where the finish is located. This can be valuable to know as you summon your last reserves or are in a close race with others.
Before the start, review your goal pace and memorize or write splits on your hand with a marker. Line up at the right pace sign. If you plan to run 8-minute miles, stand there or with the 7:30s … not with the 8:30s. As you cross the start line, click on your watch. Be sure you zeroed it before the race.
If you can run freely without having to slow down for people, the 1-mile split should be close to your projected split. If it is more than 10 seconds faster, you are out too fast – although starting with a downhill or tailwind could get you there maybe 20-30 seconds ahead of schedule. However, if mile one is uphill or into a strong wind – or you were held up by crowds – mile one will be slower. Don’t speed up to get back on pace. You have 25 more miles to do that. Watch your splits throughout the race. Don’t get way ahead of pace. If you feel great, run hard from mile 23 on.
As you race, focus on the run the whole time … don’t daydream. If your mind wanders often your pace does, too. Keep monitoring your body both to detect the early signs of fatigue or injury and to make sure you are running with good form. When people get tired, their form degenerates and it gets even harder to run.
Take aid regularly – at least every 3 miles. If you are carrying a GU Energy Gel or something similar, take it at the right time. Don’t try a product if you have never used it. Be sure you take fluids at each aid station. To drink, hold the cup and think about drinking, then pour the fluid down your throat. By thinking about it, your throat will open at the right time and you are less likely to choke. If it is above 70 degrees, drink one cup at aid stations and pour the other over your head.
If it is windy, draft off bigger runners. It does make a difference on a windy day. To draft, run as close to them as you can.
For 95 percent of the time, you will run using your most efficient stride. Going uphill, remember to shorten and quicken your leg turnover and pump your arms. With downhills, try to lengthen your stride. If the course has long stretches of flat terrain, occasionally lengthen your stride for a minute or shorten and quicken your turnover. This gives the muscles you use every step for 95 percent of the race a break and a chance to recover.
Run tangents and cut across curves. Be sure you are running the shortest distance you can legally do.
Inevitably you will get tired. I found the worst thing you can do is walk. Once you do that you really begin to tighten up and it is hard to run smoothly again. Even at aid stations, run.
When fatigue sets in, be tough. One year our high school cross country team had this quote put on their t-shirt: “No one dies running cross country, they just feel that way.” I feel that aptly summarizes what it takes to run your best race. Personal bests come from pushing way beyond one’s comfort zone.
At the end, if you can pick up the pace over the last miles, do it. At least try it. You might be surprised to find yourself able to surge. Sprint to the finish. Smile. Raise your arms high as you cross the line. Your picture is being taken. Don’t click off our watch as you cross the finish; do it in the chute. Otherwise, pictures will show you holding hands with yourself.
After the race, walk around to stay loose. Get on warm clothes. Eat anything you want. Celebrate. Feel good about yourself. Enjoy your runner’s high.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Foley has completed 20 marathons (seven were between 2:25 and 2:28) as well as two 50-milers, with a personal best of 5:39.