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How to Feel Your Best on Race Day

10 Ways to Have the Best Marathon Ever (and They Don't Involve Training)

There are many reasons to run a marathon, but my marathon goal has always been about balancing training plans with life and still making it to the finish line rather than anything that has to do with a personal best race time. Even so, as I get ready to run my nonqualifying race at the Boston Marathon in a couple of weeks, there are a few things I've been doing — in addition to those all-important taper-week rules, like drinking lots of water and loading up on protein and carbs — that have helped me in races in the past. The best part? They have nothing to do with running or working out. Read on for 10 last-minute habits that will make running your marathon easier.

Two Weeks (or More) Before

  1. Know the course: By now you should know the general aspects of your race's course, including the type of terrain (and any killer hills) that you've been training for. If you're running a course that's not in your city, spending a little time researching the course on Google Maps and race forums will also help you feel more confident on race day.
  2. Stop wearing heels: Constant heel-wearing can shorten calf muscles, leading to cramps or tight muscles that make running feel harder. Give your cutest, highest shoes a rest leading up to the race, and stick to flats.
  3. Figure out your breakfast: Race-related digestion issues are real — make sure you have your prerace breakfast routine down, and don't experiment with anything unfamiliar before your race. If you normally eat oatmeal and a banana with almond butter before your long training runs, stick to that combination on race day.

A Week Before

  1. Eat salty foods: Hydration is key to having a good race, but overhydrating can be a real concern too. Too much water in your system leads to low sodium levels, called hyponatremia, which can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, or even death. Experts recommend opting for salty foods a few days before your race in order to keep sodium levels normal.
  2. Cut out the alcohol and caffeine: The week before your marathon should be all about hydrating, so consuming diuretics like alcohol and coffee will do the opposite of what your body needs. Save the late-night wine time (and the subsequent Venti-coffee mornings) for post-finish-line celebrations.
  3. Get more sleep: Chances are you won't get that much sleep the night before your race — last-minute prep and jitters can eat into the eight hours you were planning to get — so make sure you make sleep a priority the week before your race. Reschedule evening invites or obligations that make you feel harried the week of your race, and make sure you make time for resting your body and mind.

Right Before Your Race

  1. Give yourself a boost: Both caffeine and beet juice have been shown to boost endurance levels, so test these out during your training runs if you want to use them before a run. If you feel like they work for you, make them part of your prerace routine. I like these two-ounce organic beet juice shots from Red Ace, but make sure you've tested anything you drink, whether it's coffee, tea, or a smoothie, before race day.
  2. Go again, even if you don't have to: Seriously. I've learned that making one last trip to the starting line Porta Potties right before my corral time is up can save me from having to decide between waiting in a long bathroom line just a few miles into a race or holding it in for hours.
  3. Have a chafing plan: Chafing is a real issue for many people, and even if you've never experienced issues before, you may find yourself in a painful situation during the race. Unexpected humidity and heat can cause sweat-related friction, as can the fact that you probably haven't run the entire mileage of your race before. If in doubt, bring a small tube of antichafing solution, and be aware of anything with sharp edges — try to carry them in an armband or in a pocket that won't rub against your skin. I once foolishly ran with my hotel room key tucked into my sports bra for an entire half marathon, only to discover once I was back in my room that it had created a hot spot right on my chest. Painful.
  4. Eat a gel right before you start: If you're looking for a boost, you can follow this tip from running coach Matt Fitzgerald: eat one of your gels (or drink a sports drink) right before you start running. This way, your body starts absorbing much-needed energy in time to give you a boost when you need it an hour or so later in the race.
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