#26. Know the course.
Regardless of the race, one of the first things you should do, perhaps before even signing up for a race, is looking at the course map and elevation profile. Know where the uphills, downhills, flat stretches, and sharp turns are. You should also check for aid stations and what the race will have so you can adjust your own nutrition plan. If you're local, practice running the course. There's no excuse not to train on the same hills you'll be racing on. If the race is a few hours away, you can even consider a day trip!
#25. Pace yourself.
This is easy to say but hard to do! If your first mile is a steep hill like NYC's Verrazzano Bridge, take it around 30 seconds slower per mile than your goal pace to avoid building up lactic acid too quickly. Steep downhills should also be conservative. You can run them at or slightly faster than goal pace but nothing too crazy. Force yourself to hold back early despite the ability to run faster. Having a pacing strategy helps, whether it's even splits with adjustments based on perceived effort for hills, or breaking the race down; for example, ease in to your goal pace for the first 10K, stay right on it for the middle, and go hard late in the final 10K. The marathon is NOT a race like the 800M where you go all out and hang on for dear life!
#24. Be weather-proof.
Depending on race day conditions, I've almost always brought extra layers to the start of the race that you can shed before the start or in the early miles. Extra layers include a thin hat, gloves, arm warmers, fleece tops/bottoms, and even a poncho, socks or shoe covers for heavy rain. Be prepared for any weather. I've run marathons in 30F freezing rain or snow and 90F degree sun! Force yourself to train in all conditions, as long as it's safe to be outside, in the heat, in the rain, in the cold. It will give you confidence to power through no matter what the wind brings on race day!
#23. Train faster to run faster.
Weekly speedwork is key to setting a PR. It is supposed to be hard and maybe not so fun, so embrace it. Learn to love it. Training fast improves your running economy and makes that marathon pace feel easier. My favorite marathon specific workouts are Yasso 800s and mile repeats.
#22. Break it down.
Start breaking down 26.2 into smaller segments like every 5 miles when you take an energy gel - more on nutrition to come. This will make the marathon feel more manageable. Remember all the hard miles you ran in training. Mental toughness is critical so don't give in to periods of self-doubt.
#21. Test your fitness.
Do a 1/2 marathon race or workout to test your fitness around this time. A good race provides a powerful mental and physical lift. With 3 weeks out (today!) add progressive speed to your final long run, doing the last 6+ miles slightly faster than your marathon goal pace. Learning how to increase effort on tired legs is key for the marathon.
#20. Rest & x-train.
Running is high-impact so know when to rest especially after a race or hard workout. There is not much more to gain in the last few weeks. Listen to your body and recover to regenerate muscular strength. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. X-training such as cycling and swimming can maintain aerobic fitness while loosening up your muscles too.
#19. Gel + water + salt.
Have a nutrition plan and stick. to. it. I do a PowerGel + water every 4-5 miles. Sports drink every 2 after the first gel. SaltStick tablets at miles 12 & 18. Practice nutrition during your training even if you don't need it. And if you sweat a lot be more liberal with salt which replenishes electrolytes and prevents cramping. Finally, try avoiding caffeine from here on and then use it on race day for a BOOST.
#18. Shoe dog.
Now is the time to break in a fresh pair of shoes that you are used to and will race in. Replace shoes every 400 miles or based on wear & tear. Many runners buy shoes that are too light, tight, or pretty like every Nike shoe. Marathons requires ample support so use lighter shoes only after you have the foot strength. Consider parallel lacing to increase comfort and reduce pressure on the navicular and try a pair of toe socks if you get blisters to eliminate friction!
#17. Have a mantra.
Find a running mantra that speaks to you. A single word like "Relentless" or "Fighter". A short phrase like "Stronger by the Mile", "Light and Smooth" or "This is What You Came For". Remember it. Ink it on your hand. And recite it out loud especially when it's tough. Start using your mantra during your final training runs so on race day you have an association. Each time you repeat it, your brain and body will respond and stay on target. Change your thinking, and you'll change your performance!
#16. Set 2 goals.
Set an ambitious goal AND a more achievable one. Your ambitious goal could be a certain time or distance goal. Your achievable goal could be a more realistic time or just to finish and feel strong! Having 2 goals allows you to manage factors out of your control. Goal-setting has been shown to increase motivation and improve performance. The more specific the goal, the better. Remember that everyone has different abilities - focus on your process and your goals!
#15. Create your own experience.
"Everyone experiences a race differently. It’s okay to listen to other people’s experiences, but ultimately you get to choose how you experience the NYC Marathon course. Keep an open mind. Focus on the things you can control (your sleep, diet, training and race prep) and don’t worry about the things you can’t (the weather, time left to race day)." -Coach Fitz
#14. Negative split mindset.
Start the race with a negative split mindset: finishing the second half faster and stronger than the first. So when you hit 13.1 on this bridge, you mentally and physically shift into a higher gear. If you conserve energy early, you will have more in the tank late. Train negative splits too, no matter how easy or fast your run. My 1st NYC in 2010 was a +14min split (disaster!) but 5 of my last 6 NYCs have all been negative. Having run more than 50 marathons, neg splits produce faster times and stronger finishes...I promise.
#13. Visualize success.
