So you have got yourself a nice pair of blue trainers, you have your fancy “Dry-fit” shorts & T-Shirt & some fruit based gels that taste like baby food, you find yourself in a freezing cold car park at the crack of dawn on a Sunday with what seems like thousands of other “Fellow Runners”
Let’s break this down into how it works.
You get up really early to make sure you have a light Breakfast that will ensure you don’t:
- Run out of “Gas” at a crucial part of the race
- Soil yourself at a crucial part of the race
You then need to make sure all the stuff you packed last night is still in your bag, don’t forget to check the weather to make sure that it’s not going to be too hot or too cold later, standing on the start line when it’s really sunny and you are wearing a woolly hat is no fun and it gets worse after mile 5, when its heavier than you and you can’t throw it because its in your club colour/your name is on it/you Nan knitted it for you or all three & you cant put it in your pocket because it won’t fit and it will look like you have soiled yourself when the sweat is absorbed by your shorts, conclusion leave it on .
Once you have made a decision on the hat you need to leave the house, Bag, directions, registration details, make sure you have (if available) already attached your running number to your shirt, this avoids stabbing yourself with safety pins at check in.
You drive however many miles and hopefully as you got there early you can park, you would car share but you don’t know anyone else doing the event, until you turn up and then several of your friends are also there, it turns out they “forgot” to ask if anyone else was doing it, the result is several people from the same area all drove empty cars to the same place, CARPOOL is the best thing.
You arrive at the event all full of hope and excitement, but don’t forget the simple things!
Port a loos
Use them early when the place is empty & they are relatively clean, I know you are all “tucked in” and you never do it right the second time but the last thing you want is a wee at mile 4 !!
You go into the venue area and look for a place to store your kit, most organised races have a lovely group of people running this (Mostly Scouts) my best advice is pick the oldest person available to give your bag to, no disrespect to teenagers or the Cubs they have roped in to do the bag moving but I have seen the younger members of the team acting like real baggage handlers at the airport, not that I store a Ming vase in my running bag but the last thing I want back at the end of the race is just my bag with a broken zip and my jeans hanging out.
Make sure your bag is clearly marked with your number so it’s easy to find at the end.
After checking your bag in & your coat you need something to keep your mind of the fact its really cold and you are wearing stuff designed to keep the heat out, so what do you do? Go and see one of the many stalls that are selling stuff.
This can be both a blessing and a curse
All the race day sellers are very friendly and will always have a conversation with you & it’s nice to look at stuff that was £50 in the store and now they are selling it for £10, the curse is you just handed in your wallet and you don’t have any cash on you right now, some of the stall holders will, if you ask nicely will keep it back for you, but what you need to ask yourself is unless it’s an amazing bargain and you forgot something you really need do it after the race.
Some stalls with have things to try, new gels or snack bars that they are giving away, now I don’t take these because I have already eaten and I don’t want to take any chances on food I am not familiar with and certainly not on race day, but some people can eat whatever they want before a race and not soil themselves at mile 7 so I will leave that one with you!
The Warm up
I am never sure about these, it’s always nice to see a group of professional instructors looking all keen to take a warmup, sometimes I do them, and sometimes I don’t. I have been so cold sometimes that jumping up and down and stretching is the last thing I want to do, although I did get a PB at Southampton that year and I did the warmup so perhaps I should give it more thought.
Its 20 minutes to the race start & so you shuffle to your starting corral if it’s a big race there will literally be shepherds who will heard you into the right corrals I haven’t come across any sheep dogs yet but I assume it’s because I haven’t done a rural race, some race officials may go as far to do spot checks to make sure you are in the right area, perish the thought you might want to run with someone who said they weren’t coming & then turned up!!
The countdown starts and you finally turn on your Garmin, now it’s always a good idea to make sure you can get a signal before you actually need it, I usually do this while I am walking around the Athlete village, there is nothing more frustrating than watching the little graph on your watch flashing while it tries to find where you are & the first wave has started already. If you’re wearing a Heart rate monitor it’s always good to check that this is working as well, I wouldn’t want to wear a tight strap around my chest if I didn’t have to (sorry ladies)
Another thing about heart rate monitors if you’re not wearing one & your watch is capable of working with one, turn that function off, yes it has happened to me when my watch has picked up someone else’s monitor, it can be most amusing to see that approximately 40 seconds after you started you flat lined & you heart stopped!!
The race is underway! “Hooray” this is what you trained for all those months, at this point the only thing I can suggest is DO NOT RUN FAST! You don’t want to get into some kind of race with a guy or girl that is fitter than you!
Patience is what is needed for the first two miles at least, you will be passed by many people all running too fast, experience will tell you that you will be passing them at mile 8 when they run out of puff!
It is just good manners to run on the right hand side and let the “faster” runners go by on the left, (this advice assumes you are in the UK, North Americans do it the other way round)
Although it’s frustrating being passed by the old bloke & the team in the boat costume, they are all running their own race, DO NOT RUN FAST & DO NOT RACE THEM. You are literally in a Marathon so you have to wait and get settled, remember your training & what you want to get out of this event, racing the girl in the Rhino costume was not it.
I make a point of always thanking Marshalls & police officers on route because no matter what we all think, the event would not be possible without volunteers and the police holding traffic for you.
The key to making this work is practice, on those long lonely training runs you would have experimented with different ways to take in fuel, be it gels, jelly babies or running with a hydration pack. This is sometimes overlooked because when you start running you are not hungry, however once you are ten miles in you do get a bit peckish and your body will need more than a cup of water.
If you are overly concerned you can do checks to see what the water stations have as well as water, most half and full marathons will offer gels and sports drinks at some point, unless you know what it is and you have trained with it or similar do not take it, always carry your own, on distance running the goal as well as finishing is not to get “Runners tummy” & soil yourself.
Consistency is always the key, maintaining a good pace that you can deal with is always best, I know it’s boring but running out of steam at halfway is not good and is frustrating, remember you paid for this and you want to have fun, some races will provide pacers, the best advice is to use them, they will make sure you don’t run too fast and talking while running does burn through the miles.
It is ok to overtake the pacers but do keep in mind that if you go off at top speed and you slow down, the pacer you left in the dust at mile two will probably pass you again at the end of the race as they are not running the race for themselves but for YOU.
If you can’t keep up with the pacer you are running too fast, but it is ok to keep them in your sights.
The finish line is at mile 26.2 or 13.1, its not when you see the 10/20 mile sign, I have seen many runners walking across the finish line that I thought we going a great pace at the start of the event. We all want that photo finish. However to get that stick to the plan until you can see the signs saying “300 metres to go” that’s when you can forget your plan and “give it the jets” NOT BEFORE.
The payoff is coming into view of that golden arch with the time clock and the local scoutmaster/DJ on a loudspeaker announcing your name as you cross the line.
Remember to switch off your Garmin & save your data, you can then relax, accept your medal and the banana from the well-meaning finish line volunteer.
Take a moment and “drink it in” enjoy the moment of walking through the finish area, collecting your random souvenirs and leaflets about a race happening next week.
Wear your race t-shirt with pride and celebrate the medal, you earned it.
You may not return home to a hero’s welcome or a knighthood, but look what you did, that is with you for life long after the medal is put in a box and stored in the loft.
The only question that remains is.. Do you want to go for a run in the morning?