Donner Party Mountain Runners | A jog through the marathon checklist
November 26, 2014
The California International Marathon in Sacramento has long been a popular fall marathon for its fast course and great support along the entire route. This one-way race from Folsom to the state capitol has been the site for many first-time marathon finishes as well as personal-best performances.
This year, we have quite a few Truckee-Tahoe locals toeing the line and many members of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. Although your training is now complete, there are still some important things you can do to help ensure your success on race day. Even experienced marathon runners should remind themselves to practice the following steps in the next several days.
By now, you should already have begun your taper. During this last week you should be cutting back significantly on mileage. Take some days off, and don't do any single run longer than 45-60 minutes. Throw in a very short tempo run or easy track workout to keep the legs feeling fresh and speedy. I will probably only end up running about 12 miles in the week leading up to race day. Some people will do more, and that's fine. Just remember that your training is done, and the best thing you can do for your body now is rest.
Many people worry about getting a good night's sleep before race day. If you get pre-race nerves, this can present a challenge. Here's the happy truth though: getting good sleep during the three to four days before the race is much more important than how many hours you get the night before. In fact, the runner's adage says, "It's the night before the night before that really counts." So no Friday or Saturday night parties for you!
When it comes to your pre-race dinner, you will find a variety of opinions on what you should consume. I am not a nutritionist, but I will say that if a big plate of pasta is not your thing, don't eat it. The only real rule I think you should follow is this: Don't eat anything weird. Just eat a regular meal with a healthy balance of carbs, protein, and fat — something you enjoy, have eaten many times before and know will sit well on your stomach.
Personally, I will probably go for some baked chicken, sweet potato and a salad. Breakfast should follow the same rule, although I would advise against anything heavy or greasy. I usually eat a very light breakfast because the effort of racing hard can do a number on my stomach. Half a bagel with peanut butter and a banana usually does the trick.
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Then, race day is upon you. Go into it with a pacing strategy, and execute it with decision. You can use a number of great pace calculators online to help you determine an appropriate pace per mile based on your goal. If your training went well, you probably have a good idea if your planned goal is realistic. Even for experienced marathoners though, it is sometimes just hard to tell. Thus, I recommend that you use a watch and/or pace group to help you, but that you also listen closely to your body.
The first 10 miles should be easy. You will want to speed up. Discipline yourself to hold that easy pace. If it doesn't feel relatively easy, you are going too fast. By the half marathon, you can increase your effort level if you're still feeling comfortable. With this strategy, you shouldn't start feeling really challenged until about mile 19. You have seven miles to go, and you will have to stay focused.
Many people say there are two halves to a marathon — the first 20 and the last 6. I think if you have paced correctly, the last 6 should not feel quite that long. On the other hand, if you are going for a PR, you have to expect it to hurt eventually.
Buckle in for the ride, and know that those final miles won't last forever so you may as well make the most of them. An ideally paced race (in my opinion) gives you a slightly faster second half and completely skips "hitting the wall." This can be tough to pull off, but it's something we should all strive for.
Finally, not to be left out, is the concept of recovery. Many of my friends like to celebrate their race with a few beers. There is nothing wrong with that, but before you hit the local microbrewery, you want to make sure you've put a few other things into your body.
Drink plenty of water because you are surely dehydrated. You'll also be happier with how you feel later in the day if you down a nutritional recovery drink that has a mix of carbs and protein. Getting some solid food into your body will also help. Then, change into all those warm, dry clothes that you packed into your finish line bag and join your friends to celebrate. You deserve it!
Good luck to everyone running the 2014 CIM, and especially to the founding members of the Donner Party Mountain Runners.
— Author Gretchen Brugman writes on behalf of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to informing and inspiring mountain runners in the Truckee-Tahoe area. More information can be found on their site, http://www.donnerpartymountainrunners.com.
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