At the time of writing this post, I’m sat in a hotel room trying to remember all of the stuff I need before I take part in the Simplyhealth Great North Run Tomorrow. I’ve run in well over fifty half marathons over the years and they’re a tricky distance. Oh sure, they well may be my favourite in fact, but still a hard one to plan for, especially if you’ve never done one.
Now, if you’ve run a few races in the past, you’ll probably know the drill when it comes to race prep and planning. But if you haven’t, well, I may be able to help you out a bit. Everything in this list is a mistake I’ve made at some point or another, with varying levels of distress.
I put this first as it is by far the most important aspect of preparation to any race. Seriously, it may not be the most poetic thing to talk about, but if your toilet game is off on race day, you’re going to struggle. There are many factors involved in this as well: what you eat the day before, what time you go to bed, what time you get up, how much water you drink, if you have a coffee. It’s a tricky one to get right in fact.
The first thing I would say is eat normally for you. A lot of people will read about the best pre-race meals to eat and radically change their diet the day before. I did this at Brighton Marathon a couple of years ago. I ate a ridiculously healthy and fibre-rich diet the day before. The resultant effect meant I spent at least twenty minutes of the race stopping off in various toilets throughout the course. It was probably the worse race I’ve ever actually ran. Conversely the time I ate a giant burger and chips followed by a full packet of chocolate biscuits the night before Madrid Marathon I had my best race ever.
Get up early as well. Use the toilet at home if you can. Race toilets are normally a pretty daunting sight, especially if you’re in a rush. Plan to get to the race an hour early and nip into a Wetherspoons or somewhere for a cup of tea and use theirs. The bigger the race, the higher the risk of toilet problems.
So it’s your first half marathon. You’re all excited, you’re in the Nike store and money is irrelevant. You want to cross the finish line dressed like some sort of fitness model in all the coolest new kit. Don’t. Remember that bit in Braveheart where they’re systematically torturing him? You’ll look like that. Your t-shirt will be chafing, your shorts will feel like they’re made of tin foil and those socks, well, let’s just say you’ll have a nasty surprise when you take them off.
When you run a long distance race even the slightest issue becomes significantly more important. A tiny little rub on something starts to become all you can think about. Stick with comfortable clothes you’re used to, the clothes you’ve been training in. Especially the shoes. You’ll care a lot more about finishing than if you looked cool at mile eighteen.
Some people like to run with music, some don’t. I have to. When running a road race I like to completely zone out and not focus on the route or my breathing. There are songs I listen to that make me run faster, there are songs that I listen to at specific points of the race to help me out, hell, at mile twelve during the Oxford Half I accidentally started listening to Dolph Lundgren audio workout. It pulled me through. I have it on my iPod now for whenever I struggle.
But like buying new kit, don’t sit downloading new songs onto your mp3 player the day before. Take the same ones you’re used to running with, they’ll bring you a sort of learned relaxation. Something that you’re in control of during the race. It’s a bit like muscle memory. You’re mind will associate those songs with your training.
The Day Before
What you do the day before is important. It will have a direct effect on the day after. You may be nervous, you may be anxious. Just make sure you relax and don’t end up doing anything you’re not used to. Spend some of the day getting all of your stuff ready. Charge your mp3 player and your tracking watch. Get your things ready for work on Monday so you don’t have to do it on Sunday night. You really won’t want to do it then. Buy some food in that’s ready for you when you get back from the race. Put some new bedsheets on. It all helps.
Seriously. Unless you’re aiming for a ridiculous time it really doesn’t matter. There are other half marathons, thousands of the things. If you don’t feel great on the day it’s fine. If it’s your first half marathon, take it easy. If you’ve never done one before it’s a massive shock to the system, use it as a test to see what they’re like. Then next time you’ll have that under your belt and you can plan accordingly. You’ll be so elated at just finishing the thing that any fears or concerns you had before will be completely irrelevant.
Important. Very important in fact. Keep drinking little bits the day before and throughout the race itself, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Not loads, just a sip here and there. But if there’s a water stop, have a bit. You’ll understand why in the later miles.
Oh yeah, and enjoy it. There are few things in life you’ll experience quite like the elation of finishing a long distance race. Partly due to relief, partly due to pride and partly due to the crowds chanting as you make your way past them. Seriously, it’s amazing. You’ll never forget it.