Picture yourself overcoming hard parts of the course, finding your kick and crossing that finish! Intentionally create positive mental images, like receiving and wearing your marathon medal, in your taper runs and before sleep. These visual triggers of success will help you relax and run your best on race day.
#12. Take the bridge.
There is a profound silence as you climb up Queensboro since no fans are allowed on it. IMO the toughest part of the race. You will see people dropping off. Maintain your focus and effort when climbing this hill. Keep the torso tall, arms straight up & down, high knee drive and short stride. Light and smooth. Learn to embrace the silence and the challenge. Use it as an opportunity to #takethebridge and prove yourself!!
#11. Taper time.
Stay loose and stretch early and often. Now is the time to reduce running volume to allow your body's energy, strength, and overall health to return to optimal levels after extended training. Consider your final hard run (5-6 mile tempo) 7-10 days out. Incorporate strides or quick 100m bursts at the end of easy runs next week. Focus on getting to the start healthy- staying hydrated, taking vitamins, eating a balanced diet. Avoid trying anything new!
#10. Use the crowd.
Feed off the energy of the packed crowds as you head up 1st Ave for the next 3 miles - my favorite part of the race! You will see thousands of runners shimmying ahead of you. But be sure to control your pace as it's easy to run too fast here without realizing. Don't chase after the person who passes you, regardless of how good-looking the person is. Settle in to a rhythm and take it all in. And stage your fans further up 1st for extra motivation!
#9. Use form cues.
As you fatigue, your form can start to fall apart which means you spend more energy keeping everything together. Give yourself form cues to stay efficient and on track in these final miles. Run Tall! Elbows In! Arms Faster! Knees Higher! Keep your hands and feet pointing straight ahead like you're a train on parallel tracks. Full. Steam. Ahead. Driving straight up and down. Keep that foot strike directly underneath with a nice and quick cadence.
#8. Conquer the beast.
Instead of dreading the last 6 miles from the Bronx, look forward to it. Look forward to the Beast showing up during the race. A stitch, heavy legs, a mental block. Get it under control. Have your own fight with the Beast, whatever form it may take, and show who's boss! You can't hate the Beast and expect to conquer it. The only way to truly conquer something...is to love it.
#7. Dress the part.
Have the right clothes for the start and the race. Bring extra layers to stay warm before. Try to run in as few layers as possible, ideally a singlet and shorts as you will get warm. Bring a thin hat, gloves, and arm warmers that you can throw off or keep. Weather for next Sunday looks perfect but who knows - in case the Gods change: use a visor or nylon cap and split shorts if it’s raining. Use vaseline or nip guards to prevent chafing. Practice carrying your nutrition in shorts, in hand, or in a belt so it doesn't fall out immediately. And finally, run in your club gear or write your name on your shirt or bib for extra crowd support!!
#6. Keep calm and relax.
This may be the most useful tip about racing. Relax in the buildup this week. A little anxiety is normal but don't add to it. Relax in your last couple of runs and get enough sleep. Relax on race morning and stay positive. You are ready. Relax during the race itself, in your mind and in your body - your face, shoulders, hands - which will help conserve energy. And most importantly, relax postrace with a brew of your choice. My favorite is the Miles Marathon Session IPA by SingleCut Beersmiths.
#5. Turn that grimace into a grin.
Smile at the crowds, at the funny signs, at other runners. Smile at the fact you are running the greatest 26.2 miles in the greatest city in the world. When you feel the pain, and you will, start to smile. It will help you relax, lower your perceived effort and actually improve your running economy or how you use oxygen. You'll notice the marathon GOAT Eliud Kipchoge use this tactic in the last few miles of his marathons.
#4. Make carbs and salt your friends.
Make carbs are a large (~80%) part of what you eat this week - pasta, bananas, potatoes, bagels, oatmeal - to increase energy stores in your muscles and liver. Don’t simply eat more of everything. And a huge meal the night before is a myth. Have carbs, some protein, avoid too much dairy, spicy, fatty, or high-fiber foods. Hydrate with electrolytes especially Saturday. Plan your race morning breakfast 2 or 3 hours before to restock glycogen. I like a banana, bagel with almond butter, a small energy bar and water with NuuN. Don't eat anything you've never tried and don't overthink it. Let your gut guide you. You will be fine!
#3. Thank a volunteer.
Even if you're racing for that PR and making every step count, you can still make eye contact and give that nod or say "thanks" to volunteers - aid stations, course marshals, medical experts, and security. It will make the volunteers feel good. And it will make you feel good!! Try it! The NYC Marathon would not be possible without the 12,000+ volunteers like them.
#2. Expo efficiency.
Be efficient at the expo if you go after work today or tomorrow - it's easy to spend hours on your feet trying new goodies in running heaven. Stick to what works. Don't be brainwashed or intimidated by random things you have never heard about. Buy a few extra gels or electrolytes if you're running low. Take that photo with your bib or name on the wall. But wait to buy that finisher's swag...until after you finish! Getting the expo out of the way yesterday or today means you can focus on putting your feet up and relaxing on Saturday.
#1. Have some freaking fun!
Don't put any single marathon on a pedestal. Unless you're maybe trying to win the whole thing. Have confidence in your training and get pumped for an amazing and memorable day! Line up loose, start easy, remember nutrition and go hard late. Re-read the last 25 tips. And if you remember just one, have some FUN out there!